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Launch angles — April 28, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Toronto Blue Jays v St Louis Cardinals - Game One Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/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

Randal Grichuk sends the game to extras with a two-run blast — +.488 WPA

Gif via

Down in the bottom of the ninth with two out and the tying or winning run at the plate is peak baseball excitement and the scenario that Randal Grichuk found himself in during game one of the Blue Jays/Cardinals doubleheader on Thursday. Yadier Molina was standing at second base as Grichuk took the first two pitches from Toronto closer Roberto Osuna. Though they were in nearly identical spots, the initial four-seamer was called a strike and the slider that followed was ruled just outside for a ball; both well placed offerings.

The third pitch was another four-seam fastball just above the knees and over the heart of the plate, a decidedly worse location from Osuna’s perspective. Grichuk sent the pitch hurtling towards center field at 103.8 miles per hour where it would meet the loving embrace of a fan 412 feet away.

Kevin Pillar tried quite admirably to rob the home run from the aforementioned Cardinals fan but it was just out of his reach. He would instead have to settle with a demoralizing but well-earned taunt from said fan who made a nice barehanded catch on the fly.

Matt Carpenter’s walk-off grand slam in extras was great, but the bases were juiced and there was only one out; the Cardinals win expectancy in that spot was already 83.2 percent. Grichuk’s game-tying dinger in the ninth lifted their win expectancy to 53.4 percent from just 4.6. He brought them back to life.

Chart via FanGraphs

Yesterday’s best game score

Masahiro Tanaka — 91

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.

Masahiro Tanaka entered Thursday with a 6.00 ERA and 4.73 FIP due mostly to his brutal 2 23 inning, seven earned run performance against the Rays on opening day. A rough start to the season for sure, but as you’d expect with an elite pitcher he bounced back and saw improvements in each of his three subsequent outings. The progress crescendoed on Thursday as Tanaka earned the second best game score of his career at Fenway Park against the rival Red Sox. Oh, and he did one other thing.

The illustrious “Maddux” — as coined by Jason Lukehart — is when a pitcher needs fewer than 100 pitches to throw a complete game shutout. It’s a rare and impressive feat and Tanaka was able to do it by allowing just three hits and walking none. He tallied a mere three strikeouts and only eight total swinging strikes on the day, but was able to induce 15 ground ball outs by keeping the ball down in the zone consistently. Look at this zone plot of his pitches from Thursday, just eight pitches were elevated.

Zone Plot via Baseball Savant

Tanaka’s game score was dampened by the lack of strikeouts, but as he demonstrated on Thursday there’s more than one way to get the job done. Congratulations on the “Maddux,” Masahiro.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Francisco Lindor — 456 feet

Gif via

Francisco Lindor was never supposed to have a ton of power, but here we are still in the first month of the season and he just hit his sixth home run. This latest blast was his most impressive not only because of it’s particulars but also the circumstances of the game at the time.

The Cleveland professional baseball team was trailing the Astros 3-2 in the bottom of the 7th with a runner on first and two outs as Lindor stepped up to face Astros super-reliever Chris Devenski. Much has been written in sabermetric circles about Devenski as it seems he’s one of the key cogs in the current bullpen usage revolution, but also because he’s an exceptional pitcher.

Lindor — facing this dynamic fireman with his team down one in the latter stages of the game — proceeded to demolish a 2-0 changeup at the bottom of the zone. The pitch was near the middle of the plate horizontally, but he had to go down and get it. The ball left the bat at 107.5 miles per hour and traveled 456 feet into the visitor’s bullpen, serving as a well-placed warning to any Astros reliever who might face Lindor in the future.

Zone Plot via Baseball Savant

The mammoth home run gave Cleveland a 4-3 lead, which would end up the final score. Due to the context in which it was hit, Lindor almost claimed two categories in this edition of “Launch Angles.” This play earned a win probability added of .445, coming up just short of Randal Grichuk’s ninth inning dinger.

It appears Francisco Lindor has grown into his power — watch out.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jacob deGrom (3.33 projected ERA) vs. Max Scherzer (3.10 projected ERA)

Even before adding up the projected ERA’s for all of today’s matchups it was clear this would be the game to earn a spot in this space. Two legitimate aces face off in Washington D.C. on Friday, and they’ve had similar seasons to this point.

Tale of the Tape: deGrom vs. Scherzer

Stat Jacob deGrom Max Scherzer
Stat Jacob deGrom Max Scherzer
K% 31.7% 31.4%
BB% 9.9% 7.6%
SwStr% 17.8% 15.9%
Avg. FB Velo 94.9 mph 94.1 mph
FIP 2.65 2.50
DRA 1.87 1.07
Data via FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus

Scherzer’s got the edge in walk rate, but deGrom has induced a higher swinging strike rate to this point. The both sit in the mid-90’s with their fastballs and both have sparkling FIP and DRA marks. Scherzer has the more interesting eyes of course, but deGrom has the clear advantage in the hair department. It’s a real toss up with these two.

Yoenis Cespedes and Lucas Duda are both hurt so Scherzer will be navigating an easier lineup, but on any given day either one of these pitchers can dominate even the league’s best hitters. This is a true battle of aces.

. . .

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