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Launch angles — May 6, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

New York Yankees 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

Brett Gardner — +.767 WPA

I believe this is the single biggest WPA swing we’ve seen this year. With two outs in the ninth, nothing but a home run from Gardner was going to take the lead, and he delivered. It’s possible to track WPA on a pitch-by-pitch level, too, and that would make this swing even more dramatic, as the Yankees were down to their last strike. This is the sort of comeback that gets reenacted in a lot of backyards, but doesn’t actually happen very often, so it deserves its spot here.

And this was no cheap home run, either. Gardner saw six straight fastballs to begin this plate appearance, and got his first slider on pitch number seven. The slider was pretty well-placed, too, and it prompted an off-balance and defensive swing from Gardner.

The Yankees outfielder is not traditionally thought of as a power threat, but he’s been hitting the ball much better this year than in the recent past. In 2016, he ran a 97 wRC+, and in 2015, a 106; so far in 2017, he’s at 130, and his five home runs are almost as many as the seven he hit during all of last season. I’ve said this multiple times now, as the Yankees are featured in these recaps: somehow, they’ve managed to become a good team, and a fun team. That’s easily the most unexpected part of the 2017 season.

Yesterday’s best game score

Michael Fulmer — 71

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.

Fulmer was excellent for the Tigers last night, hurling 8 innings with 9 strikeouts, 2 walks, 8 hits, and 2 runs. While 10 baserunners can be a lot, when you’re keeping the ball out of play by striking out batters constantly, it’s a lot easier to manage them. Fulmer’s changeup was particularly nasty last night, generating 9 whiffs in the 28 times he threw it.

His whole arsenal was working, however, and that gave him the ability to pitch with a strategy aimed at longevity last night. Fulmer threw the changeup only once on the first time through the order, relying almost entirely on his fastball, sinker, and slider. All of those pitches were also quite good, as the above gif shows; he was painting corners, freezing batters, and inducing half-swings and whiffs with each of his pitches.

Thus far in 2017, Fulmer is building nicely on his rookie-of-the-year 2016. His strikeouts are up a bit, from 20.4 percent to 22.2 percent, and both his FIP and ERA have fallen, to 3.65 and 2.77, respectively. The Tigers are a team without much in the way of youth, so if they’re going to smoothly transition toward the next great Tigers team, it’ll be with the help of players like the 24-year-old Fulmer.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Eric Hosmer — 458 feet

Kauffman Stadium has a reputation as one of the best and most aesthetically pleasing ballparks, and while I’ve never been there, I believe it wholeheartedly. Water hazards Fountains are an excellent addition to an outfield, because they lead to moments like this, where a batter just absolutely crushes a dinger and gets the satisfaction of a splash at the end of the arc.

Eric Hosmer has been off to a rather slow start to the season, along with all the other members of the Royals (who just had one of the worst offensive months in history). Even after last night, when he went 3-for-4 with a double and a home run, he’s been a slightly below-average hitter, with a 95 wRC+. His line has looked more like the prototypical Royal’s than it has in the past, with a lower walk rate, lower strikeout rate, and less power than he’s used to. His average exit velocity hasn’t shifted at all, however, so this could simply be a product of bad luck, with the above home run a sign of good things to come.

It feels like we say this a lot while writing these recaps, but don’t groove fastballs.

This was a 96mph fastball placed right in the middle of the plate. Obviously, there are reasons to throw pitches like this sometimes, especially when you’re already past 90 pitches but not yet through five innings and hoping to get a quick out. Just know that you might be featured on the wrong end of this recap if that’s what you do.

SABRy tidbits

  • Aaron Judge has seized the spotlight this year, but Grant Brisbee wants to remind you that Giancarlo Stanton is probably still a god of raw power who we should respect and adore. He’s off to a rough start to the season, but he’s also just 27 (about two and a half years older than Judge), and Stanton has a long track record of excellence. Here’s hoping he rebounds, because baseball certainly has room for more than one enormous dinger machine (speaking metaphorically, not literally; one in the Miami outfield is more than enough).
  • In his preview of the DodgersAthletics game yesterday, Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA pointed out some nutty facts about Eric Schimpf, the A’s third baseman who only hits extra-base hits. That sounds like a Matt Christopher book, but it’s almost accurate.
  • Kyle Higashioka of the Yankees has gone 20 PAs without a hit, and currently holds the record for most hitless PAs by a position player. Of course, Higashioka will likely keep playing, and get a hit at some point, but the player he passed to take the top spot on that list ended his career with 18 PAs and no hits. Over at Pinstripe Alley, Matt Ferenchick brings us the story of Roy Luebbe, the hitless catcher.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Clayton Richard (4.25 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.47 projected ERA)

Tonight! One night only! It’s the BATTLE OF THE CLAYTONS!

I apologize; I had to do that to make both halves of this matchup sound even remotely interesting. The coolest thing about Clayton Richard is that he shares a first name with Clayton Kershaw. He is eminently mediocre.

Clayton Kershaw is not, and he’s the reason this matchup sneaks into the top spot. There’s not much left to say about him; he’s outstanding, even if this season has been slightly below his usual standards of excellence. He’s really, really good, and there’s never anything wrong with making a point of watching him pitch.