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Launch angles — August 21, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: Toronto Blue Jays at Chicago Cubs Caylor Arnold-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

Alex Avila caps a wild 10th-inning comeback — +.464 WPA

GIF via

We’ve done these Launch Angles recaps for the entire 2017 season, and we’ve seen a lot of insane plays in that time, but I don’t think anything has topped the 10th inning in yesterday’s Cubs-Blue Jays contest. In the top of the inning, we saw a botched back-pick that advanced a runner and a run forced in via walk — and that stuff doesn’t even come close to what happened in the bottom half.

Let’s pick up with the leadoff batter, Kyle Schwarber. Toronto had a 5-3 advantage for its closer, Roberto Osuna. He got to two strikes on the Chicago slugger and promptly buried a breaking ball:

GIF via

But the wild pitch put Schwarber on first, and from there things went off the rails. Ben Zobrist hit a single to put runners on the corners, and with one ball in the count to Anthony Rizzo, Osuna threw basically the same pitch, which had basically the same result:

GIF via

That narrowed the deficit to one run. While Rizzo wasn’t able to reach base, his groundout did advance Zobrist to third, bringing Javier Baez to the plate. Again, Osuna managed to punch him out, and again, it was for nothing:

GIF via

Apparently worried Zobrist would take off for home, Raffy Lopez just held onto the ball, letting Baez reach safely instead of recording the second out. From there, Osuna plunked Jason Heyward to load the bases, and then Avila did his thing.

On one side, you have the Cardiac Cubs, who have made comebacks like this almost a regular occurrence — this is the fifth time this season they’ve had the biggest play of the day. At 66-57, they’re in the driver’s seat in the NL Central. On the other side, you have Roberto Osuna, who’s allowed the biggest play of the day four times in 2017, tied with Brandon Maurer for the most in baseball. Thanks to his implosions, the Blue Jays are stuck in the AL East cellar, and might remain there for the rest of the year.

Yesterday’s best game score

TIE: Blake Snell/Justin Verlander — 82

GIF(s) via

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.

These games were pretty similar. Both Snell and Verlander allowed two hits, the former over seven innings, the latter over eight. Both fell short of double-digit strikeouts — Snell had eight, Verlander nine — and while Snell walked two batters to Verlander’s one, the Tigers righty gave up one run, while the Rays lefty put up zeroes. At Tropicana Field and Comerica Park, we saw two equally sterling starts.

But those came from two very different pitchers. Verlander brought a 4.11 ERA into this game, with a 4.18 FIP to go along with that. Snell, on the other hand, had a 4.78 ERA and 4.84 FIP before Sunday, and remember, he pitches half his games in the Trop. One of these guys appeared to be a quasi-ace, the other a Quad-A starter. How’d they both look so alike when they took the hill?

One word: whiffs. Verlander and Snell each got their opponents to swing-and-miss 16 times, helping them rack up the Ks and get ahead in the count. For Verlander, the four-seam fastball was the deadliest weapon, inducing 11 whiffs in 70 appearances. He hit the Dodgers with high heat and attacked them in the zone:

Image via Baseball Savant

Snell, meanwhile, got 10 of his whiffs from his slider-curveball combo, which he threw only 27 times overall. Even against a lineup with seven right-handed hitters, the breaking ball in the dirt proved useful:

Image via Baseball Savant

At different ages — one is 10 years older than the other; I don’t need to tell you which ones — and with vastly different resumes, Snell and Verlander dominated to the same degree on Sunday. Whether it’s with a fastball at the letters or a curveball that bounces off the plate, a pitcher can skin a cat in numerous ways; Snell and Verlander each found one that works for them.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Kevin Kiermaier — 443 feet

GIF via

I don’t know for sure that this is the biggest home run of the day; Baseball Savant is acting up, so some games don’t have Statcast data loaded as of this writing. But I’m going to roll with it anyway, because (a) a 443-foot long ball would take the top spot in 31 of the 135 previous installments of Launch Angles, and (b) who can say no to this face?

MLB: Tampa Bay Rays-Media Day Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

For the second straight year, Kiermaier has missed a big chunk of the season with an injury. Last year, the Rays were awful without him, going 14-34 and falling into the AL East cellar during his absence. This year, though, they’ve hung around — despite a recent slump, they’re still just four games out of the second AL Wild Card spot.

And Tampa Bay is definitely glad to have him back. With all due respect to Mallex Smith, I doubt he could turn on a pitch this far outside and deposit it on the other side of the center-field wall:

Image via Brooks Baseball

Always known for his glove — and for good reason; he’s possibly the best defender at any position in the majors — Kiermaier has swung a pretty solid bat this year. This dinger, one of two hits he recorded on Sunday, upped his slash line to .265/.336/.424, along with a 105 wRC+. For a guy who does stuff like this with ease, that’ll play.

The Mariners, on the flip side, are faring a little better in the Wild Card chase; they have a 2.5-game advantage on the Rays after taking two of three over the weekend. But their rotation is seriously awful — Yovani Gallardo, who gave up this dinger, has a 5.75 ERA, and he’s maybe the third-worst of their current five starters. No rotation in the AL has allowed more four-baggers than Seattle’s, and although a tape-measure shot doesn’t add more runs, it adds some insult to the injury on the scoreboard.

SABRy tidbits

  • The White Sox signed Derek Holland to a one-year contract in the offseason; they knew they wouldn’t contend this year, but they hoped he’d pitch well and make himself a nice trade chip come July. Now we’re past the deadline, and Holland’s 6.07 ERA is staying in Chicago. But as Jim Margalus explains over at South Side Sox, Holland’s not the only one-year gamble who hasn’t worked out.
  • On July 18, the Yankees traded for Tommy Kahnle and David Robertson from the White Sox, to accompany Dellin Betances and Aroldis Chapman in the bullpen. Since then, the New York relief corps has been the best in the majors in, well, pretty much everything. Pinstripe Alley’s Jake Devin has the deets.

Today’s best pitching matchup

Alex Wood (3.49 projected ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (3.93 projected ERA)

In this fuel duel (get it, because “wood,” and “cole” sounds like “coal,” and okay I’ll stop), the Dodgers have the upper hand, as they do in pretty much every game. Wood comes in with a 2.30 ERA and 2.70 FIP, each of which is top-five among pitchers with 100 innings. Seventeen out of 30 times these hurlers go head-to-head, the southpaw emerges victorious:

Image via FanGraphs, obviously

Still, Cole wins out in 13 of those 30 hypothetical matchups. The right-hander isn’t on Wood’s level, but with a 4.04 ERA and 4.30 FIP, he’s been about an average starter. And an elevated home run/fly ball rate has hurt Cole; if that regresses toward his career norm, he might return to the ace he was in 2015. The Wood-Cole battle should be pretty fire. (Sorry, had to squeeze that one in.)

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.