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Launch angles — April 23, 2017

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All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/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

Maikel Franco — +.730 WPA

The Phillies and Braves played a wild one last night. We’ve talked a lot about win probability added in this space, but we haven’t touched on the related concept of “leverage index” as much. Leverage index (LI) measures just how important a play could be, before the play actually happens, but comparing how much win probability could be added by good outcomes to how much win probability could be subtracted by bad outcomes. A leverage index of 1.0 represents a normal situation; in really important moments, when a hit can immediately win the game and an out can immediately lose it, the leverage index gets very high. How high? The LI was 10.8 when Franco came to the plate in the 10th.

This game had already gone through several gut-wrenching turns. In just over two innings, the Phillies went from 90.8 percent favorites to 16.5 percent underdogs to 100 percent winners. In the bottom of the 8th, Philadelphia was holding onto a one-run lead, and when Aaron Altherr tried to score an insurance run from third on a fly ball from Franco, he was gunned down at the plate. The desire to open up the lead was a prescient one; Brandon Phillips tied the game with a solo shot in the top of the 9th, and then, with two outs in the top of the 10th, Franco couldn’t throw out Adonis Garcia on a little dribbler, allowing Dansby Swanson to score and the Braves to take the lead.

It was a hard play, certainly, but one Franco and many other third basemen make with some frequency. It went in the books as a hit, but it must’ve felt nice to clear any culpability Franco was carrying with his booming single.

Yesterday’s best game score

Carlos Carrasco — 88

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.

For the second night in a row, a pitcher from Cleveland dominated, and took the top spot in our recap. Like Kluber on Friday, Carrasco was outstanding on Saturday, going eight innings with eight strikeouts and allowing just one walk, three hits, and no runs. The slider, pictured above, was particularly effective; of the 23 thrown by the 30-year-old righty, only 4 went for balls, and of the 15 swings the slider generated, eight were whiffs. To break that down more clearly: 23 sliders, with four balls, eight called strikes, four balls-in-play, three foul tips, and eight whiffs. That is a pitch that is working.

It’s easy to forget just how good Cleveland’s pitching is, when their World Series run last year came without the assistance of Carrasco or of Danny Salazar. By FanGraphs’ depth chart projections, the Indians have the fourth-best rotation in the majors, and the best in the AL. Cleveland’s starters have already accumulated 1.8 WAR in the young season, and that’s a big part of why they’re off to a solid 10–7 start to the season.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 457 feet

I’m not sure what to say. I struggled to describe Joey Gallo’s 462-foot home run yesterday; this is barely any different, in that all the normal home run verbs seem woefully insufficient. This ball was... ejected? Propelled? Whomped? Clobbered? My thesaurus can’t bring this home run back into the realm of normal baseball things. Last week, I wrote briefly about Judge, and noted that, while he was displaying fantastic exit velocity, he was also driving the ball into the ground more than was ideal. He put a good launch angle on this one.

I was going to make some snarky comments about people not watching despite having great seats, but a) who cares, enjoy baseball however you want to; b) it was the top of the 9th in a 10–5 game, I’d probably be pretty checked out too; c) of the 17 people visible, only the three in the front and one in the third row aren’t paying attention at the moment of the pitch. That said, I would suggest watching Aaron Judge plate appearances closely if you’re lucky enough to attend a game in person, because you just might see something extraordinary happen.

In the moment just after contact, we mostly see expressions of shock and disbelief on the part of the assembled spectators. Only the baby, located above Francisco Cervelli’s right shoulder, knew immediately to throw his hands up and celebrate the feat he just witnessed. May we all be so wise.

SABRy tidbits

  • South Side Sox’s Jim Margalus is doing an ongoing series where he recaps the White Sox game on each date from 1917. Yesterday’s edition quoted an old game story that featured the phrase “sweet, hot moments of pastiming,” and if that doesn’t convince you it’s worth reading then I don’t know what will.
  • Veterans occupy a strange space on a rebuilding team, but the Phillies are getting closer and closer to their transition into contention. Jeremy Hellickson has been off to an excellent start, and over at the Good Phight, John Stolnis thinks Philadelphia should try to keep him on the team past the end of the season.
  • Ben Markham of Viva El Birdos looks at the projections and their changes from the beginning of the year to argue for starting Jedd Gyorko over Jhonny Peralta. Peralta is off to an abysmal start to the season — a line of .120/.185/.120 is not ideal — and the projections are giving increasing weight to the possibility that he’s not bouncing back.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Zack Wheeler (4.01 projected ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (3.07 projected ERA)

Scherzer keeps forcing his way into this slot, despite frequently being matched up against pitchers who wouldn’t otherwise come close to sniffing it. It’s not that Zack Wheeler is bad, but he’s not particularly special, having run a 100 FIP- (exactly average) over the course of his career. Perhaps I’m spoiled by all the other young Mets pitchers, so that a 26-year-old who is only good and not already great is a disappointment in Queens. But I did expect this space to usually feature the best of the best, and that’s not Wheeler.

But it’s an apt description of Scherzer, without a doubt, and that’s why he keeps being featured. He’s the best pitcher in the NL, non-Kershaw division, and since I gushed over him while previewing his last start, he threw seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts, three walks, and two hits. He hasn’t had a truly dominant outing yet this year, but tonight could be the night, given that he’s facing a Mets roster that is, uh, not at full strength. It should be fun.