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Launch angles — April 24, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Los Angeles Angels Richard Mackson-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

Devon Travis gives the Blue Jays the lead — +.492 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

With Edwin Encarnacion in Cleveland, Josh Donaldson injured, and Jose Bautista slumping mightily, the Blue Jays haven’t been the same offensive juggernaut of old. They rank 28th in baseball with a 75 wRC+ so far this season and appeared headed for another lackluster offensive performance on Sunday.

Down 1-0 with one on and one out in the top of the eighth, Deolis Guerra came on to pitch for the Angels against second baseman Devon Travis. Guerra missed with a borderline slider high, then got Travis to foul off a changeup inside. He then went back to a slider, which stayed up and in the middle of the zone ultimately settling 425 feet away from home plate beyond both bullpens in left field.

Like most of the Blue Jays, Travis has had a miserable start to the season. Through 59 plate appearances his wOBA is a chilly .180 and his wRC+ sits at seven, a number so small that our style guide dictates I spell it out rather than write it numerically. He’s better than what he’s shown, as are the rest of the Blue Jays.

The huge blast opened the floodgates for Toronto as Kevin Pillar and Ryan Goins would follow with home runs later in the game. Travis broke the seal though, bringing his team back from what surely would have been another demoralizing offensive performance.

Chart via FanGraphs

Yesterday’s best game score

Marcus Stroman — 77

Stroman K’s Trout, Pujols, and Cron
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.

While his offense was floundering for the first seven innings, Marcus Stroman was keeping the Blue Jays afloat. It wasn’t an overwhelmingly dominant effort against the Angels as he gave up seven hits, two walks, and one earned run while striking out just five; but Stroman went the distance and only needed 99 pitches.

As is usually the case, Stroman relied heavily on his two-seam fastball, throwing it 69 times and using it to generate nine of his 10 ground ball outs. This works out to a 69.69 percent total usage rate on the day (seriously) as he went to the pitch a tad more often than his usual 62.4 percent. All in all it was a nice performance, but Stroman also had to contend with two very strange and potentially impactful calls by home plate umpire Ramon De Jesus.

First, with the count 3-1 on Kole Calhoun, Stroman was called for an illegal quick pitch. An automatic ball was awarded which walked Calhoun, he would come around to score the game’s first run.

Gif via MLB.tv

Certainly a questionable ruling, but one that is left to the discretion of the home plate umpire.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was ejected for arguing but if he hadn’t been at that moment, he might’ve been later after De Jesus called an extremely late timeout in the bottom of the eighth. Facing Martin Maldonado in a 3-2 count, Stroman was well into in his windup when time was granted, nullifying what would have been strike three.

Gif via MLB.tv

Thankfully the game wasn’t altered too much as Stroman struck Maldonado out on the very next pitch.

On Sunday, Marcus Stroman faced a lineup with the best player on the planet and some curious, potentially rhythm altering calls behind home plate. It wasn’t the prettiest complete game you’ll ever see, but all things considered it was impressive.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Joey Gallo — 439 feet

Gif via MLB.com

We’ve only been doing this daily recap at Beyond The Box Score for less than a month, but already there is a hotly contested race in progress to be the man with the most days hitting the longest home run. On Sunday, Joey Gallo hit a 439 foot opposite field blast to earn his third appearance in “Launch Angles,” tying fellow young, behemoth slugger Aaron Judge. This will be a delightful race to keep tabs on.

This particular home run came on the first pitch that Gallo saw from Royals lefty reliever Scott Alexander; a sinker belt high on the outer half of the plate. To use a broadcaster cliche, he “went with the pitch,” demonstrating the kind of easy opposite field power that makes you shake your head in disbelief. The ball came off the bat at 111 miles per hour at a 28 degree angle, reaching a height of 99 feet at it’s apex.

Another impressive display from the rookie slugger.

Charts via Baseball Savant

SABRy tidbits

  • While the season is still in small sample size caveat territory, that doesn’t mean players who are off to especially strong starts should not be acknowledged. Over at Pinstripe Alley, Jake Devin broke down how Chase Headley’s plate discipline has been the key to his early success.
  • Trevor Story came out of the gate last season like a man possessed, socking 10 home runs in April. While he’s begun to show signs of life, this year has seen him start considerably slower. Jordan Freemyer of Purple Row explains why his offense is still a work in progress.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jhoulys Chacin (4.36 projected ERA) vs. Zack Greinke (3.73 projected ERA)

I’m guessing Chacin was one of the pitchers Jhoulys expected to see in this space.

*holds for applause*

His inclusion speaks to the nature of the daily “Launch Angles” best pitching matchup. Sometimes when the overall slate of matchups is weak, a below average pitcher is propped up by one of the league’s best. Here’s the thing though, other than his opening day thumping courtesy of the Dodgers, Jhoulys Chacin has been pretty darn good. The numbers won’t knock your socks off — his strikeout rate is still unimpressive at best — but his FIP sits at 3.88 and his DRA at 4.20. Perfectly respectable considering what’s expected of him.

It must be mentioned that both of Chacin’s scoreless starts have been at Petco Park with his two less impressive outings coming on the road. On Monday he will once again face the unfriendly confines of not-Petco as the Padres head into Chase Field to face the Diamondbacks.

Just like Chacin, Zack Greinke’s worst start of the young season came at Dodger Stadium. That outing aside, he’s rebounding nicely so far from a down 2016. Greinke’s early season FIP sits at 3.04 and his DRA at 1.52 (!!) despite currently running his lowest strikeout rate since 2006 and lowest average fastball velocity since 2005.

These two starters met up at Petco Park last Wednesday and the Padres came away with a 1-0 win. Five days later the scene shifts to Arizona where the rematch has come in short order.

It’s Greinke vs. Chacin: Part II. Let’s do this.

. . .

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