The Magical Land Of Fastballs.

     In a magical world, a far off place.  Dreams are made for “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs.”  90 MPH enemies shoot at their existence, yet they welcome the consistent approach of these “enemies.”  They welcome the same mundane attack methods they induce upon the “Clubbers.”  The “Leatherfaces” are tirelessly coming up on them, around 15 of them per day.  They approach them in different locations, but always at the same speed.  So there is no confusion on the “Clubbers” part.  Different spots, but relatively the same location, they are an ease to fend off, to send on their way.  Fairies aid in the process of ultimate completion, ultimate success.  The magical fairies fly around recognizing each, telling them the secrets of the small, but deliberately shot “leatherfaces.”  As each approaches, a fairy, whichever fairy recognizes it first, will yell something relating to the speed of which the enemy approaches.  But in this world, there is no mix up, there is no change.  Each fairy has grown tired, as they all yell in harmony–in that little fairy voice–“Gunner.”  Gunner stands for fast, straight attack.  The Gunner is the most convenient, the easiest for the “Clubbers” to club.  Yet they seem bored.  The “Leatherfaces” in the other forests have different strategies, different ways to try and win the battle.  It must be since the omnipotent, most feared clubber stands behind them today.  He makes everything easier.  He is the leader of the “Clubbers,” the greatest of them all.  For some reason, each time he follows the others, they have it easy, they laugh and smile, and have fun as they all have success in their own defense.  Each will not admit it though, each is a little bored, a little too successful in defending their own on route to the nexus of creation, their chosen destination.

     But it wasn’t always this simple, it wasn’t always this easy for “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs.”  The previous forests, most of them, were without their omnipotent leader, their great wise-one.  The “Leatherfaces” that have proceeded with their attacks, changed on them, they weren’t as predictable.  Screaming through the air, changing speeds, differing, unpredictable approaches.  There was success for the enemy.  The object of defense when coming across these types was to stay back, wait as long as possible, then snap those clubs around.  But it wasn’t that easy to apply it.  The “Clubbers” would come out wounded, scarred after these battles.  They felt banged up, bruised, and felt as though they could not go on.  But they always found a way to continue on their path, to continue from one forest to the next, through the infested swamps, over the wretched hilltops.  They made it, but it wasn’t as pretty.  No, it wasn’t pretty, quite difficult in fact. 

     So they always wondered why with him, it was so much easier.  Was it psychological?  Was it the mind controlling abilities of the one who followed them, guiding their quest?  Did the “Leatherfaces” feel that the best way to retire “The Carriers of Wooden Clubs” was to come at them as fast and as straight as possible?  It just didn’t make sense.  But they continued on, they didn’t ask questions, and they answered as if it was their own doing, their own victory, even though deep down, they knew that this “follower” had a lot to do with it, a lot to do with their own success.  

     The “myth” of protection.  Is it a myth?  Does it exist?  Do pitchers throw more fastballs in this situation?  “Baseball Between the Numbers,” a great book I might add, essential to all fans, attempted to dissect it.  But what they ended up doing was making a mild stab, and then came off very dismissive of the subject.  Their conclusion was basically this:  “If protection exists, it matters very little.”  I am not one to dismiss something on such a questionable study, but I do agree with the basic result; protection is overrated.  I touched up on this in my early blogging days, but felt like expanding on it now, just a little expansion though.

     Protection does matter to an extent in my opinion.  I will use the current Nationals team as an example.  Let us put Albert Pujols in the Nationals lineup.  Now, without even digging much deeper, we all know that lineup is lacking danger around him.  Why give him anything to hit?  Why not nitpick most times Pujols comes up?  Exactly.  In a lineup like this, Pujols will probably see fewer hittable pitches, because there is no reason to let him beat you, as the rest of the lineup, in most cases, will not come through.  Now, this lineup does have Ryan Zimmerman and Nick Johnson.  But this lineup also does not Nick Johnson.  Confusing?  Nick Johnson does not play most of the time.  And while Ryan Zimmerman is a pretty good all-around 3B, he is nothing special at the plate, yet.  The team has a few promising bats, that also carry heads that aren’t exactly on sewn on solid.  But those “promising bats” have yet to prove much at all in the Major Leagues.  So maybe, MAYBE Zimmerman sees a few more pitches that happen to be to his liking, as he bats in front of Pujols.  But if Zimmerman actually, you know, hits incredibly well, pitchers would have no choice but to adjust to him, and start changing their approach, and treat him as a good hitter, too.  

     This came up a lot last season.  Drew moved in front of Manny, and Drew started killing the ball.  Manny moved to the Dodgers and Jeff Kent began killing the ball.  And before 2008– back in 2003–David Ortiz moved into a lineup, and for basically a six-year period, killed the ball.  Having never done anything beyond average in his career, Ortiz started crushing the ball in Boston.  But it wasn’t just Manny hitting behind him in my opinion.  If it were that simple, then there would be no way around it.  But if Ortiz started hitting much better because there was a great hitter behind him, then pitchers would have adjusted.  They would have changed their approach.  I could see for a few weeks where a pitcher might come after Ortiz a little differently, not wanting anyone on base when Manny steps to the plate.  Maybe the pitcher doesn’t mind catching a little more of the strike zone.  But eventually, very quickly, pitchers would have to come after the hitter differently if he started having a lot of success.  And the changing approach that the pitchers encounter would take place well before an extended period of 5 or 6 years.  Ortiz was a great hitter, with or without Manny.  There is almost no way that pitchers would continually let David Ortiz beat them the way that he did, simply because Manny Ramirez was on deck. 

     And about the studies that have been done…there have been studies as to whether or not Chipper Jones saw more fastballs once Mark Teixeira arrived in Atlanta.  Chipper said he saw more fastballs, but if my mind is correct, I seem to recall a study where it discounted what Jones said.  If “protection” increases the number of fastballs that the batter in front sees, then wouldn’t a higher number of fastballs be thrown, percentage-wise to that hitter?  That is something that would have been seen through statistics.  Yet, I believe that it was not seen.  Maybe Chipper’s minds was playing tricks on him.  Maybe Chipper just had more confidence because another great hitter was added to the lineup, and it gave him the feeling that he didn’t have to hit a home run every time he came up.  I do not know the exact answer, but if a player says he sees
more fastball, and the numbers say that is not seeing any more fastballs, then, well, I have to agree with the stats. 

     What about having success with more runners on base?  In 2008, hitters had an OPS of .769 with runners on base during their AB.  But without runners on base, hitters had an OPS of .749.  Hitters hit .264 with the bases empty, .270 with runners on.  That isn’t a large difference, yet it is still a difference.  But isn’t that skewed?  Great pitchers are going to allow fewer baserunners over an extended period of time, so hitters will face poorer pitchers, in general, when there are runners on base.  Livan Hernandez is going to allow more baserunners than Johan Santana.  Dan Haren is going to allow fewer baserunners than Sidney Ponson, etc, etc, etc.  So does this even matter much?  Players are going to have more RBI’s with runners on base, that is through chance though mostly.  Which is why I do not look at RBI’s.  I look at percentage stats. 

     So how much does Manny Ramirez batting behind another hitter even matter?  I can see Manny batting in a lineup by himself, mattering some maybe.  But that isn’t very realistic.  Most lineups consist of more than one quality hitter.  In terrible lineups, with one great hitter, that hitter can be walked most times if that opposing team chooses.  But lineups on average, are not as bad as the Washington Nationals lineup.  I just don’t know if protection “is what we think it is.”  Of course, I am far from the first to question this.

     So what are your thoughts? 
 

12 Comments

I don’t know – the Red Sox have the “problem” of -who do you walk in order to pitch to the next guy? When Manny was with us – did you walk Dustin, or Big Papi or Manny or Youk? Yeah – nice problem to have. And yes, when you have a large number of good to great hitters it does make your lineup more effective and I think you do get more hits.

Julia
http://werbiefitz.mlblogs.com/

I’m not doubting that more “good” hitters make your lineup more effective. I would rather have 7 above average hitters than 4. Nor do I deny that maybe “protection” matters a little. But what I am firmly against is that a hitter can go from average to good simply because he is hitting in front of a great hitter. I think that people make protection out to be much more than it is.

There was also a stat for what Ortiz did in games when Manny was out of the lineup over the time each had with Boston together. Ortiz’s OPS was basically the same, over .900.

To me, protection means more than having a good hitter in front or in back of you. It’s having a patient hitter, one who takes a lot of pitches, so you can see what the pitcher throws. A-Rod’s a great hitter, but I think having a patient guy like Abreu in front of him couldn’t help but be a plus.

http://janeheller.mlblogs.com

good point jane. i’m really psyched that now alex will have the even greater tex in front of him…now to your point joe–

2007 -arod one of the best seasons ever – and he had matsui behind him for much of the season. a really nice hitter, but i don’t think anyone fears him. when you get to the elite hitters like manny alex and pujols etc..i think it matters much less who is behind them.

But what about the hitters in front of them? “Protection” is supposed to give them more fastballs.

I agree, I also think that “protection” is overrated. Good pitchers always make adjustments to hitters, that’s how they keep their jobs. A lot of Twins fans have argued that Joe Mauer is only as good of a hitter as he is because he’s got Morneau hitting behind him. Obviously, this is nonsense because there would be a dramatic difference in Mauer’s power numbers (he would likely have 15+ homers instead of his usual 7) if this were the case. It’s clear that Joe just sees the ball very well, since having a big bat hitting behind you doesn’t improve your BB/K ratio.

I know a lot of people would also argue that David Ortiz isn’t that great of a hitter without Manny Ramirez. That’s not true, either. I remember when Ortiz was a Twin and how he would put up decent numbers even then. I remember that he was still undeveloped as a player, and was looking forward to what he was going to do when he reached his prime. Unfortunately, the Twins organization didn’t have as much patience, and cut him loose in favor of Matthew LeCroy. Anyway, his wrist injury has probably had more of an effect on his numbers this year than the loss of Manny. He looked like he was still in a great deal of pain during the ALCS and it seemed to be affecting his swing.
-Erin
http://plunking-gomez.mlblogs.com

That hypothetical Nationals lineup sounds a lot like the Cardinals actual lineup. Yay for 2009, the Redbirds finish dead last.
–Jeff
http://redstatebluestate.mlblogs.com/

Jeff, You really think they will finish last? I see them finishing a little higher, somewhere between 3rd and 5th.

Erin, there was a study of how Ortiz did with Manny out of the lineup, and he still did really well. That doesn’t say everything, but it says something.

Joe, I just finished reading The Baseball Economist where the author did a study and came to the same conclusion as Baseball Between the Numbers did. I don’t buy that conclusion. I definitely think Ruth and Gehrig helped each other. I don’t think anyone ever benefitted more from protection than Roger Maris did from Mickey Mantle. Look at Fred Lynn’s numbers when he batted in front of Jim Rice and then look at his numbers after he left the Red Sox. When he was with the Angels he batted in front of either Rod Carew or Bobby Grich. Both of them were great hitters, but neither scared a pitcher the way Rice did. Then look at Rice’s numbers after Lynn left. There was a decline until ’86 when the Sox got Don Baylor to bat behind him. Also look at Dwight Evans’ numbers in ’81 and ’82 when Lynn left and he was batting in front of Rice compared to his previous 8 seasons. I think a great hitter will be great no matter where he hits, but I think protection adds something.

I think that protection is overblown, but I don’t know if it doesn’t exist either.

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