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Launch angles — April 14, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays at New York Yankees Andy Marlin-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

Aaron Hicks blasts his second dinger of the night — +.450 WPA

Aaron Hicks is one of those guys who was a fixture of prospect lists, but hasn’t been able to put it all together in the big leagues. This might be the year it happens, it might not, who’s to say. But for one night at least, Aaron Hicks led the Yankees to victory with two home runs, the second of which was the biggest play of the day.

Down 2-1 with two outs in the bottom of the seventh and Jacoby Ellsbury on first, Hicks took two consecutive fastballs: first at the bottom of the zone for a strike, then at the top of the zone for a ball. Rays reliever Xavier Cedeño then threw Hicks a changeup, which on it’s own seems like a fine idea; we’re not going to get into the minutiae of pitch sequencing here. The problem with this particular changeup was that it was in the heart of the zone.

Hicks hammered it, generously providing the fans in left field a souvenir and his team a lead to hand to Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman.

Middle-middle is no way to pitch through life, son.

Chart via Brooks Baseball

Yesterday’s best game score

Jason Vargas — 84

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.

For those who don’t follow the Royals on a daily basis, seeing Thursday night’s starter in the box score may have elicited a “Whoa, Jason Vargas! I remember that guy!”

If he hasn’t been on your radar recently it’d be understandable. Vargas started just three games in the big leagues last season while working his way back from Tommy John surgery. In those starts he was excellent, posting a 3.15 FIP, 3.85 DRA, and 23.4 percent strikeout rate. Early on, he appears to be carrying that success into this season. After six innings of one run ball against the Astros in his 2017 debut, Vargas took the mound against the A’s on Thursday night and hurled 7 23 shutout innings, allowing four hits, striking out eight, and walking just one.

The key to his success looked to be a sharp changeup and excellent command of the strike zone. The change generated 10 whiffs on 38 pitches and — as the changeup is wont to do — he was able to keep it down and to his arm side consistently, while generally spotting his fastballs on the opposite side of the plate.

Seriously, I’m going to put a line down the middle of this pitch type chart. Look at how few fastballs made it on the right side and how few changeups leaked over to the left. When you factor in that most of his misses were close to the zone, it’s safe to say that Vargas was in control of his stuff on this night.

Chart via Baseball Savant

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Miguel Sano — 440 feet

I’ve felt an affection for Miguel Sano ever since watching the documentary “Ballplayer: Pelotero.” The film gives it’s viewer a glimpse into the sometimes-seedy world of baseball recruitment in the Dominican Republic through the eyes of a few Major League hopefuls. Witnessing the vulnerable position some youngsters like Sano are put into makes it extra special to see them move toward the majors and root for their success.

Fast forward a few years and here he is, crushing monster home runs with regularity. What he ultimately becomes as a player remains to be seen and depends almost entirely on the development of his plate discipline, but remember he’s still just 23 years old. At the very least it’s safe to say this will not be the last time Sano shows up in this particular category of the Beyond The Box Score daily recap.

On Thursday afternoon Sano drove a poorly located 90 mph fastball from Anibal Sanchez well beyond the center field wall in Detroit. Hitting it out to center at Comerica Park can be a dangerous proposition; many well struck baseballs have been turned into outs in front of the 420 foot marker on that wall. Sano smartly avoided this fate by hitting the ball 440 feet, more than enough to clear the deep fence.

Let’s slow it down and marvel at the formidable power of one Miguel Sano. Did I mention he’s still only 23 years old?

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Zack Greinke (3.73 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.45 projected ERA)

For three years Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke formed the best one-two punch in baseball. Their partnership culminated in second and third place finishes in a 2015 NL Cy Young race that saw them both fall victim to a potent second half narrative.* Shortly after that, Greinke would sign with the Diamondbacks in free agency and their bond would be broken.

*Disclaimer: The author of this particular recap is a Dodgers fan who clearly has a hard time letting go.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Arizona Diamondbacks
You don’t know what you got (till it’s gone)
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Andy McCullough of the LA Times shared thoughts from the two pitchers as they stand on the precipice of their first ever matchup. While Greinke is predictably unemotional — outwardly at least — about the situation, Kershaw isn’t relishing the chance to face his friend and former teammate.

“It’s not fun to pitch to people that you know. I’m not good at separating that. I think I’m just going to have to really focus and think about it like he’s another guy, and then, the next day I can talk to him.”

In the early going of 2017 Greinke has rebounded from his rough debut season in Arizona, as he’s given up just 3 earned runs over his first 11 23 innings. We’re still in small sample country of course, but it’s a nice beginning as he looks to have a bounce-back year.

Kershaw is still Kershaw, the best pitcher on the planet, but he’s coming off a rough (for him) outing in Coors Field in which he allowed back-to-back home runs for the first time in his career. He’ll surely be happy to return to the friendly confines of Chavez Ravine.

It’s a clash of friends turned foes, even if for just one night. This one should be fun.

. . .

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