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Launch angles — May 5, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Milwaukee Brewers v Chicago Cubs Photo by Jonathan Daniel/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

Willson Contreras gives the Phillies a second life — -.333 WPA

Gif via MLB.tv

It’s finally happened! We finally have a winner for the day’s biggest play that had a negative win probability added. Usually it’s all sunshine and lollipops as we watch as someone gets a big late-inning hit to catapult their team to victory. Not today my friends. Today we bask in negativity and watch how Willson Contreras almost blew the Cubs best chance to beat the Phillies on Thursday.

Tied 4-4 in the 12th inning with one out and the bases juiced, Contreras stepped up to the plate. The Phillies decided in this crucial moment to employ a five man infield, bringing Ty Kelly in to play directly behind second base. Here’s a visual; I have labeled the key defenders for clarity.

Screenshot via MLB.tv

Contreras swung at the first pitch, pulling a two-seam fastball on the outer edge of the zone to ground into a 6-9-3 double play and send the game to the 13th.

Of course the Cubs — being an exceptional baseball team — went on to win the game in the very next inning, which kind of kills the fun narrative for our first negative WPA winner here at “Launch Angles.” But the great thing about baseball is it’s unpredictability, and the great thing about this space in our daily recap is how many different types of plays can be the day’s best.

So today we raise our glasses and toast to Willson Contreras, the man responsible for the first negative WPA winner of our biggest play of the day. I guess the Cubs just win everything these days.

Yesterday’s best game score

Max Scherzer — 76

Scherzer records his 11th K of the game.
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.

It will come as no surprise to see Max Scherzer in this space as the owner of Thursday’s best pitching performance, but it may surprise you to know that this is just his first appearance so far this season. That’s not an indictment of Scherzer as he’s been his typically outstanding self; but the average “Launch Angles” best game score this year has been 83, a number he has yet to reach in his six starts.

While his game score of 76 on Thursday was on the low side for this category, it still bested the competition and we can now welcome Max Scherzer to the club. He went seven innings against the Diamondbacks while striking out 11 and allowing just two hits, two walks, and one run. True to form the one run he allowed was a solo home run to Jake Lamb, but Scherzer was otherwise dominant. He induced 18 swinging strikes on his 107 pitches, 10 of which came against his slider.

Charts via Baseball Savant

Scherzer was facing a good offensive team as the Diamondbacks have a .343 wOBA and 105 wRC+ against right handed pitching this season. But he’s an ace for a reason and I’m positive this won’t be the last time we see him featured here.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Manny Machado — 466 feet

Gif via MLB.com

That had to have been cathartic.

After a tension filled series in Boston, Manny Machado stepped up to the plate in the fourth inning against Red Sox starter Kyle Kendrick and walloped a 466 foot homer over the Green Monster. The majestic blast gave the Orioles a 6-3 lead that they would never relinquish.

Kendrick got Machado to chase a slider away on the first pitch, so understandably he went back to the slider on the second pitch. This time it was a little further off the plate and down — Machado wouldn’t bite.

The third pitch of a 1-1 count is a crucial turning point in the life of an at-bat. Whether that pitch is a ball or strike determines if the batter of pitcher has the upper hand going forward. For his career Machado has a wRC+ of 133 on 2-1 counts and 71 on 1-2 counts, so Kendrick understandably wanted to throw a strike and get ahead of one of the game’s most feared sluggers. Unfortunately, the pitch was an eminently hittable sinker up that straddled the middle and outer third of the plate.

Charts via MLB.com and Baseball Savant

As you can see, Machado is capable of destroying pitches just about anywhere in the zone. This sinker from Kendrick was no exception as he crushed it 113 miles per hour off the bat at a 20 degree launch angle onto Lansdowne Street; a nice parting gift to Boston as the Orioles left town.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Michael Pineda (3.69 projected ERA) vs. Kyle Hendricks (3.66 projected ERA)

Michael Pineda is an enigma. The debate has raged for the past two seasons about whether his true talent is better expressed by his inflated ERA or more impressive FIP; his high RA9 or more respectable DRA. Fear not everyone, for this year his ERA sits at 3.14 and his FIP at 3.15! So that’s comforting, it’s nice to see them getting along. His RA9 (3.77) and DRA (1.34) still disagree, but about how good he has been rather than IF he is good at all.

While Pineda has had a good start to 2017, his opponent on Friday Kyle Hendricks has not. The Cubs right-hander has seen his strikeout rate and velocity decrease while his walk and home run to fly ball rates have increased. We’re only a little more than a month into the season, but pretty soon it’s going to be past the point where everything can be prefaced with a small sample size caveat. There is definite cause for concern with Hendricks.

Two major American cities, two legendary franchises, and two puzzling starting pitchers. What more could you want out of a Friday afternoon baseball game?

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