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Launch angles — April 15, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

New York Mets v Miami Marlins Photo by Joe Skipper/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

J.T. Realmuto doubles to break the tie — + .437 WPA

The Mets did their absolute darndest to keep this from happening. Look at the way the outfield was positioned during this plate appearance:

A few days ago, I speculated after a Jay Bruce home run that his knee might be finally healthy. While that might be the case, it should be clear from the above clip that the Jay Bruce of 2010 is never returning, and that his defensive limitations are probably not illusory at this point in his career. This ball was well-struck, and hit to the gap, but I suspect some numbers of outfielders get to it before it hits the ground. Maybe not! Maybe I’m being wholly unfair to Bruce. This is one of the times when catch probability seems like a cool and useful thing.

J.T. Realmuto is off to an incredible start. The 26-year-old catcher is in his fourth season in the bigs, and while it’s early, he looks like he’s putting together a lot of components. Over the course of his career before 2017, Realmuto was not big on walks (a 4.6 percent BB rate) and struck out plenty (a 17.1 percent K rate). Through the first 38 PAs of 2017, however, Realmuto has run a 10.5 percent walk rate, and only a 2.6 percent strikeout rate. He won’t continue at those percentages over the course of the season, obviously, but its an early indication that Realmuto is developing additional plate discipline as he transitions toward veteran status.

Realmuto certainly looked like a disciplined hitter in this at-bat; he managed to work the count full by laying off several pitches just below the zone, and waited for a fastball up that he could drive. The Marlins can’t seem to keep themselves from stumbling onto excellent young players; Realmuto, along with Christian Yelich, Marcel Ozuna, and Giancarlo Stanton, gives Miami a sneakily competent core. After the win, the Marlins are sitting at 5–5, behind the Mets at 7–4 and the Nationals at 6–4 in the NL East.

Yesterday’s best game score

Clayton Kershaw does his thing — 85

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.

We told you to watch this game, and while Zack Greinke was unfortunately not his usual sharp self, Clayton Kershaw certainly delivered as expected. Who gets to be occupy this spot of each recap is a product of each pitcher’s performance, but also the pitchers they’re going up against each night. Félix Hernández had his best start of the season last night; Danny Duffy continued to do ace-like things for the Royals. Most of the time, one of those would be good enough to take this title. On a Kershaw night, though, the bar is raised.

And the thing is, this was a pretty mundane night from Kershaw. His performance was notable more for its efficiency — he pitched to three batters in the ninth, only exiting after allowing his first run via a single and a double, and with only 100 pitches to his name — than for its outright dominance. But again, that says more about what we’ve come to expect from the Dodgers lefty than from anything about this actual performance, because it was great: 8 13 innings, 4 hits, 1 walk, 8 strikeouts, and 1 run. There’s just not that much more to say about that kind of outing from Kershaw.

A.J. Pollock knew what he was talking about; that pitch was low. That’s not to take anything away from Kershaw, though; with an 0–2 count and Yasmani Grandal (an incredible framer) behind the plate, I can’t imagine a better place for that pitch to be located.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Lucas Duda turns on a changeup — 441 feet

We already know the Mets lost this game, but at least they get to take home something for their trouble. Lucas Duda destroyed this baseball, a changeup that ended up in a place that changeups do not belong. Below, the zone chart, along with an artist’s representation of my reaction to this pitch:

Per Baseball Savant, changeups in the upper-third of the strikezone are generally not great strategy. In 2016, 3,271 such pitches were thrown, and only 272 of those pitches resulted in a whiff. On the other hand, 907 of these high changeups were put into play, and the slugging percentage on those batted balls was a whopping .669. Friends don’t let friends hang changeups up in the zone.

SABRy tidbits

  • Last week, a roundtable of BtBS writers tangled with the proper role of advanced stats in ballparks, broadcasts, and baseball more generally (part one and part two); over at Royals Review, Matthew LaMar attacks the same question from a different angle, and examines the piecemeal manner in which broadcasts have adopted stats to serve their needs and make fans feel good.
  • Aaron Judge is off to a blazing start to 2017. Pinstripe Alley’s Kenny Crocker helps contextualize it, by considering these last few games in the light of Judge’s aborted 2016 campaign and his minor league track record. (Lots of good puns, too.)
  • Alex Crisafulli, of Viva El Birdos, points out something odd about Lance Lynn: he bucks the times-through-the-order trend, and actually improves when facing hitters for the third time in a game. The TTO penalty has reached near-axiomatic status in the sabermetric community, so figuring out whether Lynn is just an oddball or whether he does something different should be a top priority.
  • Xavier Cedeño had a surprising and solid 2016 campaign; the start of his 2017 edition has been downright miserable. For DRaysBay, Danny Russell breaks down Cedeño’s mechanics and pitch mix to look for an explanation.
  • Catherine Slonksnis of Bless You Boys has some great quotes from Andrew Romine in a story about the offseason changes he made to his swing, and the dividends they’re already paying. The Tigers infielder has never hit more than two home runs in a season; on Wednesday, in just his sixth game of the season, he hit his first grand slam of his career.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Corey Kluber (3.46 projected ERA) vs. Justin Verlander (3.62 projected ERA)

This shouldn’t be a game I really have to sell you on. Kluber and Verlander are both superstars, pitchers with outstanding track records and who continue to be excellent today. Kluber is off to a slightly rocky start to the season, but he’s got the age advantage on Verlander. Verlander’s career has seen its ups and downs; after striking out 24.8 percent of batters from 2011–13, that rate fell to 19.0 percent in 2014–15, before rebounding to 28.1 percent last season. When they’re on, both Verlander and Kluber barely walk anybody and strike out lots of opponents; Verlander gets most of his remaining outs in the air (47.7 percent fly ball rate in 2017) while Kluber keeps the ball on the ground (36.3 percent fly ball rate in 2017). This is a matchup between two legitimate aces; you shouldn’t miss it. What were you going to be doing at 4:10pm, anyway?