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Launch angles — April 20, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Philadelphia Phillies v New York Mets
Heeeeeeeeeere’s Jay!
Photo by Jim McIsaac/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

Jay Bruce’s three-run homer puts the Mets ahead — +.485 WPA

GIF via

It’s always interesting, the plays that make it to this slot. In yesterday’s Tigers-Rays game, Tampa trailed 7-6 with one out in the ninth. After putting runners on first and second, Detroit closer Francisco Rodriguez induced a routine ground ball from Logan Morrison. Yadda yadda yadda, Jose Iglesias screws up, and instead of turning the double play, the Tigers watch the Rays walk off. But that error gave the Rays .470 WPA, so it plays second fiddle to Bruce’s heroics.

Bruce has had a volatile Mets career. Last season, after joining the team at the trade deadline, he stunk up Queens with his 81 wRC+ for the rest of the year. This season, though, he’s off to an amazing start, puting up a wRC+ (190) more than twice as high as last year’s. For what it’s worth, this four-bagger — off ascendent Phillies starter Vince Velasquez — was certainly an easy pitch to hit:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Later in the game, after Jerry Blevins let the Phillies tie the score at 3, Bruce launched another home run off Edubray Ramos. The lefty knocked in all the Mets’ runs in their 5-4 victory, giving him 14 RBIs on the sea—/is deposed by Brian Kenny

Yesterday’s best game score

Jhoulys Chacin — 85

GIF via

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.

Yesterday, apparently, was the day the fountain of youth sprung forth in dugouts across the majors. Mediocre starters galore put together dominant outings, from Ubaldo Jimenez tearing through the Reds to Jason Vargas going toe-to-toe with Madison Bumgarner. But the best game of the day came in San Diego, where Chacin outdueled Zack Greinke, of all pitchers.

I want to focus in on that first strikeout from the GIF above, because man, was it a beauty:

GIF via

I tweeted last week — with regards to an unrelated game, obviously — that a checked-swing called strikeout might be the sweetest play in baseball. Chacin went with a slider on the previous pitch to even up the count, and Chris Herrmann expected him to return to the breaking ball with two strikes. Even though the Diamondbacks catcher realized his error and successfully checked his swing, it didn’t matter: Chacin had plopped the ball across the plate for strike three.

Since he debuted in 2009, Chacin has the 31st-lowest Z-Swing rate among qualified pitchers, at 59.0 percent. This, needless to say, is a skill for him. (For what it’s worth, he’s 237th out of 374 in zone rate, so he hasn’t been exceptionally wild.) Against Arizona, he threw 101 pitches, 11 of them whiffs but 19 of them calls. Pitches like that led to a lot of faces like this:

GIF via

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 448 feet

GIF via

Yesterday, on the 18th day of the regular season, we got our first repeat performer on the top home run spot. Amazingly, Giancarlo Stanton — who has the 12th- and 16th-longest home runs of the season — has yet to make an appearance; Kris Bryant outdid his 442-foot blast on Saturday, and Judge topped him by two feet yesterday. Better luck next time, Mike!

But really, can you say you’re surprised Judge took the cake? I mean, just look at this stat:

Judge had hit eight career home runs heading into last night’s White Sox-Yankees bout. While those hadn’t come in any one area of the zone, he tended to prefer inside pitches:

Image via Baseball Savant

So when Dylan Covey — in his second big-league start — hung a curveball, Judge was ready for it and pounced. It’s a learning curve, Covey; with Don Cooper’s guidance, you’ll learn not to serve up meatballs to 6-foot-7 sluggers.

SABRy tidbits

  • Last year, Taylor Motter had a 66 wRC+ in 93 plate appearances for the Rays. This year, he’s hit three long balls in 34 trips to the dish, upping his wRC+ to 201. Why the sudden leap? Lookout Landing’s Jake Mailhot looks into the changes the well-coiffed utility player has made.
  • Here’s a good rule of thumb: Never listen to anything Lee Judge says. Here’s another good rule of thumb: Always listen to what Royals Review’s Max Rieper says — for instance, the insight he provides about Kansas City’s run-scoring woes.
  • For the second straight year, Eugenio Suarez has started off hot. Last year’s streak petered out pretty quickly, though. Should Reds fans expec the same this year? Maybe not, argues Red Reporter’s Tony Wolfe.
  • After a sub-replacement rookie year, Jorge Polanco has fared much better as a sophomore, putting up a 117 wRC+ for the Twins. The key to that progress? Better plate discipline — as Twinkie Town’s Louie Opatz explains, Polanco’s pumped up his walk rate and cut down his strikeout rate.
  • Rick Ankiel and his fight with Steve Blass disease has always been a fascinating baseball storyline, and now he’s released an autobiography shedding more light on the experience. Viva El Birdos’s Ben Godar takes the opportunity to look back at Ankiel’s swift ascent and descent.
  • The Blue Jays are 2-11 (or were, before they beat the Red Sox yesterday, which, lmao). What does that mean for the rest of their season? Bluebird Banter’s Gerse looks at some historic numbers for teams that have started that poorly.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Aaron Nola (3.54 projected ERA) vs. Noah Syndergaard (2.95 projected ERA)

Last season, if you judged by runs allowed, Syndergaard and Nola were worlds apart. The former ranked seventh in baseball with a 2.60 ERA, while the latter came in more than two runs behind, at 4.78. But more advanced stats closed the gap a bit. By FIP, Nola (3.12) was within a run of Syndergaard (2.33); by DRA, the Philly (2.81) was within half a run of the Met (2.47).

This season, each has looked like a frontline starter. Nola has a 3.27 ERA and (gasp) 1.09 FIP through two starts, marking his successful return from an elbow ailment. Syndergaard has put up a 0.95 ERA and 0.80 FIP in his three games, with his sinker giving him an added boost. This game in Queens should be a pitching duel to watch.

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.