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Tommy Pham notches a 20/20 season

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Quietly, Cardinals outfielder Tommy Pham has had an excellent season. That continued on Thursday afternoon against the Reds as he doubled, hit a two-run home run, and stole two bases in a 5-2 win.

The home run marked No. 20 on the year for Pham and the stolen bases were his 20th and 21st. He is one of five players in baseball with at least 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases, joining Jose Altuve, Elvis Andrus, Mookie Betts, and Mike Trout.

After Thursday’s action, Pham is batting .307/.410/.521 with 65 RBI and 85 runs scored along with his 20 dingers and 21 swiped bags. According to FanGraphs, he also bumped his season total up to 5 Wins Above Replacement, becoming one of 16 players in baseball with at least that much WAR.

Prior to 2017, Pham had been a complimentary player; not a lineup regular. The Cardinals slotted him in the outfield for good in early May and Pham never looked back. He’s been one of baseball’s most underappreciated players, helping keep the Cardinals’ postseason hopes alive. They are 2.5 games behind the Cubs in the NL Central and three games back of the Rockies for the second NL Wild Card slot.

Other players near a 20/20 season include Whit Merrifield (17 HR, 29 SB), Wil Myers (27 HR, 19 SB), Brett Gardner (20 HR, 19 SB), Keon Broxton (20 HR, 19 SB), Andrew Benintendi (19 HR, 18 SB), Paul Goldschmidt (34 HR, 17 SB), Chris Taylor (19 HR, 16 SB), Alex Bregman (16 HR, 16 SB), Brian Dozier (30 HR, 15 SB), and Jose Ramirez (26 HR, 15 SB). If they all reach the 20/20 mark, that would make 15 across baseball this season, which would tie 2001 for the second-most 20/20 players in a single season, according to Baseball Reference. 1999 saw 19 20/20 players.

Aaron Judge ties the rookie home run record with his 49th blast

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Monday afternoon baseball that isn’t either (a) part of a doubleheader; or (b) on a holiday is always a bit unsettling, but today’s rare Monday tilt gave us a gift in the form of history: Aaron Judge hit his 49th home run, tying the rookie record.

The dinger came in the third inning of this afternoon’s Royals-Yankees tilt. It was the sixth pitch from Jake Junis and left via right field. Mark McGwire also hit 49 with the Athletics in 1987. Judge has the rest of today’s game and five more games after it to hit number 50 and claim the record for himself.

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Major League Baseball wants you to look at a screen while you’re at the ballpark

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During the debate last week involving expanded netting at major league ballparks, the familiar refrain from the anti-netting crowd rung out: “hey, netting wouldn’t be necessary if you simply paid attention!” These folks get particularly upset at the idea of people looking at their phones or other electronic devices during the game, implying — or sometimes explicitly stating — that if you do that you almost deserve to be hit with a 100 mph foul ball.

The problem with that, though, is that Major League Baseball increasingly encourages fans to use their phones during games. You can order your concessions through them now. Fans are encouraged to use the MLB.com Ballpark app for an increasing number of in-game features. And, of course, the video boards — always in the opposite direction of the hitter — are getting larger and larger and contain more and more information that the clubs and the league want you to see.

But it goes farther than that. Or at least it will soon. As this article from TechCrunch makes clear, in the future, Major League Baseball wants you actually watching the game action through your phone or your iPad. It’s an augmented reality feature in which you hold up your tablet and . . .

In essence, it’s a bit like watching TV broadcast in person, with information overlaid on the action as it happens in real-time. The data is gathered from Statcast, MLB’s in-house analytics tool . . . Players on the field, meanwhile, get small, square popups featuring their faces that can be tapped open to offer up personalized player information

Which is kind of cool, actually. Personally I am fascinated with the possibilities of augmented reality. For me it usually comes to mind when I’m out hiking and I want to know what a certain kind of tree is or something (my natural education was sorely lacking as a child), but there are tons of other applications. Even though I probably know more about the players and what’s going on on the field than your average American, I’d still probably use such a product, at least a little bit at a game.

But, of course, there is that safety tradeoff. How can Major League Baseball continue to be hands-off about a netting policy and maintain that fans assume the risk of foul ball injuries while simultaneously encouraging the use of electronic devices that will, necessarily, distract them from directly observing on-field action? Indeed, if they do continue to maintain that paradoxical approach, I’d expect this quote from the article to be used at a trial of an injured fan suing for damages:

“People are already using their phones, and we don’t think this is all that different,” MLB Product VP Chad Evans told us at the event. Of course, in a sport where small spherical objects are regularly projected into the stands at high speeds, it’s a good idea to keep your eye on the field. Perhaps popping up an alert on screen when a ball approaches would be a good start.

That last bit — not the quote, but the article’s suggestion of a warning — is comical given how quickly a ball can make it into the stands. Even fans paying rapt attention can get hurt by fast foul balls. Expecting them to process a warning and then act based on it when instinct often isn’t fast enough is ridiculous.

Cool product, for sure. Like I said, I’d probably even use it on occasion. But the more technology and the more distractions Major League Baseball pours into the game, the more responsibility it will have when those distractions contribute to fan injuries. In light of that, they simply cannot continue to be hands-off with respect to the matter.