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Launch angles — September 8, 2017

All the baseball nuggets you need to start your day.

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves Photo by Mike Zarrilli/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

Kurt Suzuki walks-off it off in the ninth — +.389 WPA

Gif via MLB.com

There were two games on Thursday’s schedule with exciting finishes, but only one of them had important playoff implications. The Twins rallied in the ninth inning against the Royals to push their minuscule lead for the second AL wild card spot to one game. Sadly, Jorge Polanco’s big two-run single only scored a win probability added of .387, falling just short of the .389 earned by Kurt Suzuki in the meaningless Braves/Marlins game. So close, yet so far. We’ll now talk about the game with no big picture importance.

After the trade of AJ Ramos, noted submariner Brad Ziegler stepped into the closer’s role for the Marlins and has thus far performed quite well. Since August 1st and prior to Thursday’s contest, Ziegler had only allowed two runs in 15 innings. He entered the ninth inning in Atlanta with a one-run lead, but then allowed Matt Adams and Ozzie Albies doubles to tie things up for the Braves.

Trying now to preserve a tie and simply extend the game, the Marlins walked Freddie Freeman. His run didn’t matter and he’s the Braves best hitter — that decision was a no-brainer. Ziegler then induced a grounder from Lane Adams, but the Marlins could only get the lead runner at third, bringing Kurt Suzuki to the plate with two outs and runners on first and second.

Ziegler got ahead of Suzuki with two straight curveballs, the first one a called strike and the second one swinging. Next Ziegler tried to get Suzuki to chase something outside, as is both his tendency and what most pitchers will try to do with a favorable 0-2 count. Suzuki offered at the pitch, so in that respect Ziegler did his job, but there were two issues:

  1. It was the third straight curve at 73 miles per hour, allowing Suzuki to get the timing right.
  2. It wasn’t far enough outside.
Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

Suzuki was all over the 0-2 pitch and ripped it down the line, allowing Freeman to trot home from second base with ease. The Braves are in the midst of a rebuild and although their season hasn’t been as bad as it potentially could have been, I’d imagine a come from behind win provides some well needed catharsis for a group that is now just playing out the string. Enjoy that Powerade bath, Kurt Suzuki.

Gif via MLB.com

Yesterday’s best game score

Corey Kluber/Clayton Richard — 69

Gif via MLB.com
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.

Corey Kluber and Clayton Richard both had nice outings on Thursday, but their performances would not usually be enough to capture this space in Launch Angles. A game score of 69 has been the best of the day twice before in 2017; again in a tie between Jordan Montgomery and Ricky Nolasco on June 26th and from Cole Hamels on August 21st. It’s not quite the lowest game score to appear in this section however; that’d be 67, accomplished by Gio Gonzalez in the first week of the season.

In the instances where two pitchers have tied for the day’s best game score, that day’s Launch Angles author can either extoll the virtues of each performance or parse the numbers to pick a winner for most impressive. Seeing as the game score is so low — our average winner puts up an 83 — let’s go to the tale of the tape and declare a victor.

Corey Kluber vs. Clayton Richard (8/7)

Pitcher IP H ER BB SO HR Whiffs Opponent Opponent wRC+
Pitcher IP H ER BB SO HR Whiffs Opponent Opponent wRC+
Corey Kluber 7 3 2 1 13 2 21 White Sox 92
Clayton Richard 6 5 0 1 5 0 9 Cardinals 101
Data via MLB.com and Baseball Savant

Well, it seems pretty clear why these two tied with a game score of 69. Richard allowed no runs, but wasn’t overpowering in his six innings of work, relying on nine groundouts — including two double-plays — to shut down the Cardinals. On the other hand, Kluber’s 21 swinging strikes and 13 strikeouts were clearly dominating the White Sox, but in the midst of that dominance he made a couple of early mistakes and allowed two first-inning dingers.

So it falls on me to declare a winner between the two hurlers. It’s tough, they’re games were so different. Richard was really good, but not nearly as dominant as Kluber overall. Also, while the White Sox home field isn’t an offensive paradise, Petco Park is Petco Park. Then again, despite the whiffs and strikeouts, Kluber made two big mistakes. Ugh, this is a tough one.

Ok, here it is; your best pitching performance from the September 8th edition of Launch Angles belongs to... Corey Kluber.

Scroll up and look at Kluber’s gif compared to Richard’s, they aren’t even close to similarly compelling. Sorry Clayton Richard, I just can’t get past all the whiffs from Kluber. Despite a couple of long balls, overpowering dominance rules the day.

Yesterday’s biggest home run

José Abreu — 432 feet

Gif via MLB.com

Oh hey, it’s one of the two early Corey Kluber mistakes we were just talking about. During Kluber’s brief, one-inning flirtation with mortality on Thursday, José Abreu stepped to the plate and took the first two pitches, both of which were not close to the zone. Abreu then fouled off a cutter on the outer third before demolishing an elevated sinker on the outside corner.

Zone Plot via MLB Gameday

The ball left Abreu’s bat at 108 miles per hour and cleared the right-center field fence with ease. This smash doesn’t look as impressive as it actually is, due mainly to it’s location. If Abreu had pulled a ball 432 feet down the line it would appear to have cleared the fence by a mile, but out in right-center it only lands seven or eight rows up.

Graphic via Baseball Savant

Despite it’s pedestrian appearances, Abreu’s monster home run was incredibly impressive. It required a tremendous amount of strength for a right-handed hitter to take a pitch away and drive it out of the yard in that spot. Also, it came against Corey Kluber, who actually hit his spot perfectly. Scroll back up and watch the gif — Yan Gomes’ glove barely moves at all. Kluber executed his pitch but Abreu was able to muscle it out of the ballpark with brute strength.

SABRy tidbits

Tonight’s best pitching matchup

Chris Archer (3.47 projected ERA) vs. Drew Pomeranz (3.99 projected ERA)

In his last outing, Chris Archer faced just two hitters — each of whom went deep — before exiting with forearm tightness. Pitchers are fragile and worrisome in general, but despite no significant injury history, Archer’s profile as a hard-throwing slider machine tends to raise eyebrows when any hint of a problem arises. Archer wasn’t supposed to start this game, but the need for presumed starter Austin Pruitt in Wednesday’s game has convinced the Rays to let Archer take the mound. Hopefully it was just a one-week scare and Archer is truly good to go for the rest of the season; he’s had a excellent year.

Opposing Archer is Drew Pomeranz, who was flown a bit under the radar pitching in the shadow of Chris Sale, but has earned an impressive 3.36 ERA and 3.79 FIP to this point in his first full season in Boston. With David Price’s injuries and Rick Porcello’s regression, Pomeranz has been an essential part of the Red Sox rotation this season and figures to be their number two starter come playoff time.

Boston’s lead in the AL East is only 3.5 games, the division is far from over. While the playoff implications of this contest aren’t as big as those of the wild card contenders, it still matters. Big picture aside, this is clearly the best pitching matchup that Friday has to offer. Enjoy.


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