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Launch angles — April 13, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Detroit Tigers
Does a go-ahead grand slam really count when you hit it against the Twins?
Rick Osentoski-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

Andrew Romine wallops a go-ahead grand slam — +.416 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

Let’s play a round of everyone’s favorite (non-baseball) game — Spot The Difference! Take a look at this table. Which of these is not like the other?

Biggest play each day

Date Inning of biggest play
Date Inning of biggest play
4/3 9
4/4 11
4/5 9
4/6 13
4/7 10
4/8 8
4/9 11
4/10 10
4/11 8
4/12 10
4/13 4
Data via us

For the first 10 editions of our daily recap, the biggest play of the day came in the eighth inning or later. But the 11th diverged from that trend in a fairly major way.

While the Twins scored three runs early off Michael Fulmer, his counterpart managed to escape trouble — Kyle Gibson retired nine of the first 10 batters he faced. In the fourth inning, though, Gibson quickly ran into trouble, with a hit-by-pitch, walk, and single putting the tying run on second and loading the bases for Andrew Romine.

Gibson is a ground ball pitcher; as such, he tends to keep the ball low in the strike zone. Romine is a crappy hitter; as such, he usually won’t hit for power when given a pitch at his knees. The 1-2 change Gibson served up was indeed low in the zone, but that one didn’t turn out like they usually do. In a tight game, with two outs already on the board and the sacs full, this was the highest-leverage plate appearance of the day:

Image via FanGraphs

Romine’s slam put Detroit ahead 5-3; still, it was fair to expect some more action from there. After all, the ever-shaky Tigers bullpen has already blown three saves this year, behind the Mariners (5) for the most in MLB. But Alex Wilson and Kyle Ryan managed to shut the door, ensuring Romine will treasure his seventh career round-tripper.

Yesterday’s best game score

Mike Leake — 81

GIF via MLB.com

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance. The score begins at 50, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, and runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

Here are four facts about Mike Leake:

  1. He was the first player since Xavier Nady in 2000 to go from the draft to MLB without any time in the minors.
  2. His name sounds like the title line to a classic GOOD Music song.
  3. He once tried to shoplift some T-shirts from a Macy’s in Cincinnati, then claimed he was just trying to return them.
  4. Through two starts this season, he has pitched 15 innings and given up one earned run, with one walk and 13 strikeouts.

Let’s focus in on that last one. On Friday, Leake took a hard-luck loss against the Reds despite pitching better than Amir Garrett (and every other starter that day). This week, Leake outdueled reigning NL Cy Young winner Max Scherzer, finally netting the deserved W. That’s how this otherwise unspectacular righty ranks second among qualified pitchers in fWAR, and ties for first in RA9-WAR.

In neither of these games has Leake gotten many whiffs. He’s never been a deceptive pitcher — his swinging strike rate has always lagged behind the MLB average — so that’s not especially surprising. Rather, he managed to sneak the ball past hitters into the strike zone, where despite some poor framing, he got a lot of calls. Just look at this plot from last night’s contest:

The strike on the far right is the 2-2 sinker to Werth, who for once had a somewhat legitimate complaint.
Image via Baseball Savant

Eric Fryer has -6.3 framing runs in his MLB career, per Baseball Prospectus, and that ineptitude was on display last night in Washington. Despite that, Leake managed to pound the zone enough — and fool the ump a few times — to set down the Nats.

Leake is no one’s idea of an ace; he won’t run an ERA of *squints to look at FanGraphs* 0.60 for the entire season. (Damn it, Matheny, why didn’t you pull him two innings sooner?) His velocity and movement are the same as they’ve always been; so is his pitch mix, for the most part. But these dominant starts still count — unlike those American Rag shirts, no one will come to take them back.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 437 feet

GIF via MLB.com

How does MLB determine which highlights get the Statcast video treatment? When I searched “statcast” on MLB.com’s video database, these were the top four results (three of which were the only ones from yesterday):

Image via MLB.com

“Judge’s hard-hit single”? Captivating stuff, MLB — but can it really compare to this massive four-bagger? I mean, this is a pretty impressive knock. Not many hitters can take a letter-high sinker 400-plus feet:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Judge doesn’t yet have the eminence of his teammate Gary Sanchez, and snubs like this from our major-league overlords don’t help. But Judge’s natural power — which really defies description — is starting to shine through; through 29 plate appearances this year, he’s smacked three home runs and put up a .308/.379/.692 line. Statcast will come around eventually.

SABRy tidbits

  • Quick: Who are the Giants’ left fielders? If you didn’t know, you’re not alone — and you should savor that ignorance. McCovey Chronicles’ Grant Brisbee dives into San Francisco’s left field quagmire, putting the club’s struggles in perspective and trying to find a solution.
  • The Athletics — like every team, I suppose — need a leadoff hitter. They have plenty of choices, too, from Rajai Davis to Marcus Semien to Matt Joyce to… well, I’ll just let Athletics Nation’s Alex Hall break down the options.
  • Why is first baseman/future designated hitter/permanent large adult son Matt Adams playing left field for the Cardinals? Well, the team doesn’t have many better options. But as Viva El Birdos’s John J. Fleming explains, this isn’t the first time St. Louis has hidden a defensive liability in a corner outfield spot.
  • Is Luis Severino the fifth starter the Yankees have been waiting for? He gave up four runs in his first outing of the season, although that came with a 6:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That duality might have something to do with his changeup, which could be a great pitch — if Severino can develop it properly. Pinstripe Alley’s Tyler Norton has more on the cambio.
  • Through good times (2014-15) and bad (pretty much everything else), the Royals have always seemed to lack power. K.C. brought in Brandon Moss and Jorge Soler this offseason, causing many fans to expect more long balls this year. Sadly, it looks like that won’t be the case; Royals Review’s Hokius pours some rain on the dinger parade.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Madison Bumgarner (2.98 projected ERA) vs. Jon Gray (4.22 projected ERA)

Last year, by ERA-, Madison Bumgarner (69) was the fifth-best pitcher in the majors. Jon Gray (94), meanwhile, came in 39th. But when you strip out balls in play and sequencing, to focus solely on the three true outcomes, the duo becomes much more similar. In fact, by FIP-, Gray (81) was actually better than Bumgarner (83) in 2016, albeit not by much.

The projections above are based primarily on their performance from last year and before, which explains the discrepancy. It doesn’t help that they’ve gone in different directions in 2017 — Bumgarner has a 79 ERA- and 61 FIP-, while Gray sits at 123 and 99, respectively. Still, the two NL West aces should each provide an interesting matchup tonight, as the Rockies and Giants attempt to right their respective ships. No matter what stat you use, it’s always fun to watch a pair of divisional foes go at it.


Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.