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Launch angles — October 6, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: ALDS-Boston Red Sox at Houston Astros Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

The MLB season lasts half the year, and it can be hard for the average fan to keep up. That’s where we come in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score will be recapping all the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and looking ahead to what today will bring.

Yesterday’s biggest play

Marwin González — +.232 WPA

Sometimes, WPA works exactly how it’s supposed to. Last night’s ALDS kick-offs had a lot of crazy moments, but at the time, this certainly felt like the most impactful, so it’s good to see that WPA agrees. Prior to this moment, the Red Sox and Astros were fighting a close game; this was when the momentum and control in that game firmly shifted in favor of Houston. Evan Gattis doubled off of Chris Sale, and Josh Reddick hit a ball that was originally called a catch but that the Astros successfully challenged, as it turned out that Jackie Bradley Jr. had trapped the ball rather than getting it in flight. That turned out to be critical; a Yuli Gurriel fly out was out number two in the inning, not out number three, and instead of ending the inning, it brought González to the plate with two out and two men on base. If Chris Sale got an out, the game would stay tied; a single or an extra-base hit would put the Red Sox in a hole and the Astros on top.

I wouldn’t blame you for not realizing that Marwin González had a breakout year in 2017. After running a 90 wRC+ for his career prior to 2017, he exploded into a 144 wRC+ this season. It was a product of increased power, like almost everyone who experienced a breakout in 2017, but not exclusively; González also showed much greater patience, as his walk rate more than doubled from 4.7 percent to 9.5 percent. That patience was on display in this PA, too; González laid off the first pitch he saw, a changeup that caught a decent bit of the zone, and forced Sale to come into the heart of the plate. When he got a letter-high fourseamer, he turned on it, and gave the Astros a lead they wouldn’t let go of.

Yesterday’s best pitching performance

Trevor Bauer — game score of 82

Through the regular season, this space was always reserved for the starter with the best game score of the night. We had to audible a bit for the Wild Card games, however, because all the starters were terrible. But there was no such challenge on Thursday night, when we finally saw an outstanding performance from a starting pitcher. On a night when Justin Verlander and Chris Sale were facing off, however, that the outstanding performance came from Trevor Bauer was a huge surprise.

Bauer went 6 23 innings with eight strikeouts, one walk, two hits, and no runs, the kind of performance that would be impressive out of the playoffs and is downright outstanding in them. His main out pitch was his knuckle curve, which garnered four whiffs and an additional twelve foul balls and called strikes, and was responsible for the downfall of many of the Yankees hitters (as seen in the gif above).

Baseball Savant

It was a performance that has yet to be matched in these playoffs, and will likely rank highly even once Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer have made their postseason debuts. Cleveland is now up 1–0, and has the Klubot starting today’s game. Just as they got an unexpectedly great performance from Bauer, the Yankees will need some surprises from CC Sabathia and Masahiro Tanaka if they’re going to stay in this series.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

José Altuve — 415 feet

You didn’t think we were going to get through this whole recap without talking about Altuve, did you? This was the longest of the three dingers he hit against Boston last night, a 415-foot blast to center-left. Chris Sale’s control looked off all night, and while he only walked a single batter, he was forced to take bigger bites out of the zone with his fourseam fastball than is ideal. That led to grooved pitches like this one, and big hits like this one.

Altuve is also having a breakout (from his already-impressive levels of ability of his earlier career), and his is driven totally by a power surge. He matched the career-high 24 home runs he hit in 2016 in about 50 fewer plate appearances, and maintained his incredibly contact skills. You really can’t luck into a three-homer game; it’s nearly impossible to do that without some impressive power. Altuve picked a good time to show the world his transformation.

The AL MVP race was already fascinating, boiled down as it has to Aaron Judge and José Altuve. Personally, I would’ve voted for Judge, and I don’t think it’s actually that close. But Altuve is making waiting for the results very interesting, and probably making more than a few voters wish they could go back in time and change their minds. That said, this all could be still more fun, if Altuve and Judge meet in the postseason head-to-head. Think of the hot takes!

SABRy tidbits

  • Grant Brisbee has an extremely helpful guide to why it will suck when each team is eliminated from the playoffs. If you need to temper your hopes or experience some schadenfreude at the expense of the Dodgers, it’s a very worthwhile read.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Kyle Hendricks (3.74 projected ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (3.22 projected ERA)

This is not the matchup I expected to make this slot, to be honest. Clayton Kershaw and Corey Kluber are also pitching tonight, and I would call each of them the consensus best pitchers in their respective leagues. But the Nationals/Cubs game benefits from not one, but two legitimate aces facing off. Strasburg, as always, suffers from the curse of high expectations, but his season was outstanding: a 2.52 ERA, 2.72 FIP, and 2.93 DRA all put him in the upper echelon of aces. And Kyle Hendricks was no slouch either, with a 3.03 ERA, 3.88 FIP, and 3.31 DRA, making this an evenly matched and exciting showdown. This exercise is a little different in the playoffs than the regular season; we don’t need to convince you to watch this game, because you’re probably watching every game. But you should make a special point of watching this game.