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Launch angles — September 27, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Minnesota Twins v Cleveland Indians Photo by Jason Miller/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

Brian Dozier puts the Twins ahead with a 3-run blast — +.480 WPA

Gif via

With the Angels and Rangers faltering down the stretch, the Minnesota Twins have all but locked up the second AL Wild Card spot. In that game they’ll travel to New York to face the Yankees, and with a victory would find themselves right back where they were on Tuesday — Cleveland. As we all know, the playoffs are subject to the randomness of small-sample-size baseball, so despite the juggernaut aura that surrounds Cleveland post win-streak, anything can happen.

In this potential ALDS preview, the Twins entered the eighth inning at Progressive Field trailing by two runs. Cleveland brought in Bryan Shaw, providing Minnesota a brief respite between Andrew Miller, who pitched the seventh, and Cody Allen, who would presumably be brought in to close the game in the ninth. Shaw’s a fine reliever in an exceptional bullpen, but he’s not on the level of Miller or Allen. The eighth would almost certainly be the Twins’ best opportunity to stage a comeback.

Byron Buxton struck out to begin the frame, but Jason Castro and and Robbie Grossman followed with back-to-back singles to bring Brian Dozier to the plate representing the go-ahead run. Like I said earlier, Shaw is a good relief pitcher, but this was not his finest moment. He threw Dozier two pitches, both cutters, in essentially the exact same spot.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

In the above gif you can see that Cleveland catcher Roberto Perez was set up on the outside edge but the pitch caught too much of the plate and Dozier crushed it to right-center field. From down two runs to up by one in an instant, these Twins are feisty.

Gif via

Proclamations and hyperbole about what this singular game means for either team are better left as time-filler on sports talk radio. No, it won’t have shaken Cleveland’s confidence. Yes, the Twins believe they can hang with the big boys. This one game doesn’t really change anything going forward, but it did get me excited for the playoffs to begin. One more week, folks! One. More. Week.

Yesterday’s best game score

J.A. Happ — 80

Gif via

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.

We’re at the point when the pitchers on teams who haven’t made the playoffs are making their last starts of the season. Facing the Red Sox at Fenway Park and opposing Chris Sale, Blue Jays southpaw J.A. Happ made the most of his final outing of 2017 by posting his highest game score of the year.

Happ entered the day with a 3.64 ERA, a 3.92 FIP, and a 3.88 DRA. He’s had a strong season, which is why it’s a bit surprising that a game score of 80 would be his best. You’d figure Happ would’ve had a couple of gems sprinkled among his mostly solid outings, but he had only three starts with a game score above 70 and only once left a start having not allowed at least one earned run. Happ is excellent, but rarely dominant.

On Tuesday Happ again allowed a run, but it came with only four hits and no walks. He struck out nine in his seven innings of work. With only five whiffs on the day it wasn’t a dominating performance, but Happ generated weak contact to the tune of an 81 mile per hour average exit velocity against. He did it by consistently hitting his spots with both of his fastballs; two-seamers on the arm-side and bottom half of the zone, four-seamers mostly up and more to his glove-side.

Zone Plot via Baseball Savant

There’s a downside to predictability of location, but to me a zone plot like this shows a knowledge of where a pitcher’s offerings are most effective. Sure enough, if we look at a plot broken down by average exit velocity against this season, it backs up Happ’s fastball strategy.

Zone Charts via Baseball Savant

He won’t be making another start this year, but J.A. Happ capped off a nice season with a fantastic performance against the Red Sox. I’d imagine it’s nice to finish the year on a personal high note, even if your team isn’t moving on to the playoffs.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Jedd Gyorko — 450 feet

Gif via

The Cardinals are fighting for that second wild card spot. It doesn’t look promising at 2.5 game back and needing to jump the Brewers to catch the Rockies, but there’s still reason to hold out hope. On Tuesday, Jedd Gyorko provided the first of two seventh innings home runs to put St. Louis up big and provide them with the necessary cushion to ward of the Cubs’ forthcoming comeback attempt in the eighth.

Willson Contreras wanted a letter-high fastball, but Cubs reliever Felix Peña missed his spot by a mile and the pitch ended up down around the belt on the inner third of the plate. Gyorko capitalized on the mistake and obliterated the pitch, sending it 450 feet out to left-center field. According to Baseball Savant, of the 37 balls hit at 107 miles per hour with a launch angle of 31 degrees in the Statcast era, only one has failed to leave the yard.*

*For the curious among you, it was Mark Trumbo flying out to deep center field in Houston on May 26th of last year.

Gif via

While Busch Stadium doesn’t have a ton of interesting landmarks for dingers to interact with, the bullpen placement does help to accentuate just how far this ball traveled. It didn’t just clear the bullpen, it cleared the bullpen by almost 10 rows.

This is Gyorko’s first appearance in Launch Angles in any capacity, and what a way to debut — a monster home run that actually mattered for his team!

SABRy tidbits

  • Kids today with their fidget spinners and their Snapchats and their emojicons have no appreciation for how hard it is to make the playoffs. Well, SB Nation’s Grant Brisbee does, and he’s here to make sure proper respect is given to the Minnesota Twins as they stand on the precipice of a wholly unexpected playoff berth.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Clayton Richard (4.08 projected ERA) vs. Rich Hill (3.55 projected ERA)

Originally this section featured Jeff Samardzija facing off against Zack Greinke, but the Diamondbacks decided to push Greinke’s final outing of the year back a couple of days to better line him up to start in the NL Wild Card game. I can’t really blame them, it seems like the prudent thing to do, but it also moved a less interesting matchup into this space. Alas, protocol must be followed, so we instead feature two Richard’s — Clayton and Hill.

Clayton Richard dominated the Dodgers in his first start of the season and he’ll look to bookend his year with a repeat performance. Rich Hill on the other hand will be tuning up for a playoff start. While the Dodgers haven’t yet announced a playoff rotation, you’d have to assume that the NLDS will go Kershaw, Darvish, and then Hill in game three. With his injury history, Hill might be on some sort of pitch limit on Wednesday; but at the same time, his playoff start won’t be for another week and a half, so the leash shouldn’t be that short. It’ll be interesting to see how the Dodgers’ handle this start.

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