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Launch angles — May 24, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/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

Jordy Mercer gives the Pirates a short-lived lead — +.602 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

This was a wild one. Entering the ninth inning down 4-3, the Pirates managed to load the bases with two outs. Jordy Mercer stepped into the box and worked the count to 2-2 before fouling off a hittable two-seam fastball down and a curveball that was belt high but just outside. For his seventh pitch, Braves closer Jim Johnson then went right back to the curveball in nearly the same spot. It was on the outside corner this time — a tad closer to Mercer — and he was able to reach out and poke it over Dansby Swanson to drive in two runs.

The thing about non-elite closers is that they are fickle, often giving fans an emotional rollercoaster ride with each appearance. On this night, Jim Johnson’s blown save would be matched in the bottom half of the inning by Tony Watson. While the Braves’ tying and go-ahead hits did happen with two outs, it took two separate play events for them to complete the comeback win. Nick Markakis’ game-tying double earned a win probability added of .510 and Matt Adams’ game-winning single had a mark of .389.

Entering the bottom of the ninth the Braves had a win expectancy of 11.1 percent. It took a team effort to rally back for the win, but that team effort is also what prevented their taking home Tuesday’s biggest play. Even though it didn’t hold up, Jordy Mercer’s clutch two-run single had the biggest win probability added of the day.

Graph via FanGraphs

Yesterday’s best game score

Clayton Kershaw — 95

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.

The competition for Tuesday’s best game score was fierce. First Ervin Santana staked his claim with a 92 as he threw a complete game shutout against the Orioles. Then Jon Lester threw his hat into the ring with a complete game of his own against the Giants, allowing one earned run but striking out 10 to best Santana’s game score by one with a 93.

Enter Clayton Edward Kershaw, who matched Lester’s outing with nine innings, one earned run, no walks, and 10 strikeouts against the Cardinals. The lone difference was that Kershaw gave up just three hits while Lester allowed four. On most other nights Lance Lynn’s game score of 81 would’ve been in contention to be featured in this space, but on Tuesday it took an elite 95 from the game’s best pitcher to barely eek out a victory.

As for the particulars of Kershaw’s night, the main takeaway is that his slider appears to be back. While he’s still been outstanding this season with a 2.15 ERA and 2.89 FIP entering Tuesday’s game, he hadn’t been quite his dominant self due mostly to a lack of feel for his slider. As Chad Moriyama at Dodgers Digest broke down earlier this month, having that pitch working is the difference between Kershaw being the otherworldly pitching deity that we’ve come to expect or just a normal ace.

He finally had the slider humming on Tuesday as it generated 10 of his 22 swinging strikes. While the 24.4 percent whiff rate on the slider was impressive and a welcome sight for the Dodgers, Kershaw also had an effective curveball against St. Louis. He induced seven swinging strikes on 16 curves for a 43.8 percent swinging strike rate.

Charts via Baseball Savant

I’m sure opponents were hoping that Kershaw had lost something, but his slider being pedestrian was always most likely to be a temporary situation. Now it looks like he’s past those struggles as he’s back to getting whiffs again. Good luck, hitters.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Kyle Schwarber — 470 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Chicago’s favorite large adult son put his power on full display Tuesday night, blasting a rocket 470 feet over the Wrigley Field bleachers in right. Facing Johnny Cueto, Kyle Schwarber took a called strike down the middle on 3-0, then fouled off a pitch down and away. Cueto had battled back to make the count full after falling behind but proceeded to throw a two-seam fastball over the heart of the plate. The pitch had the movement you’d expect from a Cueto two-seamer, but it’s location was terrible.

Schwarber crushed the offering with a 114 mile per hour exit velocity and a 26 degree launch angle. That’s a combination that’s only been seen one other time, but as you might imagine it was also a home run. This was Schwarber’s longest home run in the Statcast era which means it’s his longest home run ever, as his career and Statcast are both in their third season.

Let’s zoom in and then take a look at Schwarber’s powerful swing from a side view. That’s some high-quality tater mashing.

Gif via MLB.com

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Martin Perez (4.46 projected ERA) vs. Chris Sale (2.89 projected ERA)

Before adding up the projected ERAs from the next day’s slate of games, I like to guess which matchup will be featured in this space. It’s almost always correct to pick a Clayton Kershaw or Chris Sale game, but I was sure Martin Perez would bring down the numbers enough to allow another to sneak in. My bet was on the Mike Leake/Rich Hill showdown in LA. They came in second with a mere 0.26 higher projected ERA than Sale and Perez. Chris Sale rides again.

Perez is fine, I guess. He’s got a perfectly respectable 3.71 ERA and 3.88 FIP but has only struck out 16 percent of the batters he’s faced — his highest mark since 2014. Again, Perez is fine, just kind of uninspiring. Let’s be honest, if you’re tuning in to this matchup it’s for Chris Sale. His ERA is 2.19, his FIP is 1.69, and he’s struck out a career best 38.6 percent of opposing hitters to this point. His relying more on his filthy slider and changeup, but his fastball velocity has also crept back up this season. Right now every Sale start is a much watch.

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