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Launch angles — September 20, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Oakland Athletics v Detroit Tigers Photo by Duane Burleson/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

Jed Lowrie Grand Slam — +.444 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Tigers led 8-4 and their win expectancy reached 95.8 percent. The A’s would add a run in the seventh but Detroit still maintained their favorable odds, leaving that frame with a 92.9 percent win expectancy. It would not last.

I’d wager the go-ahead grand slam while down three runs is the most dreamed of scenario for baseball playing children everywhere. Usually the fantasy occurs in the bottom of the ninth, so Jed Lowrie didn’t hit all of the markers in this clutchest of baseball scenarios, but he got close.

Down 8-5 entering the top of the eighth inning, the A’s immediately strung together three straight singles from Joey Wendle, Franklin Barreto, and Chad Pinder to bring Lowrie to the plate representing the go-ahead run. On the first pitch he fouled of a slider from Tigers reliever Alex Wilson that was right down the middle. Lowrie had temporarily missed an opportunity, but when Wilson came back with another slider — this time on the inside edge, but with the same height as its predecessor — Lowrie was ready.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

According to Statcast, balls hit with an exit velocity of 94 miles per hour at 26 degree launch angles only turn into home runs six percent of the time. Conditions must have been right at Comerica Park on Tuesday night, because Lowrie turned on Wilson’s second slider and it found the seats in right field. The wind may have played a role, but that doesn’t matter on the scoreboard.

A go-ahead grand slam when your team is down three runs? Jed Lowrie is out here living the dream.

Yesterday’s best game score

Kevin Gausman — 87

Gif via MLB.com

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 feels like Kevin Gausman either throws a gem or gets blown up, with no in-between. A quick glance at his game log seems to verify that hunch. Since the beginning of July, Gausman has started 15 games and given up either zero or one earned runs in nine of them, and 4 or more earned runs in five of them.

The good version of Kevin Gausman toed the rubber at Camden Yards on Tuesday against the Red Sox. He tossed eight scoreless innings, allowing just three hits and one walk while striking out seven. Gausman’s 42 percent ground-ball rate is slightly below the league average of 44 percent for starting pitchers, but he was the beneficiary of nine ground ball outs against Boston.

With only 11 swinging strikes from Red Sox hitters — certainly not bad, but not overwhelming — Gausman’s wasn’t what you would call overpowering, but one look at his zone plot for the night shows a pitcher in complete control of his secondary pitches.

Zone Plot via Baseball Savant

While Gausman worked his four-seamer all over, he kept his slider down and his splitter on the edges — both on his arm side and at the bottom of the zone. Six of Gausman’s whiffs came against his splitter, so while he only threw it for a strike a handful of times, the pitch definitely served its purpose.

The Orioles lost the game because their offense stayed home, but on Tuesday they got the good Kevin Gausman; and he wasn’t just good, he was lights out. With just a little bit more consistency, maybe he can finally take that next step.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Kyle Schwarber — 446 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Chris Archer had a clear plan against Kyle Schwarber; pepper fastballs up and away, on the outside edge or try to get him to chase something down and in, but not close to the zone. Schwarber didn’t bite until he was ready, looking at all five of Archer’s pitches prior to his 446 foot, full-count moonshot.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

On the fateful sixth pitch, it appeared that Archer’s plan was to go back to the outside part of the plate that had previously earned him two called strikes, but his fastball drifted back over the plate and Schwarber sent it far, far away. It was a solid plan from Archer, just lacking in execution.

The great thing about a no-doubt home run is the pitcher’s reaction. With less conclusive dingers, everyone in the stadium — pitcher included — has to watch with baited breath to see if it will clear the wall. But on a homer that’s demolished like this one from Schwarber was, the opposing pitcher will often express his unhappiness in a demonstrative way. With that in mind, I present to you, the Archer jump spin.

Gif via MLB.com

Look at the impressive balance Archer maintains through the air, landing on both feet simultaneously despite being on an uneven mound. The grace of a dancer meets the frustration of a pitcher who immediately knows he just allowed a monster home run.

SABRy tidbits

  • Mike Trout is at that point where there are constantly new, mind-blowing framing devices that pop up to put his greatness into perspective. The latest comes from Grant Brisbee on the SB Nation MLB page who noticed that Trout became the Angels’ all-time leader in WAR this season, at age 26. He’s incredible, man. (Trout, I mean — although Grant is pretty great too.)
  • While we’re on the subject of things that are great, here are two more entries: Corey Kluber and BtBS contributor Merritt Rohlfing’s breakdown of Kluber’s unpredictable pitch selection at Let’s Go Tribe. It’s not enough that the Klu-bot has great stuff, but as it turns out, he’s also incredibly hard to predict.
  • Rafael Devers came up and started raking immediately, giving Red Sox fans a tantalizing glimpse of the future. But, as 20-year olds are want to do, he’s entered into a little bit of a slump. Matt Collins of Over The Monster takes a deep dive into his struggles to examine what’s going on.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jon Lester (3.66 projected ERA) vs. Blake Snell (3.97 projected ERA)

A pair of dynamic southpaws at very different points in their careers face off on Wednesday in Tampa Bay. Jon Lester has had a fine season overall, but with a 4.30 ERA and 4.05 FIP, it has been a bit disappointing based on the excellent track record he’s set for himself. His DRA sits at 3.64, which tells a more favorable story, but even by that metric this is his worst season since 2013. Make no mistake, even while falling slightly short of expectations, Lester is still an excellent pitcher.

Opposing him is a young lefty who seems to be putting it all together. Blake Snell’s main issue — as it is with so many pitching prospects — has been control. Before getting sent down in May, Snell had a 13.3 percent walk rate through his first eight starts and it looked as if nothing had changed this season. But after spending a month and a half in the minors, look what’s happened:

Chart via FanGraphs

The Rays are out of the playoff race, but Snell is absolutely worth watching. If his control has improved as much as it appears, Tampa Bay might have another young, frontline starter on their hands.


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