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Launch angles — April 19, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

San Francicso Giants v Kansas City Royals Photo by Ed Zurga/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

Joe Panik drives in the go-ahead run in extras — +.347 WPA

Joe Panik had a disappointing, injury-filled 2016. His wRC+ dropped from 136 the season prior to a paltry 86 and he slashed just .239/.315/.379. Although it’s early and beating the small sample size drum is still necessary, it seems like Panik is returning to his 2015 form. The Giants second baseman is slashing .319/.389/.447 with a wRC+ of 133 so far this season.

My Beyond the Box Score colleague Joe Clarkin wrote about Panik’s potential for a rebound season due to his strikingly low 2016 BABIP. His hard hit rate, which certainly contributes a great deal to BABIP, is up 10.1 percent this year. The Giants are off to a rocky start as a whole, but Panik appears to be in full bounce back mode.

He saw four straight sinkers from southpaw Scott Alexander in the 11th inning on Tuesday night and with only a .7 mile per hour difference between the four pitches, it’s fair to assume that he had the timing of the pitch down. Once Panik got a sinker belt high he drove it to center field where Lorenzo Cain tried his best to ruin the moment. Cain made a valiant effort and almost came up with a spectacular catch, but his starting position in this instance was a detriment as he began the play from slightly to the right of second base and couldn’t quite reach the ball in time.

Chart via Baseball Savant

With Cain prone on the Kaufmann Stadium grass, Giants catcher Nick Hundley — who with two outs was running on contact — scored easily and the Giants picked up a much needed win.

Yesterday’s best game score

Miguel Gonzalez — 81

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.

When Don Mattingly pulled the plug on Wei-Yin Chen’s outing in Seattle after seven innings and 100 pitches he not only killed Chen’s chance to throw a no-hitter, but his opportunity to earn the day’s best game score. Chen’s mark of 80 came up one point short of the White Sox’s Miguel Gonzalez and his sparkling effort against the Yankees.

In 8 13 innings in the Bronx on Tuesday, Gonzalez gave up one earned run on four hits and one walk. He struck out just four, instead relying on ten fly ball outs and two double plays to do the heavy lifting. Gonzalez isn’t known as an extreme fly ball pitcher, his 38 percent fly ball rate was a little bit less than four percentage points above league average in 2016.

Chart via Baseball Savant

The ease with which balls can reach the seats in Yankee Stadium makes living on fly ball outs a potentially disastrous strategy there, but Gonzalez was able to make it work. Statcast tracked 9 of the 10 fly balls put into play against Gonzalez and showed an average exit velocity against of 86.9 miles per hour at an average launch angle of 40.2 degrees. Other than a 101 mile per hour Jacoby Ellsbury smash in the first, the balls put in the air against Gonzalez were either hit too weakly, or at too high an angle.

Not today, Wei-Yin Chen.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Miguel Cabrera — 451 feet

With the exception of a Josh Donaldson rocket that hit the deepest part of the Chase Field wall in 2016, every ball that’s been hit at 110 miles per hour with a 23 degree launch angle has been a home run. Other than that anomaly, this batted ball type is always a no doubter. Kevin Kiermaier half-heartedly ran over to see if he could make a play on this one because he’s basically Superman with a glove in center field, but even he could do nothing but watch as this rocket slammed high off the wall.

Rays starter Matt Andriese threw two low fastballs to start Cabrera off and fell behind in the first inning at-bat. He then followed with another fastball, but this one would be in just about the worst location you could imagine. Rays catcher Derek Norris set up for a pitch on the outside corner at the knees, but it drifted back up and over the middle of the plate.

In 2016 Cabrera hit middle-middle four-seam fastballs an average of 98 miles per hour, and if you include all pitch types that jumps up to 99.3 miles per hour. The moral of the story is don’t throw Miguel Cabrera — one of the greatest hitters of all time — a meatball. But I’m sure you already knew that.

Chart via Baseball Savant

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Tyler Anderson (3.73 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.43 projected ERA)

In his last start, Clayton Kershaw was on the verge of throwing a Maddux when Chris Owings of the Diamondbacks drove in a garbage time run. Dave Roberts then decided that tempting fate would be a mistake and pulled his ace.

Kershaw has been great in the early going of 2017 but not as overwhelmingly dominant as we’ve come to expect. He hasn’t generated swinging strikes quite like he normally has and over at FanGraphs Eno Sarris pointed out the early jump in his contact rate. That said, April has historically been Kershaw’s worst month of the year and no pitcher deserves a bigger benefit of the doubt than he does. Here’s a hot-take for you; Clayton Kershaw will be fine despite his astronomical 2.53 ERA and 3.42 FIP.

On the other side is Rockies left-hander Tyler Anderson. This is a mismatch, plain and simple, but we determine the best pitching matchup based on projected rest of season ERA so more often than not if Kershaw is squaring off with a competent counterpart they will be featured here. Anderson has struggled in his three starts so far this season but he’s coming off an excellent rookie campaign. Los Angeles roughed Anderson up last week, but the Dodgers are never a sure thing to hit left-handed pitching so this could be a fun pitchers’ duel on Wednesday night.

. . .

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