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Launch angles — June 1, 2017

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All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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 keeps the Pirates in it — +.490 WPA

MLB.com

Baseball can be very, very, very cruel. This home run came with two outs in the bottom of the 11th, when only two outs were between Pittsburgh and a crushing extra-inning loss. Instead, Jordy Mercer homered, and put them back in the game... until they lost in even more crushing fashion in the 14th.

Mercer’s home run wasn’t part of a Pirates win; instead, it simply kept them outside and in the rain for another hour or so. That’s brutal.

But the reason extra-inning baseball is so good is because for every brutal, heartbreaking loss, there’s an improbable, stunning, shocking win for the other team. The Diamondbacks technically aren’t the focus of this section, but if I’m going to talk about the pain of the Pirates, I should mention the elation of the Diamondbacks as well.

Adding to the improbability of this almost-comeback is the source. Jordy Mercer is not a power threat — this was just the fifth home run of the year for him — and he barely managed to put enough on the ball to get it over the fence. If Pittsburgh had pulled this off, it would’ve been absurd; that they even managed to get this close is impressive.

Yesterday’s best game score

Max Scherzer — 92

Game Score was developed by Bill James as a quick way to evaluate a starting pitcher’s performance, and recently updated by Tom Tango. The score begins at 40, with points added for outs and strikeouts, and subtracted for walks, hits, runs, and home runs. A score of 70 is very good; a score of 90 is outstanding.

MLB.com

This is our second straight recap with a game score over 90. In the little blurb we use, a score of 90 is described as “outstanding”; that feels like an accurate adjective for Scherzer’s night. He wen the full nine, striking out 11, walking none, and allowing just five hits and one run.

The slider (the pitch Posey struck out on) was Scherzer’s primary offspeed pitch last night. He had seven whiffs on fastballs, placed mostly at the top of the zone, and eight whiffs on sliders at the bottom, with the occasional changeup or curveball thrown in as well. The simplicity of Scherzer’s repertoire and plan is remarkable; he succeeds not via some dazzling array of pitches, but control, efficiency, and consistent execution.

I would probably rather have Clayton Kershaw on my team than Max Scherzer, but it’s close. I’m not sure that I could pick between Chris Sale and Scherzer, and there’s no one else in the league that I would even consider. Scherzer has been a teensy bit homer prone this season, but with Kershaw slightly off his usual pace, the NL Cy Young looks open in a way that it hasn’t often in the last few years. Scherzer’s strikeout of Posey was his 100th of the season through 11 starts and 77 13 innings; it’s plausible that he ends up with 300 on the year, a feat last accomplished by Kershaw in 2015. If Scherzer does that, the Cy is probably his to lose. After his performance last night, that should surprise no one.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

George Springer — 473 feet

MLB.com

My goodness. That ball was crushed.

MLB.com

This is the second-longest home run of the year, to a part of Target Field that does not often have home run balls rattling around in it. At the moment that Springer murdered this ball, this game was still close; by the end of the afternoon, the Astros had won tagged on another ten runs to make the score 17–6. Over their three-game series, the Houston outscored Minnesota 40–16. Earlier this week, I had a draft going about how the Twins might possibly be for real this season, and the Astros have ruined it.

The craziest thing about this home run is the fact that it went 473 feet. That’s so far! The second-craziest thing about this home run is that this pitch is almost exactly where Jason Castro wanted it to be. He sets up for a belt-high fastball; a belt-high fastball is what he gets. This isn’t even Hector Santiago’s Ryan Pressly’s fault; he did exactly what he was supposed to. The pitch maybe leaked inside a bit more than Castro wanted:

but only a little bit. In any case, it’s crazy to me that anyone thought a pitch there could lead to good things.

Springer deserves credit, though, because not everyone can turn a grooved fastball into a blast as mammoth as this one. Springer’s strikeouts are down this season (9.0 percent, versus 11.2 percent career) and his power is up (.235 ISO, versus .206 career). His batting line thus far has remained pretty close to his prior numbers (130 wRC+ for 2017 versus 128 wRC+ career), but it wouldn’t be a shock to see it tick up if he can maintain both those changes. Also, he can hit a baseball a mile. Feels like he should get some extra credit for that.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Corey Kluber (3.47 projected ERA) vs. Jharel Cotton (4.26 projected ERA)

There are only eight games being played today, so we’re lucky to have a matchup as interesting as this one (particularly if you’re Carson Cistulli). Kluber has struggled this season, with injury and ineffectiveness, and is currently running a 4.33 FIP and 5.06 ERA. The projections think he’s still the same basic pitcher, however, and this’ll be his first start since going on the DL with a back issue, giving us a good chance to see if he’s recovered and how.

Opposing him is Jharel Cotton, who went from the Dodgers to the Athletics in the Rich Hill trade last season. After some success in a 30-inning stint last season, Cotton also has struggled in 2017, with a 4.73 FIP and 5.56 ERA. Cotton doesn’t have prospect pedigree — he topped out at #84 on Baseball America’s list from this past offseason, and didn’t appear in most top 100s — but he does have the ability to throw strikes, with a K-BB rate over 20 percent for his minor league career. As with most of this type of pitcher, the question with Cotton is whether his stuff is good enough to keep him from getting shellacked against major league hitters; tonight, Cleveland’s offense will do their best to prove that it isn’t.