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Launch angles — April 18, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: San Diego Padres at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-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

Austin Hedges reclaims the lead — +.521 WPA

Talk about a back-and-forth game. The Padres took the lead in the first; the Braves tied it up soon after, and would eventually take it back. A one-run lead with two outs and a runner on first in the 8th inning is a winning position for the pitching team over 80 percent of the time, and turning that into a winning position for the hitting team over 70 percent of the time is how you end up in this part of the daily recap. Of course, the Braves went on to win this game, 5-4, but their surge in win probability was split over two separate plays (a Freddie Freeman home run (+.321) and a Dansby Swanson walk-off single (+.342)), so Hedges gets the spotlight.

And he could use it; until this week, he’d been off to a terrible start to the season. Hedges’s was hitless over his first 8 games and 27 PAs, and with only two walks and a HBP mixed in there, his triple slash was a terrifying .000/.111/.000. In his last four games, however, Hedges is 6-for-16, and last night’s home run followed one he had hit in the Padres previous game on Sunday. The über-catcher’s track record is short, even in the minors — he had a 146 wRC+ at AAA in 2016, but a 67 wRC+ at AA in 2014 — so what he’ll be offensively is a very open question.

This wasn’t a bad pitch from Vizcaino; he had nibbled for the whole plate appearance, and this was another pitch not over the heart of the plate. Hedges is currently sporting a 55.6 percent swing rate, 15th-highest among the 200 players with 40 or more PA on the young season, so it may have been a mistake not to throw something junkier. But Hedges had already laid off a few close pitches:

so who knows. This home run didn’t go particularly far, but it takes a lot of strength to knock a home run out from that point of the plate; in 2016, righties hit home runs on 2.1% of the pitches in that zone, versus 323 home runs on pitches in that zone, versus 3.4% on the inside part of the plate and in the middle. Hedges is truly incredible at the defensive aspects of catching, so it doesn’t take a lot of offensive ability for him to be a great player. Yesterday’s home run was quite promising.

Yesterday’s best game score

A.J. Griffin — 80

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.

There are certain names you expect to see on here, and a lot of names that are pretty surprising. It’s a long season, though, so the fact that someone like A.J. Griffin goes and has himself a day every once in a while shouldn’t be shocking. That’s exactly what Griffin did yesterday, giving up a single hit and allowing a single walk over six scoreless frames, striking out eight batters along the way.

Griffin didn’t pitch in the big leagues at all in 2014 or 2015, as he was undergoing and then recovering from Tommy John. In his return last year, he was badly homer-prone, giving up dingers in 5.5 percent of plate appearances, and not particularly controlled, walking 9.0 percent of opposing batters. His zone plot from yesterday also evinces a lack of control; where his success stemmed from was all the whiffs he was getting inside the strike zone.

BrooksBaseball.net

Griffin’s velocity is down from where it was pre-Tommy John — he used to sit right at 90, and has topped out in the high-80s this year — so here’s hoping his stuff is actually as good as it looked against the his old team yesterday.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Matt Holliday — 459 feet

This is the second-longest tater on the season thus far, behind only Carlos Gomez’s 462-foot monster shot from Opening Day. What’s especially crazy about this home run is where it was hit from, over 3.5 feet off the ground:

It’s certainly not impossible for dingers to result from pitches like that; in 2016, there were 391 home runs on pitches above the zone. But only four of those home runs were hit more than 450 feet. It is incredibly hard to make solid contact with a pitch this high off the ground. I’ll leave it to someone smarter than me about hitting mechanics to explain exactly why, but I can say that I find this home run extremely impressive as a result.

This was only Holliday’s second home run on the season, but he’s also running a 1:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio and a .404 OBP, so he’s certainly earning his keep. I would also throw him pitches outside the zone, though after seeing the above clip, I might try to put them a little further outside the zone.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Mike Foltynewicz (4.34 projected ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (3.08 projected ERA)

You can probably tell which pitcher is doing the heavy lifting in making this matchup the one to watch. Max Scherzer is, in my opinion, perennially underrated. He strikes out gobs of opposing batters — 31.2 percent in his two years and change spent with the Nationals — and his 12.6 fWAR since 2015 is behind only Clayton Kershaw in the majors. By Baseball Prospectus’s WARP, which aims to be the most accurate pitching metric possible, he’s actually been ** BLASPHEMY ALERT ** better than Kershaw, if only by the slightest of margins — 14.7 to 14.3 WARP, respectively — and in almost 70 more innings. Wherever you come down on him precisely, the takeaway is obvious: he’s real good, and worth making an appointment to watch.

Mike Foltynewicz is also a pitcher.