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Launch angles — April 21, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Boston Red Sox v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/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

Kendrys Morales gives Blue Jays fans a few minutes of happiness — +.435 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

The good people of Toronto spent eight innings watching their team fail to score. Entering the ninth down one run against Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrel, they surely anticipated heading home with a league-leading 12th loss. Would-be hero Kendrys Morales then stepped up to the plate, and with one swing of his bat proclaimed, “not today will the Blue Jays go quietly into that good night.”

Morales rocketed a 1-0 fastball on the outer half of the plate 427 feet to straight away center field. The game was now tied and hope was restored to the Blue Jays faithful.

That hope would be temporary. Cut to the next half inning when Mookie Betts would rip a bases-clearing double down the left field line to put the Red Sox up 4-1 in the 10th and quickly extinguish Toronto’s brief moment of optimism. Baseball can be so cruel.

That Betts double isn’t the featured play in this space because it was the fourth event in a series of plays that lead to the Red Sox taking the lead and winning the game. Sandy Leon’s walk, Brock Holt’s single, and Andrew Benintendi’s walk all contributed to Boston’s win expectancy. Betts’ double did earn a win probability added of .430, but that means it came up just short of Morales’ ninth inning, game-tying home run for the day’s biggest play.

At least the Blue Jays won something, right?

Chart via FanGraphs

Yesterday’s best game score

Chris Sale — 91

Gif via MLB.com

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.

Chris Sale gave the scuffling Blue Jays absolutely no quarter on Thursday, as he allowed just four hits and one walk over eight scoreless innings. Sale struck out 13 and was the sole merchant responsible for fitting Jose Bautista with his golden sombrero.

In total, the Blue Jays swung and missed at 20 pitches from Sale. With the exception of two batted balls from Kendrys Morales and flyouts from Kevin Pillar and Devon Travis the contact they did make was of the weaker variety. Sale maintained his velocity throughout the game and was able to dial his slider all the way up to 84 miles per hour on his final pitch of the day to Bautista (see the above gif).

Chart via Baseball Savant

Chris Sale is one of the pitchers you expect to see in this particular section of the Beyond the Box Score daily recap with regularity. He was especially dominant on Thursday and provided yet another shining example of the uselessness the win statistic. Craig Kimbrel blew the save on the Morales home run yet took the win from Sale thanks to the recovery of the Red Sox offense. The fading irrelevance of pitcher win-loss records is truly a joy to watch. Good riddance.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Travis Shaw — 458 feet

Gif via MLB.com

The Brewers are mashing taters like crazy and no matter what certain members of the Cubs think, it appears the only thing in their water is barley malt, corn, yeast and hops. While Eric Thames and his return from Korea has been the big story of the Brewers’ early power surge, Travis Shaw blasted his fifth home run of the season on Thursday to add to the team’s league leading total of 32.

This particulars of Thursday’s dinger from Shaw were impressive. The ball came of the bat with an exit velocity of 114 miles per hour at a launch angle of 25 degrees on a 1-0, changeup from Cardinals ace Carlos Martinez. It hit the facade of Miller Park’s upper deck.

As you can see from the chart below, Shaw typically hits the ball hardest when it’s low and away but on this occasion he was able to turn on a low pitch over the inner half with incredible force.

Charts via Baseball Savant

As we must repeat ad nauseam, it’s still early and everything should be taken with a grain of salt, but Shaw’s performance so far this season has been impressive. His contact rate is up, his swing percentage is down, and he’s cut his strikeout rate from the previous two season significantly. Shaw is also producing despite a depressed .233 BABIP, which is far below his career norms. He may not continue to carry a 134 wRC+ all year, but if his improved plate discipline continues we could be witnessing a breakout in progress.

No matter what the rest of his season holds, Travis Shaw crushed a baseball on Thursday and left Carlos Martinez with a bad taste in his mouth.

Gif via MLB.com

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Corey Kluber (3.45 projected ERA) vs. Jose Quintana (3.88 projected ERA)

Here we have two of the top starters in baseball facing off in an effort to bring their respective ERA’s below six. The first three starts of the season have been rough on each of these two AL Central aces.

Jose Quintana’s strikeouts are down and his walks are up. He’s giving up more fly balls than ever and a great many of them are leaving the yard. Corey Kluber’s strikeout and walk numbers aren’t as changed as Quintana’s, but he’s having trouble with the long ball as well, allowing a 20.8 percent HR/FB rate. Of course it’s still early and these are all numbers that could begin to significantly normalize after just one great start. With the track records of these two it’s more likely than not that they’ll be fine.

While Quintana’s walk rate will almost certainly not continue to be in the double digits, there is one area of at least moderate concern for Kluber; his fastball velocity. It’s down.

Chart via Brooks Baseball

Even though pitchers are still theoretically building up their arm strength, a noticeable velocity drop is worth mentioning because the change in how velocity is measured should boost readings a little bit. Again, it’s still April, but the velocity on Kluber’s hard stuff is definitely something to keep an eye on. Your next chance will be on Friday night, as two of baseball’s best pitchers try to get back on track.

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