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Launch angles — July 3, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Texas Rangers at Chicago White Sox
Was Yolmer’s homer the biggest play of the day? Is Gatorade wet?
Matt Marton-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

Yolmer Sanchez hits a two-run homer — +.??? WPA

GIF via MLB.com

As I write this recap at about 11:30 p.m. EST, this is what the FanGraphs game logs show:

Image via FanGraphs, obviously

That’s… not good! FanGraphs is where we pull the info for the top play, and because their game logs stopped updating at ca. 1:20 p.m. EST, that’s a no-go. So how do we know this is the biggest swing by WPA?

Well, this play turned a deficit into a lead, rather than a tie; that typically changes win probability quite a bit, since, you know, the team with the most runs wins. No other singular play from Sunday flipped the advantage and occurred in an inning as late as this one. A regular comeback, or even a walk-off, doesn’t tend to count for as much.

Or, consider this: On June 24, with the Padres trailing 3-2 in the eighth inning, Hector Sanchez hit a two-run home run off Shane Greene, improving his team’s win probability by .488. This is our 92nd Launch Angles recap, and a play of that size would have taken home the crown in 61 of the previous 91 installments. Plus, Hector’s homer happened with no outs in the inning, whereas two men were retired here. Given the evidence, I feel we can safely say Yolmer is the winner.

This concludes tonight’s episode of “Behind the Metrics.” Now back to our regularly scheduled recap:

The White Sox had already come back once in this series — on Friday, Melky Cabrera lined a two-run double in the bottom of the ninth off Matt Bush, giving Chicago a 7-6 walk-off. Bush isn’t quite as formidable as Jose Leclerc, though, who came into this game with a 2.74 ERA, a 38.5 percent strikeout rate, and (I kid you not) the highest whiff rate in baseball at 20.2 percent.

Like a lot of power pitchers, Leclerc has some problems with control; after entering in the bottom of the eighth, he walked Todd Frazier and brought the winning run to the plate. But by sandwiching a Jose Abreu popup and a Matt Davidson strikeout around that free pass, Leclerc appeared to be out of trouble. All he had to do was retire Sanchez, who had hit just three home runs in 251 plate appearances this season.

To his credit, Leclerc got ahead quickly, getting Sanchez to whiff at a changeup and running a four-seamer down the middle. With two strikes in the count, Sanchez fouled off a breaking ball, took a fastball upstairs, and pounced on a center-cut curve:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Even to the slappiest of slap hitters, a hanging 0-2 curveball is just asking for trouble. Thanks to this shot, the Rangers now lead the majors with 17 blown saves (hopefully, this leaderboard will update); on the other side, the White Sox took home the W for the fourth time in six days and clawed their way into a tie for fourth in the AL Central. And really, even if this isn’t the biggest play of the day, how can you turn down a narrative like that?

Yesterday’s best game score

Max Scherzer — 86

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.

Death, taxes, and Max Scherzer. The Nats ace has taken the hill 17 times this season, and he’s now had the top Game Score of the day in six of those starts. No one else in baseball has done it five times, and only one guy — Corey Kluber — has done it four times. There’s really no one else like this guy right now.

As far as Scherzer starts go, this one was pretty standard. Of the 26 Cardinals he faced, two had base hits, two earned walks, 12 went down on strikes, and none crossed the plate. On a micro level, though, it gets pretty incredible: He threw 66 of his 100 pitches for strikes, and 23 of those were swinging strikes — yeah, 23!

Where did those whiffs come from? Scherzer’s 38 four-seamers — such as the one seen above — accounted for eight. With velocity in the upper 90s, he can pound the zone with the heater and get away with it:

Image via Baseball Savant

Scherzer complemented his four-seamers with 39 sliders, nine of which induced a whiff. Those went pretty consistently outside the strike zone, as a chase pitch for same-handed hitters:

Image via Baseball Savant

Scherzer is obviously more than capable of retiring lefties, but he’s at his best when facing righties, and against a lineup with just two southpaws (Matt Carpenter and Greg Garcia), that down-and-away slider was untouchable.

And what did Scherzer use against Carpenter and Garcia? The changeup, which went for six whiffs in 18 appearances and bore down-and-away on the lefties:

Image via Baseball Savant

That breaking ball-offspeed combo proved pretty deadly against St. Louis, just as it has against most opponents. Scherzer now has an NL-leading 1.94 ERA, and with Clayton Kershaw still struggling to keep the ball in the yard, he might be on his way to a Cy Young repeat. Mad Max is like clockwork.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Marcell Ozuna — 455 feet

GIF via MLB.com

Some days, you get tons of big dingers, spread across the major leagues. On Saturday, for example, Brandon Moss, Miguel Sano, and Khris Davis hit the sixth-, 30th-, and 37th-longest homers of the year, respectively. Sunday went a little differently — the second-longest long ball was just 425 feet.

On that note, here’s that one:

GIF via MLB.com

Earlier in this game, Ozuna blasted the above three-run shot off Junior Guerra. The Brewers took exception to that; they suspected he had too much pine tar on his bat, and they were right. During his plate appearance in the eighth inning, the umpire made Ozuna take another bat from the dugout — Giancarlo Stanton’s bat, coincidentally enough.

But here’s the thing: That Ozuna fella, he’s pretty strong. Entering this game, he’d hit 20 home runs, tying him for fourth in the National League. Three of his round-trippers had made it onto Launch Angles as the longest of the day. That power made him an first-ballot All-Star for the second time in his career. So you know what, Milwaukee?

Image via MLB.com

No pine tar? No problem.

SABRy tidbits

  • Aaron Judge now has a slash line of .327/.448/.687 — no, really, he does. As you’d expect for a Bondsian hitter, he’s started to see a lot fewer pitches in the strike zone. Pinstripe Alley’s Jake Devin breaks down Judge’s response to that, which is exactly what you’d want from a rising slugger.
  • Luke Maile now has a slash line of .115/.149/.188 — no, really, he does, too. And that’s not just because of a few bad plate appearances; he’s now come to the plate 101 times this year. Over at Bluebird Banter, Matt W figures out how historic those struggles are. (Spoiler: pretty historic.)

Today’s best pitching matchup

Steven Matz (3.75 projected ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (3.24 projected ERA)

Before the season, FanGraphs projected Matz to have a 3.50 ERA; through four starts, he’s posted a 2.67 ERA. Yet his rest-of-season forecast is more pessimistic. Why? Well, he’s posted a 4.99 FIP to this point, as hitters have swung less and made more contact against him. With his velocity down a bit from last year, those aren’t encouraging signs. Still, he’s just a year removed from a phenomenal full-season debut, and the further he moves from his bizarre injury, the better he should get.

Strasburg had an arm injury long ago, but he’s long past that. While Max Scherzer outshines him in the D.C. rotation, Strasburg has been the ace the Nationals thought he would be. He brings a 3.51 ERA ino this game, which belies a 3.09 FIP that supports his projections. Matz better be able to rack up the swings-and-misses, because his adversary will have plenty.


Ryan Romano is the co-managing editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes about the Orioles for Camden Depot, sometimes. Follow him on Twitter if you enjoy angry tweets about Maryland sports.