Phillies

Here's the proof that Bryce Harper has been MLB's most clutch hitter in 2019

Here's the proof that Bryce Harper has been MLB's most clutch hitter in 2019

Bryce Harper, according to two key metrics designed to track these things, has been the most clutch hitter in baseball this season. 

Harper’s walk-off grand slam Thursday night catapulted him from fifth place to first on the 2019 leaderboard for positive Win Probability Added (WPA). This stat captures the change in a team’s win expectancy from one individual plate appearance to the next. 

What does this mean? 

You know how you’ll often hear late in a game when a team is trailing: Team X has a 15% chance to win? Then imagine that team gets a go-ahead, multi-run hit that shifts their win probability to 85%. The player who contributed that hit gave his team a 70% better chance of winning than it had before his plate appearance. That 70% is credited to the player in decimal form and 0.7 would be added to his season-long WPA number. 

The same works for negative plate appearances. Say a player steps up with the bases loaded and one out with his team trailing by a run and grounds into an inning-ending double play. His team’s run expectancy was obviously higher with one out and the bases loaded than with the inning over, thus his season-long WPA would decrease from that event. 

Harper’s positive plate appearances this season have resulted in a WPA of 12.9, highest in the majors. Christian Yelich is next at 12.59. 

Harper’s grand slam last night was worth 0.72 itself, which in a way means that it resulted in a 72% turnaround in the Phillies’ chance to win last night’s game — 28% before Harper stepped to the plate in the ninth inning, 100% after. 

Harper has also affected the Phillies’ run expectancy negatively at times in situations like the bases-loaded hypothetical described above. Every player in the majors, even Mike Trout, has plenty of plate appearances throughout a season where he does not come through and his team’s chance to win decreases because of it. 

When you combine Harper’s positive Win Probability moments (12.9) with his negative (-7.83), you get his actual WPA of 5.07, which ranks third in the majors, behind Yelich (5.92) and Trout (5.12) and ahead of Cody Bellinger.

So, to review, Harper’s good moments have affected his team’s win probability more than any player on any team. And when you take into account all of Harper’s plate appearances — good and bad — he has affected winning for his team as much with his bat as the top three MVP candidates in the sport. 

Defining 'clutch'

Not everyone believes in the concept of “clutch.” People who have played and/or watched sports all their lives know it when they see it and usually think they have a good gauge on which players are and are not clutch. 

But there are many who think “clutch” doesn’t exist or at least cannot be properly quantified, that individual events in games are more random no matter how much of a narrative exists that a player “thrives on big moments.”

Harper is the kind of player who tests that theory. His personality, his experiences, his entire baseball journey has created a player who can step to the plate in situations like Thursday’s and, as he admitted, not even feel jitters. 

In those moments, Harper’s talent and experience causes added stress on the pitcher, especially when it’s a mediocre left-hander like Derek Holland. The pitcher nibbles more. The pitcher falls behind or evens the count, like Holland did last night after getting ahead on Harper 0-2. The pitcher tries to be too perfect and makes a mistake. Last night, the result was game over, Phillies sweep. 

Fangraphs has a stat that tries to measure clutch. It is, appropriately, called Clutch. It measures a player against himself. “How much better is this player in high-leverage situations than he is in situations of normal leverage?”

Harper ranks first in the majors this season in that department as well, by a wide margin. 

He has saved his best work for his biggest moments. That’s not a meaningless cliché. It’s backed up by data. 

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Former Phillie Ben Lively shares his quarantine experience in South Korea

Former Phillie Ben Lively shares his quarantine experience in South Korea

This wasn't how Ben Lively envisioned his first full year in South Korea.

The former Phillie is now living in Daegu, where the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea began and quickly spread. After 14 days by himself looking at the same four walls, Lively is finally able to practice again today. 

"I'm just ready to get out of my apartment. It's been 14 days straight," Lively told NBC10's John Clark. "So far it's been ... now I know what to do when I'm bored by myself in an apartment for two weeks.

"We had spring training in Okinawa, Japan, then we actually got sent back to America for like a week and a half. We came back and the next day they followed the Korean law saying that all foreign travelers have to be quarantined 14 days just to go outside. 

"If you got caught outside, there was a chance you could be deported. Wouldn't be good."

Tuesday was Lively's last day under quarantine. He was given a COVID-19 test the second day he was back in South Korea (March 26) and was re-tested this week. He says all of his teammates foreign to Korea tested negative.

Lively's Korean teammates have not been tested, per his knowledge. "I think the only time they test a person that has been here is when they have symptoms," he said.

South Korea has seemingly done a better job of containing coronavirus than any country in the world. As of April 8, the country has seen 10,384 reported cases and 200 total deaths. The number of new cases per day has ranged between 47 and 152 since March 12, according to Worldometer.

Opening day for the Korea Baseball Organization was supposed to be March 28, two days after MLB's opening day. Instead, the KBO is just opening practices back up to its foreign players and hopes to open its season by early May.

"The facilities we have at our field, there's going to be no pedestrians or fans, and they clean it every day," Lively said. "You don't necessarily have to wear a mask there, it's just going to be our team, small group of people. When you're going around though you've definitely got to wear a mask."

On Tuesday, an ESPN report outlined an ambitious potential plan by MLB to play regular-season games in empty stadiums in Arizona by late-May or early-June. The commissioner's office released a statement later in the day saying that numerous options are under consideration.

In South Korea, teams still plan to travel as of now.

"We don't have anything like that here. We're gonna travel, go city to city," Lively said. "It's definitely slowing down here, there's barely any new cases here now. They have it on pretty good lockdown over here. We still have no idea what the plan is after the games, whether we go back to the hotel or keep traveling back and forth."

Lively is eager to compete and carve out his role. He spent three seasons in the majors, pitching 112⅓ of his 120 innings with the Phillies. He made 15 starts for the 2017 Phils and went 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA.

The Phillies acquired him on New Year's Eve 2015 from the Reds for Marlon Byrd. In Lively's first year in the Phillies' system, he went 18-5 with a 2.69 ERA, splitting time between Double A and Triple A. He was let go by the Phillies late in the 2018 season and went to the Royals and Diamondbacks before his release in Arizona last August.

In Korea, Lively is teammates with former Phillie David Buchanan, who pitched here in 2014 and 2015. Buchanan lives a building over from Lively.

"Buchanan had a plan for his wife and kid to come over here the first week we started," Lively said. "I can see how tough it is on him. ... I tell everyone it still feels like a movie, can't really grasp what's going on still."

The rest of the baseball world is watching Korea to see how the KBO fares in its attempt to bring baseball back by May.

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Phillies' Andrew McCutchen's relatable facemask story is amazing, and helpful

Phillies' Andrew McCutchen's relatable facemask story is amazing, and helpful

We say it often, but right now pro athletes really are just like us: learning how to deal with social distancing strategies and facemask recommendations.

Phillies outfielder Andrew McCutchen is working on getting healthy in case the Major League Baseball season begins this spring, but he also needs to hit the store now and then for everyday supplies. 

After Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf advised all Pennsylvania residents to wear facemasks in public to fight the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, McCutchen threw together a "bootleg" facemask to protect himself and those around him, but he was feeling a little... embarrassed by how DIY the mask was.

That is, until he saw what everyone else was wearing:

Between the acting, the wardrobe changes, and the sound effects, that's some Oscar-worthy work from McCutchen. 

(Will he start challenging Matisse Thybulle for the title of Content King?)

Outside of giving us a laugh, McCutchen also makes a good point and sends an important message: We're all dealing with this different world as one team.

While you might think putting on a facemask looks funny, or is a little uncomfortable, you're certainly not alone - even baseball stars are dealing with it - so let's tackle this, together.

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