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Launch angles — June 7, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Pittsburgh Pirates v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/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

Jonathan Schoop blasts a game-tying home run — +.452 WPA

Gif via

When you watch a lot of baseball it gradually gets easier to identify a type of batted ball based solely on how it comes off the bat. The place this skill becomes most apparent is in regard to the judgement of long fly balls versus home runs. The more baseball you watch, the less you get fooled. That’s why, as someone who watches a ton of baseball, I have to embarrassingly admit that I thought this home run from Jonathan Schoop was a long but routine fly out to center. It fooled me, badly.

Schoop on the other hand — being much closer to the action than I was — knew immediately that he had just hit his second home run of the night to tie the game in the ninth inning. The confident, well-earned follow through he exhibits after the ball left his bat at 107 miles per hour tells the story of a man who just crushed a ball 423 feet at the most opportune time.

Like Schoop, Pirates reliever Tony Watson knew exactly what had happened after his 0-1 changeup caught more of the plate than he had intended. Watson doesn’t look back. He stands up, begins to saunter forward, and keeps his head focused straight ahead. He knows a baseball was just sent to it’s final resting place, no need to watch that process unfold.

The Orioles would go on to win in the 10th inning on a Mark Trumbo RBI single, but Schoop’s monster home run that gave Baltimore new life proved to be the biggest play of the day.

Chart via Baseball Savant

Yesterday’s best game score

Max Scherzer — 83

Gif via

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.

The featured pairing in yesterday’s best pitching matchup lived up to it’s billing as Max Scherzer out dueled Brandon McCarthy and the Nationals defeated the Dodgers 2-1. McCarthy was great, but Scherzer was dominant.

After three innings Scherzer had struck out nine and after four innings he had struck out 11. The Dodgers showed a little more fight in his final three frames of work and only allowed Scherzer three more strikeouts overall. But that’s still a monster total of 14 strikeouts to go along with just three hits, two walks, and one earned run.

Scherzer collected 20 swinging strikes on the night, 11 of which came on his slider. As you can see in the gif below, he left a few sliders over the plate, but by and large kept it hovering around the edge of the zone.

Zone Charts via Baseball Savant

That lone purple dot at the bottom represents the one slider Scherzer threw that really had no hope of coaxing a swing from a Dodger. It was a solitary blip that proved inconsequential as Scherzer struck out Chris Taylor in that at-bat by getting him to chase three other perfectly placed sliders on the outside corner (see above gif and the ridiculous zone chart below).

Charts via MLB Gameday

Max Scherzer had his slider working on Tuesday night and despite his pal Brandon McCarthy’s best efforts, it proved too much for the Dodgers to overcome.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Mark Reynolds — 455 feet

Gif via

Colorado signed Mark Reynolds to a minor league deal in the offseason. Like Chris Carter, Reynolds was a one-dimensional, first base only slugger who had trouble finding a roster spot. Then Ian Desmond got hurt and Reynolds became the de-facto starting first baseman. Now a week into June and sporting a slash line of .299/.368/.564, a .393 wOBA, and a 128 wRC+, the Reynolds signing has worked out swimmingly for the first place Rockies. His performance is also a reminder of how foolish the Desmond signing was, but let’s not dwell on that negativity, let’s celebrate dingers.

On Tuesday night, Mark Reynolds took a 2-2 slider from Nick Goody that hung over the plate and sent it 455 feet away to center field. The ball left his bat at a 26 degree launch angle and 106 miles per hour. According to Statcast, batted balls with those characteristics clear the fence 94 percent of the time. It was Reynolds’ second home run of the night and his 16th of the season.

The Rockies’ scoreboard said it best.

Gif via

KABOOM indeed.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Stephen Strasburg (3.21 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.53 projected ERA)

Clayton Kershaw is a fixture in this space, usually propping up a back-end starter who wouldn’t sniff a spot in the marquee matchup without him. Not today, folks. Today we see two titans of the mound face off in an afternoon start at Chavez Ravine.

Kershaw has been fantastic while still not totally meeting his grandiose expectations due mostly to trouble consistently finding his slider from start to start. As Jeff Sullivan detailed at FanGraphs, Kershaw has also continued to evolve his use of a drop-down arm slot. He’s now throwing breaking balls from the lower slot which could potentially be a huge development as his past fastball only approach when dropping down may have tipped the hitter as to what was coming.

The Dodgers’ ace is coming off of a great start against the Brewers that saw him strike out 14 over seven innings, allowing just one run on a mistake fastball turned around by Domingo Santana. As great as he was, Kershaw was actually out-dueled by Jimmy Nelson on that day. He’ll face an even tougher challenge today with the combination of the world-beating Nationals’ offense and fellow ace Stephen Strasburg.

Strasburg enters the contest with a shiny 2.91 ERA and 2.63 FIP. His strikeout rate is the lowest it’s been since 2013, but has been supplemented by his highest ground ball rate since that same year.

Chart via FanGraphs

The slight change in profile is due to Strasburg’s decreasing use of his slider. He has opted instead to throw his curveball more, which has always been effective at generating ground balls and is presumably less stressful on his arm than the slider has been. He won’t wear the Dodgers out with sliders like Max Scherzer did on Tuesday night, but Strasburg will look to continue his teammate’s domination as he tries to secure a sweep for the Nationals.

A true showdown of aces on two contending teams in a day baseball game on a sunny, Southern California afternoon. That’s as good as it gets.

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