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Launch angles — September 6, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

New York Yankees v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/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

Manny Machado wins it for the O’s with a walk-off blast — +.898 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

With the Yankees and Orioles experiencing a rain delay that lasted two hours and 14 minutes, the big moment didn’t come until nearly one in the morning. Any fans who left were absolutely justified in doing so, but those that stayed were rewarded with a monster game-winning home run from one of baseball’s elite talents, Manuel Arturo Machado.

The Orioles entered the ninth down a run, set to face Yankees’ closer Dellin Betances. It took 13 pitches, but Betances began the frame by getting Welington Castillo to fly out and pinch-hitter Pedro Álvarez to strike out. Now one out away from defeat, Baltimore’s win expectancy sat at a disheartening 4.9 percent. Things were looking grim, but as they say, it ain’t over ‘til it’s over.

Underwhelming Rays shortstop turned dynamic Orioles shortstop Tim Beckham was next to face Betances. He worked a five pitch walk, raising the Orioles win expectancy to 10.2 percent and bringing Manny Machado — already with one home run in the game — to the plate representing the winning run. Betances’ first pitch was a 100 mile per hour fastball that wasn’t all that close to being a strike. He then decided to come back at Machado with a knuckle-curve that stayed up, inside and on the top edge of the zone.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

Typically when you think of a breaking ball that was “hung,” you think of a pitch that doesn’t fully break and stays in the middle of the zone, where hitters can hammer it with ease. Betances’ curve wasn’t left in an easy spot for most hitters to drive it, but it was still hung, and Manny Machado isn’t most hitters. The pitch didn’t have the visibly sharp break that it normally does — at least not compared to Betances’ best curves — giving Machado ample time to size it up.

Gif via MLB.com

The .898 win probability added is the second highest mark of the season, coming in just behind a similar walk-off, two-run dinger from Mike Zunino on June seventh that earned a .908 win probability added. With his team’s back against the wall, Manny Machado gave the Orioles an unlikely victory and — with the Twins loss — brought them within one game of the second wild card spot in the American League. I think this win expectancy chart from FanGraphs says it all:

Chart via FanGraphs

Yesterday’s best game score

Jake Odorizzi — 82

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.

Typically our best pitching performances here at Launch Angles last longer than 6 23 innings, but Rays starter Jake Odorizzi was so dominant on Tuesday that 6 23 innings is all he needed to notch the best game score of the day. He struck out six — which again, is a bit underwhelming for this space — but allowed just one hit and one walk, total.

Odorizzi actually had a no-hitter through 6 13 innings, until Joe Mauer went and spoiled the party with a single up the middle. The Rays were positioned perfectly, but Mauer’s ball hit the second base bag and allowed him to reach safely. You can see the anguish on Odorizzi’s face as it unfolds, his expression and demeanor seem to say “oh, come on!” And rightly so.

Gif via MLB.com

Odorizzi was already at 84 pitches, so who’s to say if he would’ve been able to complete the no-hitter, but it still has to hurt to lose it in such a fluky way. Baseball can be so cruel sometimes.

Back in Spring Training, Travis Sawchik wrote an excellent piece for FanGraphs entitled “Tampa Bay’s Cult of the High Fastball.” It focused on the Rays’ employment of high fastballs as a team, but featured an anecdote about how Odorizzi had always felt his fastball was more effective in the upper part of the zone, yet only the Rays allowed him to embrace that. That philosophy was on full display against the Twins as Odorizzi kept his four-seam fastball elevated and worked each side of the plate with his cutter and splitter.

Zone Plot via Baseball Savant

He’s had a tough season, with a 4.58 ERA, a 5.74 FIP, and a 5.65 DRA through his 24 starts, but Odorizzi has a track record of big league success and his performance on Tuesday showed that he’s still capable of an exceptional outing from time to time. One start does not nullify an entire season of mediocrity, but it’s still encouraging to see.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Jordan Luplow/Manny Machado — 431 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Manny Machado’s game-winning smash also happened to tie for the longest home run of the night. But since we’ve already talked about that one in depth, let’s turn our attention to the man who equaled the great Machado on this night, Jordan Luplow.

If you have no idea who Jordan Luplow is, you’re not alone. Tuesday marked his 11th big league game after getting the call from Triple-A Indianapolis where he slashed .325/.401/.513 with seven home runs and a 156 wRC+ in 182 plate appearances. He was not a top prospect of note for Pittsburgh. Here’s what FanGraphs’ lead prospect analyst Eric Longenhagen had to say about Luplow in the “Other Prospects of Note” section of his offseason list of the Pirates’ best prospects:

Luplow has some raw power and speed, but the former doesn’t play in games due to Luplow’s stiffness and his swing’s late trigger. When he gets a hold of one, it goes, but it may not happen often enough for him to profile in left field.

Just as Longenhagen said he might on occasion, last night Luplow got a hold of one, and it went. He did it on a 2-1 sinker from Cubs starter Kyle Hendricks that caught too much of the plate. You can see that Luplow did have to reach out and lean forward somewhat to reach the pitch — it wasn’t the most graceful of swings — but that he was still able to pull it to the deepest part of PNC Park speaks to his raw power.

Who knows if Luplow will be able to stick in the big leagues, but he’ll always have this monster dinger against a former Cy Young Award finalist.

SABRy tidbits

  • The Orioles celebrated on Tuesday night thanks to Manny Machado’s heroics, but when it comes to running the bases they have nothing to smile about. As Tyler Young of Camden Chat details, Baltimore is the worst base running team in baseball. The little things add up it a race as tight as the AL Wild Card, so this deficiency is one to keep an eye on.
  • The minor league season is just about over, which means that the offseason and all of its various top prospect lists are just around the corner. Over at Minor League Ball, Matt Powers details some prospects who saw their stock climb and should be soaring up the rankings this offseason.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

José Quintana (3.54 projected ERA) vs. Gerrit Cole (3.89 projected ERA)

The Cubs lead the NL Central by 3.5 games, which feels like a ton considering where they were for most of the year, but in reality is not a huge number. They have far from locked up the division race. The Pirates on the other hand — at 8.5 games back and fourth in the division — are finished, now relegated to the role of spoiler.

José Quintana against Gerrit Cole would mean a little bit more if Pittsburgh was still in the race, but it’s nevertheless a dynamite matchup between two pitchers who seem to constantly straddle the line between ace and number two starter. Neither player’s overall numbers stick out as exceptional this season, but they’ve each accrued around two and a half wins according to FanGraphs. This isn’t Kershaw vs. Scherzer, but it’s still an intriguing, evenly-matched showdown between two of the games most established hurlers.


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