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Anywhere But The Thumb

Denis Poroy/Getty Images

Ho boy, how ’bout the Phillies, huh? To rip off the band-aid: Bryce Harper is out indefinitely with a fractured thumb after Blake Snell accidentally hit him with a 97 mph fastball last Saturday. The video resembles the last time Harper got hit up-and-in with a 97 mph fastball, though that time, the ball deflected off Harper’s wrist into his face—arguably more terrifying, even if the results were less devastating—and this time around, it hit him on the thumb. With that, there was never much optimism that Harper would be able to dodge a prolonged IL stint.

If you want to scrounge for humor before getting into the general crushing dread of the Phillies, here’s new addition to the Phillies radio broadcast, Michael Bourn, reacting proportionally to the HBP (the next day, Bourn did not curse when Kyle Gibson accidentally hit a couple of Padres and proudly informed Scott Franzke, “I made an adjustment from yesterday”):

Well said, Mr. Bourn. The Phillies won that game 4-2, and then also won the next, taking the series and leaving San Diego with 0.5 games gained on the Mets and a four-game buffer between them and the despised .500 record. They’re still eight games back, which is certainly better than the 12.5 games they lagged by earlier this month, but that doesn’t necessarily foretell a steady march back up to the top of the NL East because for one, we’re talking about the Phillies here, and two, they’re now missing the main guy in their Just Hit Ball Hard, Duh lineup. No more unfettered glee upon seeing his Statcast sliders or the xwOBA leaderboards, just dismay.

In the interest of not being a complete doomer, we can pretend this doesn’t suck entirely and laugh and/or blog through the pain. This forcefully fixes the Phillies’ whole How do we fit all these bats in the line-up? issue. Maybe it’ll kickstart the team, somehow. Maybe the average length of Phillies games will finally start crawling down with comparably less offense. We got to hear someone yell “Shit!” on the radio. This’ll give Harper the chance to rest his UCL without exacerbating the tear, not that it seemed to be limiting his hitting much. In the grand scheme of team performance in baseball, even a really, really good player can’t make a team’s season—just look at the Angels, who have two.

But if it’s tragic for the Phillies and the fans, it’s worse for Harper, who over the last few years has been beating accusations of overratedness and further destroying RBI as a valid measurement of offensive performance. This season, even in the context of a sluggish run environment (something baseballs, something drag coefficients) and a partially torn UCL that hindered his ability to play in the outfield, Harper has put up a .985 OPS and 175 OPS+, meaning he’s about 1.75x better than league average. In his MVP season last year, he put up a 1.044 OPS and 180 OPS+ (and only 84 RBI, with 35 of those runs being himself). His WAR accretion has been hampered slightly this year thanks to that pesky DH positional adjustment factor, but that’s alright. The point is that Harper was raking, and now he is not, because the world is full of injustices, some of them baseball-related.

Even if the misery of the Phillies isn’t any more severe than your average beleaguered baseball team, it still feels that way when their best player got hit by two 97-mph fastballs in back-to-back seasons. I’m prone to over-sentimentality about players’ personal success, which is why I will furiously sit on the “Claude Giroux should go into the Hall of Fame” train as far as it will carry me, so this careless (and unintentional) injury to Harper in his prime is very concerning for someone overly invested in his narrative well-being (me). Never doubt the ability for abject misery to feel targeted.

Harper said afterwards, “I kind of wish it hit me in the face.” It’s not a sentiment I personally reciprocate, but I commend his ability to turn to humor in this situation, and the integrity of his orbital bones.