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Launch angles — October 9, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Divisional Round - Houston Astros v Boston Red Sox - Game Three Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

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

Rafael Devers gives the Red Sox new life — +.206 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

Rafael Devers didn’t start game two against lefty Dallas Keuchel despite his 188 wRC+ against left-handers in 2017. Now, platoon splits for half a season don’t necessarily reflect a true talent level, but it was still a curious decision by John Farrell as Devers’ performance this season at the very least demonstrated his competence against southpaws. I mean, one of the biggest hits of the season was Devers’ opposite field home run against Aroldis Chapman in Yankee Stadium to tie a game in August. This is not a young man who should be shielded from left-handers.

Cut to Sunday afternoon. The Red Sox found themselves down two in a win or go home game before Hanley Ramirez singled home Mitch Moreland to trim their deficit to one. Up to the plate strolled Devers, but — as postseason managers are wont to do nowadays — Astros manager AJ Hinch decided to pull his starter Brad Peacock after just 2 23 innings to bring in Francisco Liriano, and with him, the platoon advantage.

Of course as we were just discussing, early in his career Devers has shown he doesn’t care about a platoon advantage. A fact the Astros became immediately aware of once Devers sent Liriano’s 0-1, center-cut slider deep to center field.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

The home run gave the Red Sox their first lead of the series, and frankly, their first glimmer of hope. Until that moment Boston had looked hopelessly outmatched and a sweep felt inevitable. Even if they can’t come back to win this ALDS matchup, the 20-year old wunderkind Devers gave Red Sox fans a glimmer of optimism and a glimpse of future October dingers to dream on.

As if the moment wasn’t big enough on it’s own, the Boston faithful will surely be heartened to know that Devers’ blast also topped Greg Bird’s solo shot to claim the highly coveted biggest play of the day here at Launch Angles. It won by just .005 win probability added. Even when they’re not playing each other we can’t escape the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry.

Yesterday’s best game score

Masahiro Tanaka — 81

Gif via MLB.com

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance, and recently updated by Tom Tango. The score begins at 40, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, runs, and home runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

I spent most of Sunday assuming that David Price’s four outstanding relief innings would capture this spot since we’re now going by best pitching performance rather than just best game score in the playoffs. It was the lackluster overall starting pitching so far this postseason that authored that assumption, but Masahiro Tanaka was having none of it, as he put the Yankees on his back for seven shutout innings.

Over the course of those seven frames, Tanaka allowed just three hits and one walk while striking out seven and generally keeping Cleveland off balance. He threw 92 pitches, 20 of which generated whiffs! Think about that for a moment, 22 percent of the pitches Tanaka threw were swinging strikes. It was a truly dominant outing.

Zone Plots via Baseball Savant

As you can see, most of Tanaka’s whiffs came below the zone. He got seven against his slider, seven against his sinker, five against his splitter, and one on his curveball. Cleveland’s hitters had absolutely no handle on Tanaka’s low pitches.

It was the performance New York needed to stay alive. Anything less and they’d almost certainly be sitting at home right now, season over. Tanaka had a rough season, but his final start was dominant and he carried that momentum into game three of the ALDS when his team needed it the most.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Rafael Devers — 430 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Not only was Rafael Devers’ dinger the biggest play of the day, but it was also the longest home run of the day. Since we’ve already discussed the circumstances and importance of the blast, let’s now talk about the optics.

First off I’ll defer to BtBS co-managing editor Henry Druschel:

That was indeed wonderful. Devers was started running towards first with a smile of childlike wonder on his face. Naturally, in a moment of such pure joy and exuberance a bat flip is in order, even if it’s mild and not “Luis Valbuena poked a single to right” caliber. Devers goes to throw the bat away, but forgets the whole letting go of it part; so his left hand must get in on the action and force the bat out of his right hand. He’s so excited — as evidenced by the mile-wide grin across his face — that his brain momentarily forgets to tell his hand how to let go of the thing he’s let go of literally thousands of times.

The post-hit moment was magical, but let us not forget how far Devers hit that ball. He absolutely crushed it. Take a look at the side view.

Gif via MLB.com

Fenway is not an easy place for left-handed hitters to mash taters, but Devers and his plus power will play in any ballpark.

SABRy tidbits

  • For his first few starts of 2017, it looked like Chris Archer had put his 2016 struggles behind him. But by the end of the season, he found himself with an ERA north of four for the second straight year. Over at DRays Bay, BtBS contributor Jim Turvey takes a closer look at what ailed Archer and if there’s any light at the end of the tunnel.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup(s)

Max Scherzer (3.14 projected ERA) vs. José Quintana (3.44 projected ERA)

It says a lot about the quality of this matchup that it could beat out a pairing of Yu Darvish and Zack Greinke. José Quintana makes his first career playoff start at home against a postseason veteran in Max Scherzer. With the series tied 1-1 — the only series in which a team is not facing elimination on Monday — the NLDS upper hand is up for grabs on Monday at Wrigley Field.

There’s a dark cloud hanging over this game though, and that’s the question about Max Scherzer’s health. Both the Nationals and Scherzer himself claim that he’s good to go and that his injured hamstring won’t be an impediment; but until he gets out on the mound, in the heat of the moment, can they really be sure? He injured it in his last start of the season and this will be his first game action since. Are the extra two to three days he got by not starting game one or two enough to make an actual difference? I guess we’ll have to just wait and see.

Scherzer and Quintana claimed the best matchup, but it’s a Monday with four playoff games so it might be a good idea to use one of those sick days you’ve been saving up. This should be a fun day of baseball.


Chris Anders is a featured writer at Beyond the Box Score. You can find him on Twitter @MrChrisAnders.