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Launch angles — September 7, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

St Louis Cardinals v San Diego Padres Photo by Denis Poroy/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

Stephen Piscotty puts the Cardinals on top — +.340 WPA

A Yangervis Solarte home run in the 4th inning of this game had put the Padres up 1–0, and in this pitching “duel,” that’s where the score stayed for a while. I say “duel” because the score makes the pitching look more dominant than it was; the Cardinals’ starter, Jack Flaherty, only gave up that one run, but also only went five innings, with four strikeouts and four walks. But Padres’ pitcher Dinelson Lamet really did have a good night; prior to this home run, he had cruised through six shutout innings with two hits, three walks, and eight strikeouts. The 25-year-old rookie righty has been absent from most prospect lists, but he’s been quite decent this season, with a 4.32 ERA, 4.04 FIP, and an outstanding 3.29 DRA.

But Lamet ran into trouble in the seventh, when he allowed a single to José Martínez, then grooved a 94mph sinker to Piscotty. This wasn’t crushed — exit speed of 99.5mph, distance of 388 feet — but even though Statcast estimates that kind of ball turns into an out 63 percent of the time, it was enough on this night to clear the fences and put the Cardinals on top for good. Lamet had maybe gotten a bit too predictable with his first pitch of each plate appearance.

Dinelson Lamet’s first pitches.
Brooks Baseball

So far, pounding the zone had worked, maybe because Lamet had employed a pretty even spread of fourseamers, sinkers, and sliders to do so: he’d gotten nine called strikes, three batted-ball outs, and just one hit. But on his third time of the night facing Piscotty, the Cardinals righty didn’t wait to fall behind in the count, and jumped all over the sinker that didn’t sink. The Cardinals went on to win 3–1.

Yesterday’s best game score

Carlos Carrasco — 88

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.

Cleveland has two aces. Corey Kluber is nuts; with Chris Sale showing some cracks in his last few starts, Kluber is making a strong push for the AL Cy Young. But it’s a little unfair to Carrasco that he has to share a roster with the stoic righty, because he’d probably be getting far more (deserved) attention if he was the sole staff ace. Carrasco was outstanding last night against the White Sox, going the distance with just three hits, one run (on a ninth-inning solo home run by Adam Engel), no walks, and nine strikeouts.

Carrasco racked up an impressive seventeen whiffs on the night, spread across his five-pitch repertoire. His best pitch was probably the curveball; he threw it more than any other (33 times); and it had the most whiffs (eight) and the second-highest strike rate (78.8 percent); and when it was put into play, it never fell for a hit. But Carrasco did more than garner whiffs; he made the White Sox hitters look downright silly (a task that is admittedly easier than it might be against other opponents). Just watch some of the swings in the gif above; there are bats traveling along their swing path, while a Carrasco curveball or slider passes fully feet away. Overkill isn’t usually a term that has any meaning in pitching, but Carrasco was a lot more dominating than he really needed to be last night.

Cleveland is in the midst of a 14-game winning streak, and after struggling to create separation in the AL Central for much of the year, they’ve opened up an 11-game lead on the Twins. It feels pretty safe to project them for the playoffs, as a result. And once they’re there, the Kluber-Carrasco combo is going to make life extremely difficult for their opponents. Beyond those two is a little less certain — Mike Clevinger, Trevor Bauer, and Danny Salazar each have their very good days, and the occasional very bad day — but it’s got to be hard not to feel confident with two aces leading off any series.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

Charlie Blackmon — 450 feet

We return to Coors, as we so often do in this part of the recap, and we have yet another aesthetically pleasing dinger. Coors Field is just really, really nice, and the various places to hit huge home runs — the center field woods, the bleachers in right, and (as Blackmon demonstrated here) the upper-deck in left — ensures some variety in all the altitude-assisted moonshots. Blackmon took a cutter down the heart of the plate and ripped it out to the pull side. I feel like Statcast has made me more aware of several properties of home runs that I never used to think about. I probably had a sense for things like launch angle, arc, and exit velocity five years ago, but certainly not in the concrete way I do now. This home run seems to have almost no arc on its path to that upper deck; it’s a line drive, but instead of being hit at the normal, 15-degree launch angle, it’s at 28 degrees.

This was yet another stop on the “Charlie Blackmon for down-ballot MVP candidate” tour; his wRC+ is up to 149, and while he doesn’t have the defensive value of Anthony Rendon or the pure offensive output of Joey Votto, Blackmon has still been one of the very best players in the entire NL. With the Rockies suddenly fighting for their Wild Card lives — the Cardinals are two games back, the Brewers two and a half — Blackmon’s surge has probably been the difference between the inside and the outside of the playoff picture. With 23 games to go, they’ll have to hope he can keep it up.

SABRy tidbits

  • Orioles’ top prospect Austin Hays has joined the big club, after being drafted last season and getting just 716 PAs in the minors. Joe Wedra of Camden Chat says it isn’t too soon, as Hays has blown through every level he’s faced thus far.

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Jon Gray (4.27 projected ERA) vs. Clayton Kershaw (2.58 projected ERA)

This is a fun matchup. Gray is better than that ERA makes him look, as it assumes he’ll be playing half his games at Coors (though this matchup will be at Dodger Stadium). And even while he has made a number of starts at altitude, his 4.26 ERA on the year masks a 3.47 FIP and 3.88 DRA. He’s young, he’s good, he’s fun to watch, and he’s one of the first homegrown pitching prospects to succeed with the Rockies in years.

Opposing him is this guy named Clayton Kershaw, who... hrm. I was going to do this shtick where I pretended like we didn’t all know who Kershaw was, but it just seems dumb. You know who Kershaw is. You know what he can do. He’s making his second start after returning from the DL; last week, he went six innings against the Padres, allowing two hits and striking out seven. This week, he has to face a real lineup. You should probably watch this matchup.