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Launch angles — May 20, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: San Francisco Giants at St. Louis Cardinals
Really? This guy hit a game-winning two-run double?
Scott Kane-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

Eduardo Nunez (yes, that Eduardo Nunez) puts the Giants ahead — +.484 WPA

H/T to Chris Anders for GIFifying.
GIF via MLB.com

Yesterday, four American League games went into extras. The Athletics got yet another walk-off, this time over the Red Sox; the Twins came back to beat the Royals; the Orioles dealt another blow to the Blue Jays; and the White Sox outlasted the Mariners. None of these games had the biggest play, though — that honor went to a regular old nine-inning contest in the National League.

Well, “regular” is a relative term. This isn’t what I’d deem a regular win probability graph:

Image via FanGraphs

The Cardinals struck first, tallying two runs against Matt Moore to take a 2-0 lead into the seventh. The Giants rallied for three runs in the top of that frame to surge ahead 3-2, before George Kontos gave up a three-run homer to Dexter Fowler in the bottom half. San Francisco put up another run in the eighth, but heading into the ninth, St. Louis had a 5-4 lead to give its closer, Seung Hwan Oh.

That’s when, for the third and final time in the game, the trailing team made a comeback. Singles from Brandons Belt and Crawford put runners on the corners with one down. That set the table for Nunez, who’s struggled at the plate this season; entering the game, he’d notched a 69 wRC+.

Maybe that’s why, with his team’s win probability at 37.3 percent, he threw up his hands and decided to swing at the first pitch he saw:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Nunez has always been a phenomenal first-pitch hitter — for his career before this game, he’d hit .394 and slugged .522 on the first pitch. Oh, on the flip side, had always been a deadly first-pitch pitcher, holding hitters to a .182 average and .212 slugging percentage on the first pitch. In this case, the unstoppable force trucked right over the immovable object, giving the Giants an advantage they wouldn’t relinquish. Who needs 10 innings when you can settle your score in nine?

Yesterday’s best game score

Jose Quintana — 88

For some reason, WGN really likes Quintana’s strut. Can’t say I disagree, though.
Image via FanGraphs

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.

Well, at least one of the extra-inning games will make it into the recap. The White Sox and Mariners were knotted at 1-1 after nine innings; Ariel Miranda had a magnificent start for Seattle, but Quintana was the better southpaw. He allowed four total baserunners — two of them on errors — and struck out seven hitters. Perhaps most impressively, he accomplished that with a minuscule strike zone:

Image via Baseball Savant

This year, Quintana has started to lean on his curveball, throwing it 32.7 percent of the time before yesterday. Against Seattle, though, his four-seamer/sinker mix gave him an edge. Of the 62 fastballs Quintana threw, 43 went for strikes, with 12 called strikes and five whiffs; only one of the 11 heaters put in play went for a hit.

Whether the White Sox eventually deal Quintana could hinge on his value this year. After this outing, his ERA has dropped to 3.92, with a 3.85 FIP to match. (His xFIP is a lot higher, but he’s always had a thing with that.) While it can’t compare with his 2016 production, an ERA like that — with a contract like Quintana’s — would still fetch a handsome return on the trade market. Regardless of what happens, Chicago fans will appreciate dominant starts like these for as long as they’re able to witness them.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Jose Abreu — 464 feet

Seriously, just follow Chris already.
GIF via MLB.com

Yesterday, my colleague Anthony Rescan put together a poignant piece of writing, commemorating the most brilliant dingers of the young 2017 season. Joey Gallo — the budding Rangers slugger who mashed a 439-foot bomb yesterday — showed up twice on Anthony’s list. Abreu, on the other hand, didn’t make an appearance, and apparently he took that snub to heart.

Miranda, as noted above, pitched a sparkling game for the M’s. Through the first five frames, it seemed he might saddle Quintana with another tough-luck loss. With two outs in the sixth, though, he fell behind a dangerous hitter 2-0, then tried to sneak a breaking ball past him:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Abreu was having none of it. The round-tripper was his second of three hits on the night, improving his batting line to .270/.331/.487. If he keeps this up — and if the South Siders spiral out of contention in the AL Central — Quintana might not be the only Jose on the trading block.

SABRy tidbits

  • Of all the Yankees hitters having breakout years, Aaron Hicks might be the most peculiar. How does a guy who came into 2017 with a 77 lifetime wRC+ leap ahead to more than double that? Pinstripe Alley’s Matt Provenzano breaks down the numerous changes Hicks has made to get better.
  • It’s an odd year, which means things are trending downward for the Giants. Despite yesterday’s thrilling win, their 18-25 record puts them nine games behind the Rockies in the NL West. Over at McCovey Chronicles, Grant Brisbee sheds some light on one of the reasons for that — San Francisco has gotten basically nothing from its bench.
  • Andrew Benintendi started out the season with a crazy streak, but since then he’s struggled at the plate, going about a week without recording a hit. Over the Monster’s Matt Collins is a little concerned about him; still, he reminds us, it’s normal for young players to adjust a little bit.
  • While his triple-slash doesn’t show it, Manny Machado has crushed the ball this year — his hard contact rate has spiked to 44.1 percent, one of the highest in the majors. Along with that, opponents aren’t throwing Manny as many pitches to hit; Camden Chat’s Nick Cicere wonders how the young slugger should respond to that.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jeff Samardzija (3.63 projected ERA) vs. Carlos Martinez (3.53 projected ERA)

Another fifth day, another Max Scherzer snub. For his past three starts, FanGraphs projects the Nationals ace to have a 3.08 ERA over the rest of the season, the fourth-best in MLB. Yet in his past three starts, he’s faced Braden Shipley (4.78 projected ERA), Ubaldo Jimenez (5.11 projected ERA), and Vince Velasquez (4.09 projected ERA), who have prevented him from appearing in this preview. Today, the story is no different; Bartolo Colon has shown his age this year, and a pitching matchup featuring him is no must-watch.

Instead, we’ll see this matchup between two pitchers with varying degrees of bad luck. Both Martinez (27.0 percent) and Samardzija (28.6 percent) have struck out a ton of hitters this year; the former has struggled with the long ball, while the latter has a sky-high BABIP and a depressed strand rate. If they turn their fortunes around today, it could be another tight Cardinals-Giants game.