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Launch angles — August 17, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

St Louis Cardinals v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/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

Mookie Betts and the Red Sox win in a walk-off — +.820 WPA

The Red Sox fell behind early in this game, with the Cardinals hanging a four-spot on Eduardo Rodriguez in the second inning, and after the Red Sox responded with two runs of their own in the third, the game stayed locked at 4–2 for a long time. To start the 9th, the Cardinals sent out their closer, Trevor Rosenthal, who is in the midst of an excellent year, with a 2.15 FIP and 2.69 DRA. But a leadoff home run from Xander Bogaerts cut the deficit to one, and after a walk to Mitch Moreland (and some 95mph fastballs, down from his traditional 99mph), Rosenthal was pulled before getting an out. Zach Duke came on to face some lefties, and got one out before walking Jackie Bradley Jr. and getting pulled for John Brebbia.

Brebbia got the Cards to two outs, but couldn’t get by Betts. He had a plan for the 24-year-old outfielder: sliders, and lots of them. But after taking three sliders for balls and fouling off one on the outer half of the zone, slider number five stayed in the zone, and Betts connected. Funnily enough, balls like this one — with a 20 degree launch angle and 92mph exit velocity — only go for hits at a 30 percent rate leaguewide, per Baseball Savant. This win owes as much to the Green Monster as it does to Betts’s hitting.

Yesterday’s best game score

Clayton Richard — 92

Clayton Richard cruised yesterday. The above clip shows the most serious trouble he got himself into over the course of the entire game, and it shows him getting out of it easily. He ended up with a complete-game shutout, with six strikeouts, three hits, and one walk. It wasn’t the most overpowering outing, as Richard goaded the Phillies into just ten whiffs, but Richard was nonetheless in control all day: he generated a whopping 18 ground balls, versus just one fly ball.

The Padres weren’t supposed to have a great rotation. The Padres don’t have a great rotation, but their rotation was projected to be one of the worst, and it hasn’t matched that billing. They rank 20th in fWAR, with solid (if somewhat surprising) contributions from Dinelson Lamet, Luis Perdomo, pre-injury Trevor Cahill, Jhoulys Chacin, and Richard himself. This is Richard’s third time with the best game score of a night, and his best game score of the year.

But one lurking question behind this stellar outing is: how much does it help that the opponent was the hapless Phillies? We can’t be totally certain, but they’ve been on the wrong side of the best game score nine times this season (behind only the Diamondbacks with ten), and their offense is deeply unimpressive, with a team-wide wRC+ of 85 that ranks ahead of only the Giants and Rockies. It’s not the most important thing, but capturing this slot while playing the Phillies is a little less rare than capturing it while playing against, say, the Dodgers.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Aaron Judge — 457 feet

Welcome back, friend. Judge has been on a bit of a hiatus from the daily recap, as he’s undergone his first serious slump of his career. After appearing in this space six times between April and July, he’s been absent for all of August while his bat has cooled off dramatically. But there are signs that Judge might be heating up again; not only did he blast another gigantic home run, but it was his second home run in three games, and part of a mini-hot streak that has him looking more like his pre-All Star Break self.

This home run, and the reaction to it, is clear and convincing proof of the importance of aesthetics to the impressiveness of home runs. At 457 feet, this home run is long, but not that long — it ranks 67th on the year, tied with six other home runs — but Twitter lost its dang mind over this home run and video clip.

And with good reason! Because the 20 feet of difference between this and the fifth-longest home run of 2017 is much, much less important than the sheer visual spectacle this blast featured. It had everything: shock and awe on the part of the opponents and fans,

See also Yoenis Céspedes not moving an inch in left field.

a third deck to soar into, and the kind of hangtime and arc that make distance seem cool. Our only criterion in this category is distance, but it’s just a proxy for coolness, and it doesn’t always match. This Judge home run was just impressive, as measured by distance; by coolness, it was mind-blowing.

SABRy tidbits

Today’s best pitching matchup

Jeff Samardzija (3.70 projected ERA) vs. Aaron Nola (3.67 projected ERA)

In a matchup between two of the worst teams in baseball, two very good pitchers are matching up, turning this game into something actually worth watching. Jeff Samardzija is a fixed quantity at this point, known as much for his stability and consistency as for his excellence. He’s in the midst of his sixth straight season with an fWAR total between 2.5 and 4.5, and while his ERA is higher than usual at 4.74, his FIP of 3.46 and DRA of 3.35 suggest that he’s still the excellent starter he’s always been. The projections agree, too.

Nola is the opposite, in the sense that he has a much shorter track record, and could be headed up or down from where he’s at now. That present position is quite good, however; he’s the proud owner of a 3.02 ERA, 3.15 FIP, and 2.81 DRA. As Steven Martano noted last week, Nola has recovered from last season’s sprained UCL better than anyone could have expected, and turned into a cornerstone piece for the Phillies. It’ll be a battle of new versus old in San Francisco, with two very closely matched starters.