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Launch angles — April 7, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-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

Justin Bour puts the Marlins ahead in extras — +.399 WPA

Last night Joe Blanton missed his spot again. The stakes in the first week of the season are immeasurably lower than when he missed his spot in Game One of the 2016 NLCS; but nonetheless, he missed his spot again. Setting context aside, the difference is that on Thursday Blanton missed in a place that shouldn’t have hurt him that badly. He wanted to come inside on Marlins first baseman Justin Bour, but instead left a four-seam fastball up and away.

It was a borderline strike, but a pitch that you’d think would lead to bad contact if hit. Most left-handed hitters in baseball struggle with the location of a fastball like that. Unfortunately for Mr. Blanton he was facing Bour, master of the four-seam fastball up and away. With the requisite small sample size caveat for Bour’s line, his numbers against four-seamers in this location — zones 1 and 11 on a Baseball Savant search — are impressive

LH Hitters in 2016 vs. Four-Seamers Up & Away

Player(s) BA ISO Avg. Exit Velocity Avg. Launch Angle
Player(s) BA ISO Avg. Exit Velocity Avg. Launch Angle
All Left-Handed Hitters .163 .098 90.4 MPH 17.9°
Justin Bour .417 .538 104 MPH 12.3°
Left-Hand Hitters vs. FF in zones 1 & 11 Data via Baseball Savant

Blanton missed and Bour didn’t as he doubled down the left field line while catcher JT Realmuto motored all the way home from first base. The tenth inning tie was broken and the Marlins were able to escape Washington D.C. with a win to avoid an opening series sweep.

Yesterday’s best game score

Gio Gonzalez — 67

Gio Gonzalez ends his day with a 3-2 curveball that gets eventual hero Justin Bour to chase.

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.

A classic baseball-ism is that a pitcher who had a good game but allowed a hand full of hits “scattered” those hits across however many innings he pitched. This term lets us admit that the pitcher indeed gave up his share of base knocks, but was able to limit any damage they might have done.

Enter Gio Gonzalez, who scattered seven hits across six scoreless innings against the Marlins. Helping to minimize any possible damage were his seven strikeouts to just one walk. Gonzalez consistently kept his changeup and curveball down in the zone, inducing six ground ball outs that included two double plays.

It wasn’t a banner day for starting pitchers across Major League Baseball, but Gonzalez was impressive and managed to edge Rockies rookie Antonio Senzatela by one point to take Thursday’s game score crown.

Here’s the wipeout curveball from above in super sexy slow-mo.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

George Springer — 454 feet

George Springer had Wednesday’s biggest play and now has Thursday’s biggest home run. It was his third of the year; a titanic blast measuring 454 feet that cleared the “Minute Maid: Astros Community Leaders” sign. That’s how you lead off a game!

Here’s poor Ariel Miranda — thrust into the rotation as a replacement for the injured Drew Smyly — trying to pump Springer with fastballs in his first at bat. Springer worked the count full while letting Miranda off the hook for two pitches over the heart of the plate, but he would not allow a third meatball to go unpunished. Hindsight is 20/20 and certainly pitchers don’t like to show their entire bag of tricks in the early innings, but it’s safe to say that mixing in an off-speed pitch or two here would’ve served Miranda well.

Living middle-middle with fastballs is a recipe for disaster, especially when facing George Springer, one of the Astros’ most prominent community leaders in his own right.

Chart via Baseball Savant

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Max Scherzer (3.08 projected ERA) vs. Vince Velasquez (3.88 projected ERA)

We’ve reached the end of the first turn through most rotations. By and large the matchups for Friday nights games are underwhelming. But through the fog of mediocrity shines a beacon of light in the form of reigning NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer.

Under normal circumstances he would have started opening day, but an injury to his right ring finger has pushed back his debut a few days. Scherzer told 106.7 The Fan in DC that he is pleasantly surprised to be ready this early.

“I really thought I was gonna be going to the DL for at least two, three weeks given that you need to get into a throwing program. The fact that I’ve been able to shortcut this and actually be on time and have all my pitches and be built up ready to throw a hundred pitches, I don’t know how I did it.”

On the other side is young Vince Velasquez who faded down the stretch in 2016 but still posted a 3.96 FIP and 27.6 percent strikeout rate. His fastball averages 94 MPH and each of his five pitches generates double digit whiff rates. Velasquez fairs poorly in Baseball Prospectus’ Called Strikes Above Average (CSAA) metric — a proxy for command — so he’ll need to improve on that to take a step forward this season.

While Friday night will see plenty of back end starters, the battle of established ace and dynamic upstart is the outlier and clear cut best matchup.

. . .

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