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Launch angles — 2017 year in review

A look back at all the baseball nuggets you needed to start your day.

League Championship Series - Houston Astros v New York Yankees - Game Four Photo by Abbie Parr/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 came in. Every day during the 2017 regular season, Beyond the Box Score recapped the biggest action from the previous day — with a sabermetric slant, of course — and now we recap those recaps. Presenting the Launch Angles year in review; featuring the best of the best, and the worst of the worst.

The biggest play

June 7th: Mike Zunino walks it off against the Twins — +.908 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

While most of Mike Zunino’s 2016 was spent in Triple-A, his 55 games in the majors provided Mariners fans a glimmer of hope that the slugging catcher might have figured things out. Their patience was rewarded in a big way as Zunino posted a .251/.331/.509 slash line with a 126 wRC+ in 435 plate appearances in 2017. That production was aided by a high BABIP that should regress some in the future, but Zunino’s power potential came to fruition as he hit 25 home runs; none bigger than his walk-off blast on June 7th against the Twins.

When Zunino stepped into the box to face Twins closer Brandon Kintzler in the bottom of the ninth inning, the Mariners had a measly 9.2 percent win expectancy. They were only down one run and had the tying run on base, but that runner was on first and there were already two outs in the inning. With his team’s back against the wall, Zunino took the first three pitches — all sinkers away — and found himself in a favorable 2-1 count. Zunino next got another sinker away, but this one caught more of the plate than the previous three and he was able to drive it 437 feet to deep right-center field to lift the Mariners to victory.

Occasionally in this section we would include a game’s win probability chart from FanGraphs, usually when it was visually interesting. So naturally, the game with the biggest individual play of the year has a unique chart. How about that ending.

Chart via FanGraphs

Congratulations to Mike Zunino, the man responsible for 2017’s biggest play.

More biggest play notes:

A bunch of players won the biggest play of the day two times in 2017, but no player won it more than three times, a feat accomplished by three different players — Jed Lowrie, Jesus Aguilar, and Manny Machado. One of Machado’s plays was a two-run, walk-off home run on September 5th against Dellin Betances and the Yankees that captured a win probability added of .898; making it the second biggest play of the year, behind the aforementioned Zunino dinger.

We recognized individuals every morning for previous days biggest play, but what about the teams? Here now are the teams who had the most appearances in this space, both for and against.

Teams with the most biggest plays for

Team # of "Biggest Play" Wins
Team # of "Biggest Play" Wins
Athletics 13
Dodgers 10
Astros 8
Brewers 8
Red Sox 8

Teams with the most biggest plays against

Team # of "Biggest Play" Losses
Team # of "Biggest Play" Losses
Angels 12
Padres 10
Blue Jays 9
Phillies 9
Athletics 8
Nationals 8
Tigers 8

It seems that despite their last place finish in the AL West, Oakland A’s fans had plenty of excitement this season as they appear on both leaderboards. As you might suspect, the teams with the most appearances in our “biggest plays for” section were among the best teams in baseball, and vice versa for the “biggest plays against.” Turns out that good teams come through in big moments throughout the season more often than bad teams — who knew!?

The best game score

June 3rd: Edinson Volquez — 100

Gif via MLB.com

August 29: Dylan Bundy — 100

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.

We have a tie!

In 2015 there were seven no-hitters. But that was a simpler time, a time before the balls transformed into the juiced, far-flying projectiles we see today. In the two seasons since then, there has been just one no-hitter per season. With the offensive environment being what it was, the surprising thing about 2017’s no-hitter isn’t that there was only one of them, but that it was thrown by Edinson Volquez.

In 17 starts, Volquez earned a 4.19 ERA, a 4.35 FIP, and a 3.76 DRA last season. The DRA was his best mark since 2010, but it alludes more to a solid performance than dominance. I mean, Volquez walked 13.4 percent of opposing hitters last year — not great! If you were to guess which pitcher was most likely to throw a no-hitter before the season began, would he even have been in your top 50? Despite his distinguished veteran presence, I’m guessing not. And yet, here we are.

On June 3rd, Volquez pitched the game of his life against the Diamondbacks. He issued two walks to go along with 10 strikeouts, induced 11 groundouts, and needed just 98 pitches to complete the no-no. That’s right, not only did Volquez toss a no-hitter, he also threw a “Maddux” — a complete game shutout with less than 100 pitches — which makes the game even more impressive.

As for Bundy, on August 29th he threw a magnificent complete game one-hitter against the Mariners. Like Volquez, Bundy walked two, but he struck out 12 opposing hitters. Here’s what I wrote about Bundy tying Volquez’s best 2017 game score mark at the time:

The nice thing about game score is that it doesn’t care about the prestige of a no-hitter or perfect game, it judges every performance by the exact same criteria. Were it not for a fourth inning bunt single from Kyle Seager, Bundy may have thrown a no-hitter as well. Game score doesn’t care about that missed acclaim; according to it, Bundy tied Volquez for the best performance of the year, regardless of the one hit difference.

One less hit for Volquez, two more strikeouts for Bundy, but according to game score these two share the crown for best pitched game of the season. If we’re inclined to break the tie I lean towards Volquez, simply because of his pitch count. Bundy needed 116 pitches to complete his game, while Volquez needed just 98. What do you think? Which game score of 100 was more impressive?

Poll

Which 100 game score performance was more impressive?

This poll is closed

  • 86%
    Edinson Volquez (No-hitter, 2BB, 10K, 98 pitches)
    (65 votes)
  • 13%
    Dylan Bundy (CGSO, 1H, 2BB, 12K, 116 pitches)
    (10 votes)
75 votes total Vote Now

More best game score notes:

While the top game score of the season belonged to a couple of unexpected starters, the list of most appearances in this space is entirely predictable. Aces all around.

Best game score top performers

Name # of "Best Game Score" Wins Best Game Score
Name # of "Best Game Score" Wins Best Game Score
Corey Kluber 7 99
Chris Sale 7 95
Yu Darvish 6 88
Max Scherzer 6 92
Carlos Carrasco 5 90
Zack Greinke 5 90

So, no surprises there; but the teams who were most often on the receiving end of a day’s best game score are definitely not who you’d expect.

Teams most victimized by the best game score

Team # of "Best Game Scores" Against
Team # of "Best Game Scores" Against
Cleveland 18
Dodgers 14
Diamondbacks 13
Nationals 13
Red Sox 10
Yankees 10

The five teams most often victimized by the day’s best game score were ALL playoff teams. Cleveland and the Dodgers were both top five offensive teams according to wRC+ (107 and 104, respectively), but the Nationals were right at 100, and the Diamondbacks (95) and Red Sox (92) offenses were each below average this season. That’s the beauty of baseball though, even the best teams can have a terrible day... or 18.

The biggest home run

June 11th: Aaron Judge — 495 feet

Gif via MLB.com

It’s only fitting that the biggest home run of 2017 belonged to Aaron Judge. He bested his teammate Gary Sanchez by just two feet to capture the longest home run crown, but having finished his rookie season with 52 total dingers — most of them of the mammoth variety — it just feels right that he be featured in this category. Judge will soon hoist the AL Rookie of the Year trophy and perhaps even the AL MVP; but what we’ll remember is the taters, and none was mashed with greater force than his 495 foot blast from June 11th.

Poor Logan Verrett, he probably knew that missing over the plate with that 1-1 slider could likely end with a moonshot, but even he couldn’t have expected 495 feet worth of homer. On a clear, 89-degree day, with winds blowing out to center field at 13 miles per hour, there was never any doubt. Verrett might as well have put the ball on a tee.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

More biggest home run notes:

It’s Aaron Judge’s world, we’re all just living in it.

Biggest HR top performers

Name # of "Biggest HR" Wins Longest Distance
Name # of "Biggest HR" Wins Longest Distance
Aaron Judge 11 495 ft.
Joey Gallo 9 490 ft.
Giancarlo Stanton 9 477 ft.
Marcell Ozuna 5 468 ft.
Charlie Blackmon 4 477 ft.
Kyle Schwarber 4 470 ft.
Distances via Statcast

With respect to the commendable performances from Marcell Ozuna and Charlie Blackmon, the top three entrants on this list are exactly who you’d expect. Judge, Joey Gallo, and Giancarlo Stanton dominated this category all year long, capturing the biggest home run of the day 29 times between them. The trio combined for 152 total dingers in 2017.

Finally, we’ll end with a few more tidbits from the biggest home run category:

  • The shortest home run to win this category clocked in at 417 feet and was hit by Mark Reynolds on April 10th against the Padres.
  • The average winning distance was 454 feet and the most repeated winning home run distance was 462 feet, which occured nine times.
  • The combined distances of all of the biggest home run winners was 80,753 feet, which translates to 15.3 miles.

* * *

That’ll do it for Launch Angles in 2017. On behalf of Ryan Romano, Henry Druschel, and myself, thanks for checking in with us every morning this past season. May your win probability be robust, your game scores impressive, and you dingers majestic.


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