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Launch angles — April 30, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Philadelphia Phillies v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Stephen Dunn/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

Justin Turner ties it on LA’s third consecutive homer — +.445 WPA

The Dodgers entered the 9th inning of this game against Philadelphia trailing 5–2. The odds of a team winning in such a situation are understandably quite low: 3.5 percent, per FanGraphs. Yasiel Puig promptly hit a solo shot to lead off the inning, but that just meant that the Dodgers were trailing 5–3, and that’s still not a great position to be in; 8 percent of teams in that position go on to win. Then Cody Bellinger, the very next batter and the Dodgers’ number 8 hitter, also hit a solo shot, and the Dodgers were down 5–4. A much better position than where they started the inning, but still not great; only 18.2 percent of teams win when they’re down by one in the bottom of the ninth. That’s why Turner’s home run takes this coveted slot instead of Puig’s or Bellinger’s: the WPA of the game didn’t really shift until the Dodgers tied it. Until this plate appearance, there were still lots of ways the comeback could go wrong; after it, there were a lot fewer, and the Dodgers were favorites (62.7 percent) to win the game.

Justin Turner cashed out in the offseason, signing a four-year, $64 million deal with the Dodgers. The notion that players might play better in years just prior to hitting free agency has always seemed bizarre to me, because it implies that they don’t try as hard in every other year, and apparently it seems just as bizarre to Turner. Through the first month of the season and 95 PAs, he’s hitting a whopping .388/.453/.541, and while much of that is likely the product of an inflated BABIP of .427, his strikeout rate of 9.5 percent is worth getting excited about. Combined with his solid defense, the result has been 1.4 fWAR for Turner, tied for 8th-best in the league. He started last night on the bench, and came to bat in the 9th to pinch hit in the pitcher’s slot. I generally like the existence of the DH in the early innings of games, but when a team has a bench as deep as the Dodgers do, the higher rates of pinch hitters in the NL offers great potential for drama.

Hector Neris’s performance for the Phillies: home run, home run, game-tying home run, strike out, single. That happened on television, in front of a whole lot of people. I cannot begin to imagine being a professional athlete.

Yesterday’s best game score

Iván Nova — 95

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.

Last year’s trade between the Pirates and the Yankees that sent Nova to Pittsburgh struck me as a little odd at the time. Nova was in the midst of a decidedly middling season with the Yankees, and while the Pirates were hoping to make a Wild Card run, it seemed unlikely regardless of whether they acquired the 29-year-old righty. But the Yankees didn’t drive a hard bargain, asking only for two PTBNL, so the Pirates got Nova. That trade remains odd if the Pirates were only thinking about 2016. But if the Pirates were thinking about 2017 and beyond, and were hoping to expose Nova to Ray Searage and the rest of their coaching staff to make him eager to sign with them, this trade looks a lot more reasonable.

Since that trade, Nova has a) signed a very inexpensive three-year, $26 million contract with the Pirates; and b) been incredible. After last night’s performance — a gem, in which Nova went the full nine innings with 7 strikeouts, 0 walks, 3 hits, and 0 runs (and only 95 pitches, making this a Maddux) — Nova has allowed fewer walks (three in 2016, one in 2017) in his time with the Pirates than he has thrown complete games (three in 2016, two in 2017).

“Pitching to contact” is sort of a dirty phrase, and it feels insulting to say that’s what Nova was doing last night. But while his curveball generated six whiffs (including the one from Justin Bour that’s pictured above), Nova’s outstanding performance was mostly the product of a constant assault on the zone, and a pitching approach that challenged the Marlins lineup with well-placed strikes in almost every situation. (Credit should also be given to Francisco Cervelli for expanding the definition of a strike as much as possible.) Hitting a baseball, it turns out, is really hard, even when the pitch in question is in the strike zone, and a pitcher who can consistently throw strikes has a huge leg up.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Jake Lamb — 481 feet

Can you tell that the weather is warming up? The top four slots on the HR distance leaderboard belong to shots hit over the last two nights, which seems like it might be a product of the improved weather helping the ball carry. But that’s not to say that the recent homers aren’t deserving; this shot from Lamb was crushed, and outpaces the next-closest competition easily, by eleven feet.

I’m not sure how much analysis I can really bring to bear on this pitch.

That’s not an ideal place to throw an 85mph cutter that doesn’t seem to really cut. I know I just went on and on about how hard hitting is and whatnot, and I think that’s still true, but meatballs over the heart of the plate such as this pitch are different from pitches placed on the edges.

The Rockies managed to come back from the 6–1 hole this home run put them in, making up the final three runs in a wild ninth and going on to win 7–6. In this exciting world, where a Colorado–Arizona series is a battle for the top of the NL East, this game had a lot of meaning. A win would’ve given the Diamondbacks a half-game lead on the Rockies; instead, at 16–9, Colorado is still in first, with a game and a half on the Diamondbacks.

SABRy tidbits

  • At Pinstripe Alley, Jason Cohen makes the case for giving Greg Bird a long leash despite his early-season struggles. Even beyond the fact that Bird is a young prospect with a track record of minor-league success, and all such players should be given numerous opportunities to figure out the major leagues, there are reasons to think Bird hasn’t been as bad as his results might suggest.
  • For Let’s Go Tribe, our own Merritt Rohfling (we get custody on the weekends) takes a look at Andrew Miller’s sequencing and strategy, and how it takes him from great to excellent. Miller has the stuff to succeed through brute force alone, and the addition of finesse is what makes him downright terrifying.
  • Eric Thames has been drug tested again, for the third time in ten days, and as Jaymes L of Brew Crew Ball notes, it’s laughable to suggest that this might be random. Unfortunately, the CBA doesn’t contain a grievance process for repeated testing, so it’s a good thing Thames is taking all this attention in stride.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Joe Ross (3.98 projected ERA) vs. Noah Syndergaard (2.90 projected ERA)

This really is the Mets space to lose on any given day. We all know about Syndergaard, right? I don’t need to convince you to watch him pitch? He throws 100 with crazy movement, is incredibly good at pitching, etc. We’ve been over this several times, and he’s lived up to the hype: he’s currently running a 1.73 ERA and a (!) 0.80 FIP, thanks to a 29.1 percent strikeout rate and a... a 0.0 percent walk rate? And a 0.0 percent home run rate? Good gracious, Noah Syndergaard hasn’t walked anyone yet this year, or given up a single home run, and also is striking out 30 percent of opposing batters. We all know he’s good, but come on. There’s no reason not to watch him cut through an opposing lineup.

Joe Ross isn’t bad, either, but it’s hard for me to be enthusiastic about him after Syndergaard. He’s good! He’s young, and he’s solid, and he’s a player every team would want. He’s not Syndergaard though, you know? But we wouldn’t appreciate the incredible without the normal, so Joe Ross is serving an important function in this matchup. Every time he gives up a walk, or throws a pitch that isn’t the grossest 93mph slider you’ve ever seen, you should thank him for the contrast.