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Launch angles — September 17, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Oakland Athletics v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/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

Joey Wendle’s grand slam puts the A’s on top — +.475

This is the second straight day in which the biggest play of the night came in a game between the A’s and the Phillies. I know everyone was paying close attention to the outcome of this three-game set, so I’m happy to give it the spotlight. In the previous game, Philadelphia got the best of Oakland with a late-inning home run; in this, the rubber game, the tables were turned.

Phillies starter Henderson Alvarez put a couple runners on base to start the 6th before being pulled in favor of lefty specialist Hoby Milner (who struck out Matt Olson) and, after him, Edubray Ramos. Ramos got the second out with a strikeout of Matt Chapman, but another walk loaded the bases for Wendle. The A’s second baseman hasn’t displayed much power in his career—in more than 100 major league PAs prior to this one, he had one home run, and he averaged about 12 per season in the minors (despite some of his development coming in the PCL). Ramos probably wasn’t feeling to threatened before throwing this pitch. And while he doesn’t miss his spot by much, you can see that Cameron Rupp sets up a little further away from the lefthanded Wendle than where the pitch actually comes in. Those additional few inches of inside run allowed Wendle to get a hold of this pitch and yank it out to right. The A’s took a 6–3 lead that they never gave up.

Rationally, I know there’s nothing particularly special about a grand slam. Four runs is four runs, and whether they score on four straight solo shots or with a single swing of the bat is basically irrelevant. But there’s something about grand slams that feels special, something that drives kids in their backyards to pretend they’re always hitting grand slams instead of solo shots. Anyways, this is a long-winded way of saying: look at Rupp die inside a little bit when Wendle makes contact. These games might not matter much to MLB as a whole, but they certainly feel like they matter in the moment.

Yesterday’s best game score

Matt Boyd — 95

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.

It’s weird to be disappointed by such a dominant performance—nine shutout innings, five strikeouts, one walk, one hit—but when that one hit came with two outs in the ninth inning, it’s impossible not to think of what could’ve been if Boyd had been able to delay that hit by one more batter.

As in every near-no-hitter, Boyd got some help from his fielders in this one, but not that much. While his five strikeouts might look somewhat unimpressive, they were backed up by a whopping 17 whiffs; while Boyd wasn’t always closing out batters with a K, his stuff was on, and he was firmly in control all afternoon long. And according to the Statcast data, Boyd’s fielders didn’t do anything too crazy; only two Detroit batted balls—a 388-foot fly ball by José Abreu and a 109mph line drive by Matt Davidson— had a hit probability greater than 50 percent, based on their launch angle and exit velocity. Both were estimated to fall for a hit 81 percent of the time, and both were caught, but Boyd didn’t need to be bailed out on any of the other contact he allowed.

And on the hit that broke it up, Boyd’s fielders may have failed him badly. With two outs in the ninth, Tim Anderson hit a fly ball with a launch angle of 22 degrees and an exit velocity of 95mph. That’s a can of corn in a lot of scenarios, and Statcast estimates the hit probability of such a batted ball at just 29 percent. Anderson’s hit was well-placed, heading right for the gap, but look at the route Nick Castellanos takes to the ball. (You might be wondering what exactly Castellanos was doing in right field in the top of the 9th of a no-hitter, given that this was just the 14th game of his career spent in the outfield. Excellent question!)

Fielding mishaps aside, this was an outstanding outing by Boyd. Baseball exists to make us feel, and you definitely feel something when a pitcher loses a no-hitter with one out to go. No-hitters don’t actually matter—none of this actually matters—so focus on the feeling. Good job, Matt Boyd.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Joey Gallo — 490 feet

GASP. There is nobody better than Joey Gallo at making you wonder about the heights of baseball possibility. This is the third-longest dinger of 2017, three feet behind a Gary Sánchez blast and five feet behind a Judge shot, so it’s not the absolute longest. But what I love about this home run is the pacing of the landing and aftermath. There’s something objectively great about big, open, natural elements to hit dingers into—Colorado’s patch of trees, Arizona’s pool, this field in Anaheim—but what’s really nice about this one is the roll. It hammers home just how much the ball cleared the fence by—look at how long it has to roll before it reaches the wall!—and allows for a nice, dramatic pause to appreciate what exactly you just saw.

Gallo remains one of the coolest players to exist in MLB, just because his success comes from such a strange place. He’s hitting .211/.337/.546, and while his 126 wRC+ is fairly mundane, his 35.6 percent strikeout rate (second in MLB) and his .335 ISO (second in MLB) are decidedly not. Gallo is a very good hitter, but in a way that literally nobody else can quite replicate. It’s cool that baseball allows for uniqueness in that way. It’s also cool that baseball allows for baseballs to be hit almost 500 feet.

SABRy tidbits

  • As the playoff picture starts to crystallize, we can start thinking about the strategy teams should deploy in their postseason matchups. Over at Pinstripe Alley, Matt Provenzano asks whether the Yankees should leverage their stacked bullpen in the Wild Card game, and pull their starter after just three or four innings. I think Luis Severino is great, but I’m with Provenzano—when you have as many top relievers as the Yankees do, you find a way to get them into the game.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Clayton Kershaw (2.63 projected ERA) vs. Nick Pivetta (4.39 projected ERA)

There are only seven games being played today, so that the one with Kershaw is the one we recommend you watch should come as no surprise. The Dodgers ace hasn’t looked quite like his vintage self since coming off the DL, with five runs in 15 23 innings, but with 20 strikeouts versus just four walks over that period, there’s no indication that long-term worry is warranted. Nick Pivetta is a Phillies rookie whose 6.75 ERA (!) belies a 4.99 FIP (though his DRA is an ugly 5.91). He’s young, though, so for novelty’s sake alone he can provide some entertainment.