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Launch angles — August 30, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

MLB: New York Mets at Cincinnati Reds David Kohl-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

Scott Schebler puts the Reds up with an early slam — +.276 WPA

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On May 28th, Steven Souza hit a grand slam in the bottom of the third inning that appeared in this space. That had been the earliest in a game that our biggest play of the day had occurred — until now.

Most of these big plays by win probability added happen near the end of a game, when things are tight and the odds can turn on a dime. On Tuesday, there were no miraculous comebacks, no clutch hits to tie or win a game late, and no huge double play to save a closer’s bacon. Fernando Rodney did his best to blow a two run lead in the ninth for Arizona, but held on to prevent any late-inning heroics from occupying this category today.

The Reds clobbered the Mets by a score of 14-4. We even got to see a position player pitch as Mets backup catcher Kevin Plawecki came in to finish the eighth inning after the Reds had truly broken it open. But early on, as is the case with literally every game, the contest was much closer. Tied at one with the bases juiced in the bottom of the first, Scott Schebler muscled a 1-1 outside changeup over the fence in right-center field. Just like that the Reds took a 5-1 lead from which they they would never look back.

It wasn’t a clutch moment in crunch-time, but it was still an impressive piece of hitting by Schebler; once you get past the fact that he probably shouldn’t have swung at the pitch. Look at where it was located:

Zone plot via MLB Gameday
Gif via

I suppose that one can be forgiven for swinging at a ball like that as long as they have the decency to put it over the fence. It was the first inning — not typically when games are won and lost — but Schebler’s slam gave the Reds a huge leg up on the poor, downtrodden Mets.

Yesterday’s best game score

Dylan Bundy — 100

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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.

Chris Sale dominated the Blue Jays with 11 strikeouts over seven scoreless innings, became the fastest pitcher in MLB history to reach 1,500 strikeouts, and didn’t even come close to claiming Tuesday’s best game score. That honor belongs to Mr. Dylan Bundy, who threw the game of his career — so far.

For only the second time this season a game score reached triple digits as Bundy’s outing tied Edinson Volquez’s no-hitter against the Diamondbacks. The nice thing about game score is that it doesn’t care about the prestige of a no-hitter or perfect game, it judges every performance by the exact same criteria. Were it not for a fourth inning bunt single from Kyle Seager, Bundy may have thrown a no-hitter as well. Game score doesn’t care about that missed acclaim; according to it, Bundy tied Volquez for the best performance of the year, regardless of the one hit difference.

It took Bundy 116 pitches to complete the game, and with his injury history the decision to let him finish the game is absolutely worth questioning. Though one thing that’s always important to remember when discussing pitch counts is how many high-stress situations a pitcher has to deal with in a game. Bundy limited the Mariners to one hit, two walks, and one hit-by-pitch. While arm health is a subject better left to people much more qualified than me, surely the lack of pressure-filled innings has to count for something.

Bundy’s 12 strikeouts were impressive, but that he induced 22 swinging strikes is every bit as noteworthy. That’s a ton of whiffs, ladies and gentlemen. Obviously he had everything working, but Bundy’s slider was doing a lot of the heavy lifting as it was thrown 27 times, yet was responsible for 10 of those 22 swinging strikes. For the most part he kept it at the top of the zone or buried low and away.

Zone Plot via Baseball Savant

This was, without question, the best start of Bundy’s major league career; but it’s also the continuation of a solid August. In each of his previous four starts this month, Bundy went at least six innings and allowed no more than three earned runs. Counting Tuesday’s gem, Bundy has reached double-digit strikeouts in three of his five starts this month; something he hadn’t done all year previously.

It’s happening later than we all expected, but Dylan Bundy appears to be blossoming into the front-line starter that many thought he could be. Here’s a pie to the face to celebrate.

Gif via

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Martín Maldonado — 465 feet

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I’m going to be totally honest, this home run upset me. Not because of any rooting interest or personal animus towards Martín Maldonado, but because if he hadn’t hit this massive blast I would’ve been able to write about Yasiel Puig and Chris Taylor hitting 443 foot dingers in consecutive innings. I mean seriously, teammates hit home runs in consecutive innings all the time, but not moonshots that travel the exact same distance, to the exact same part of the park. It was crazy and beautiful... but fine, let’s talk about Maldonado.

For what it’s worth, Hit Tracker Online wildly disagrees with Statcast’s assessment of 465 feet; they have it at 429. While 465 does look a little bit inflated considering it was pulled down the line, this is still a monster home run that hit well into the seats before bouncing back towards the field.

Maldonado was brought to Anaheim for his elite defense with the knowledge that his offense would be sub-par. He has delivered on the defense part, ranking fourth among catchers by Baseball Prospectus’ Fielding Runs Above Average; and been as promised offensively, with a wRC+ of 83. Where Maldonado has surely exceeded expectations is in the power department. His dinger in the warm Anaheim air on Tuesday night brought his season total to 12, furthering his career high.

Between the elite defense at a premium position, and the power he’s displayed; the acquisition of Martín Maldonado last offseason is proving to be one of Angels GM Billy Eppler’s most shrewd moves. His presence behind the plate is a big reason the Angels are still in the hunt.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Adam Conley (4.55 projected ERA) vs. Stephen Strasburg (3.32 projected ERA)

The Marlins are in the wild card chase almost entirely on the back of Giancarlo Stanton’s incredible run of tater mashing. Their pitching staff is 24th in fWAR, and their best pitcher has been Dan Straily. That’s not meant to denigrate Straily, just to emphasize that the starting staff in Miami leaves a little to be desired. Adam Conley appears in this space based solely on his opponent, as his 5.17 ERA and 4.62 FIP do not inspire confidence.

Opposing Conley is Stephen Strasburg, who is coming off an excellent start against the Astros that saw him win our Launch Angles’ best game score despite leaving with an injury after just six innings. Luckily for the Nationals it proved to be merely a leg cramp that forced his exit. At this point in the season, with the AL East basically wrapped up, maintenance and health become the most important components of Strasburg’s starts. It’s incredible to think that despite his exceptional team, Strasburg has only made one career start in the postseason. If the Nationals truly hope to make a World Series run, they’ll need that to change.

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