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Angles, launched: April’s daily recaps in review

We’re through a month of recaps tracking the best plays, pitchers, and home runs of the previous night; what have we learned? What meaningless competitions have we created, and who is winning them?

Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images

We’ve been running Launch Angles, our daily preview series, since day one of the 2017 regular season. It’s not the most rigorous of analysis, but it’s a way to keep ongoing tabs on the way the season has developed, and with that in mind, today we’re taking a look back on the first month.

The biggest plays

Each day, we track the play that caused the biggest swing in win probability, which is usually a reversal in the ninth inning or beyond. Shockingly, the Blue Jays had the most dramatic comebacks in the first month of the season, with three, followed by six teams at two. I say shockingly because the Blue Jays did not do a lot of winning in April, with only seven victories total. To have three separate instances of the kind of late-game heroics that earn a team possession of this spot in the recap while winning only seven games is incredible, in a way. To be fair, not all of those late-game heroics even yielded wins; one of the three actually preceded a loss, which, again, is incredible in a deeply depressing way.

Ten teams (the White Sox, Royals, Mariners, Athletics, Rangers, Braves, Reds, Cubs, Brewers, and Rockies) didn’t have a day in the WPA sun at all in April. On the other hand, the Phillies have been on the receiving end of a late-inning beatdown four times, courtesy of the Dodgers, Nationals, and Jay Bruce and the Mets on two separate occasions. Bruce’s two appearances make him the only repeat individual in the entire month.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves
Jay Bruce celebrates all the big plays he had in April.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The single biggest WPA shift came courtesy of George Springer, who took the Astros from 16.7 percent favorites to winners in a single swing of the bat in the bottom of the 13th against the Mariners on April 5th. Finally, each of the top plays was positive, meaning that the biggest swing of each night favored the defense rather than the offense. It’ll take longer than a month for a dreamcrusher of a play to take the marquee spot, unfortunately.

The best Game Scores

Game Score is a numeric measure of pitcher dominance in a single start, where 50 is average, 70 is very good, 90 is outstanding, and 100+ is a once-in-a-career performance. The single best performance of this year, by Game Score, came from exactly who you would expect: Ervin Santana, the Twins starter who, as I’m writing this, has just allowed his fourth home run of the day against the Red Sox. But on April 15, Santana mowed down the White Sox, throwing a one-hitter with eight strikeouts and only one walk, and set the bar high for all subsequent pitcher hopefuls to clear. The worst best start of the day came on the fifth day of the season, when Gio Gonzalez’s 67 (6 IP, 0 R, 7 H, 2 BB, 7 K) was the top Game Score we could muster.

There have been very few repeat performers in this section of the recaps. While many of the top pitchers of April have shown up once — Chris Sale, Clayton Kershaw, James Paxton, and Jason Vargas — none of them have managed to double up. Instead, that honor has been left to Mike Leake, Miguel Gonzalez, and Jhoulys Chacin, a motley trio of starters if there ever was one. Chacin, along with Clayton Richard, and Leake, along with Carlos Martinez, have respectively given the Padres and Cardinals three appearances in this spot, a mark no other team has matched.

The longest home runs

Finally, we celebrate the longest home run of each day, as measured by StatCast. Looking back on them, this section of the recap has been a veritable cornucopia of grooved fastballs and hung changeups getting absolutely destroyed. It’s very therapeutic.

The very longest home run of April (and, as of this writing, 2017) came on a Jake Lamb jack that went a whopping 481 feet. Chase Field is a very homer-friendly ballpark. This would have been a moonshot just about anywhere.

There are only two players who have had the longest home run of the day more than once, and each of them have actually had it three times. Joey Gallo’s raw power has long been legendary, and this year, he’s started to make enough contact to turn that raw power into game power. On the other hand, Aaron Judge’s power was somewhat less hyped as he progressed through the minors, but America’s Large Adult Son has hammered his way into the hearts of millions in the early part of 2017, and somehow made the Yankees into a sympathetic team along the way. The two of them sit astride this leaderboard, and it’s officially theirs until further notice.

Finally, Madison Bumgarner deserves a shoutout, because A) dirt bikes are sick, and too many discussions of his injury have focused on how he shouldn’t have been dirt biking during the Giants’ season and not how dirt bikes are super cool; and B) he’s the only pitcher to appear on this leaderboard. True, he made the top on the first day of the season, when there were only five other dingers to compete with, but Bumgarner’s 422-footer is not the smallest longest home run of the day over the last month, a dubious honor which goes to Mark Reynolds’ 417-foot homer. Not many pitchers can do what Bumgarner did. Maybe more of them should give dirt biking a try.

It’s been a month! Is any of what we’ve seen predictive of how the nuances of the 2017 season will develop? Absolutely not. Has it been entertaining as heck? Yep! I did not plan on keeping track of Game Score and WPA this year, but these leaderboards have become very important, to me, and have imparted meaning to even the most mundane of seasons. I care very deeply about every Jhoulys Chacin start now, and I’m rooting hard for him to maintain his top spot. May his May be as good as his April.