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Launch angles — May 28, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Texas Rangers v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/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

Jose Bautista smacks a go-ahead three-run homer — +.369 WPA

GIF via MLB.com

No two teams have disappointed this year as much as the Rangers and Blue Jays. (Or, rather, no two American League teams — because, woof, those Giants.) Heading into Saturday’s action, Texas was 24-25, Toronto 22-26. But the Jays won the first game of the series on Friday, and yesterday they reigned supreme as well.

Shin-Soo Choo led off the game with a home run, and no one scored again for the first four innings. Yu Darvish ran into trouble in the fifth, though, as a walk and a single put runners on the corners with two outs. Robinson Chirinos called for a slider low and away to goad Bautista into chasing for strike one, but the Rangers ace couldn’t hit his spot:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Vladimir Lenin once said (something along the lines of), “There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen.” A similar axiom applies to baseball — there are entire innings where nothing happens, and singular pitches where games happen. Just look at this WPA graph:

Image via FanGraphs

No other play in the game cracked .100 WPA, in either direction. Erase the hanging curveball, and this was a 1-0 pitcher’s duel, where Darvish bested Marco Estrada. But thanks to Bautista’s swing, the Jays moved one step closer to a comeback year, while the Rangers moved one step back toward irrelevancy.

Yesterday’s best game score

Brian Johnson — 92

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.

My goodness, what a day for pitching! Adam Wainwright had a Game Score of 80, never an easy feat when facing the Rockies in Coors Field. Chase Anderson notched an 85 after he took a no-hitter into the eighth inning against his former team. Stephen Strasburg put up an 89 versus the Padres, striking out 15 hitters and giving a middle finger to my colleague Henry Druschel.

The pitching crown of the day, however, went to Johnson. The lefty threw — and this is not a typo, unless both MLB.com and ESPN deceive me — 85 of his 109 pitches for strikes against the Mariners, which helped him rack up eight strikeouts without issuing a free pass. Limiting Seattle to five hits, he cruised through nine innings en route to a shutout in his third career start.

M’s hitters were aggressive against the heat, swinging at 41 of the 67 four-seamers Johnson threw. That worked well for him, since those fastballs were overwhelmingly up in the zone:

Image via Baseball Savant

Together with some curveballs down, and the occasional changeup and slider, those four-seamers were too much for the Mariners to handle. Seattle went 5-for-24 on balls in play, including 0-for-10 on fly balls, against this approach.

Johnson’s complete-game victory was good enough for a Gatorade shower...

GIF via MLB.com

...but not enough for a permanent roster spot. If he wants to stick around, he’ll have to throw a perfect game, it seems.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Lucas Duda — 451 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Even though it wasn’t the longest home run of the day, I’m contractually obligated to show you this GIF:

GIF via MLB.com

Just as Miguel Cabrera robbed him of the AL MVP in 2012 and 2013, Mike Trout clobbered a monster shot last night, only for Duda to yank the Launch Angles title away. Still, such a magnificent dinger deserves some love, so let’s stare at it for a little while longer.

Now back to our regularly scheduled analysis. Gerrit Cole has come down with a bad case of gopheritis this year — even before yesterday’s Pirates-Mets game, he’d allowed nine long balls in 61 23 innings this season. Jay Bruce and Travis d’Arnaud went yard earlier in the contest, but their bombs couldn’t compare to the one Duda hit. While he didn’t quite make it to the Allegheny River, he sure came close:

GIF via MLB.com

This was the sixth round-tripper of the year for the Mets slugger, who’s now hitting .267/.406/.570 for a career-best 155 wRC+. He’s providing adequate defense at first base, but New York isn’t paying him $7.2 million to field grounders — it wants to see homers, and lots of ‘em. Given more middle-middle 97-mph fastballs, Duda will be happy to oblige.

SABRy tidbits

  • A while back, the incomparable Sam Miller gave us one of the best baseball conspiracy theories the world has ever seen: Mark Reynolds is actually blind. In that vein, BtBS’s Merritt Rohlfing, writing for Let’s Go Tribe, has a hypothesis about Indians hitting coach Ty Van Burkleo: What if he doesn’t exist?
  • Joe Kelly has always had Great Stuff, but the results have lagged behind. Recently, though, he’s become a solid relief pitcher for the Red Sox. While Over the Monster’s Phil Neuffer doesn’t want to get his hopes up, he likes what he sees from the righty.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Jon Lester (3.33 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.49 projected ERA)

This series — a rematch of last year’s NLCS, which the Cubs won in six games — has been rather one-sided. Los Angeles has outscored Chicago 9-0, with Alex Wood and Brandon McCarthy blanking the champs in back-to-back starts. Now three-time NL Cy Young winner Kershaw takes the mound, looking to keep the scoreless streak going and bring out the brooms.

The Cubs will turn to Lester as their stopper, and he should be able to rise to the occasion. With a 3.19 ERA and 3.06 FIP to this point, he’s been far and away the best starter on the North Side. The duel of the southpaws could be a postseason preview, although if the third-place Cubs can’t turn things around, the Brewers or Cardinals may keep them out of October.


Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.