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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Crashburn Alley: The Myth of Hunter Pence’s Protection

Or as Cowboy Jeff Brantley said the other day…“The reason that Braun fella is having such a big season is because of that big fella hitting behind him…and that’s it”...or something.

You’ve heard it a million times by now: Hunter Pence has given Ryan Howard some much-needed protection in the lineup, that’s why the slugger has posted a .955 OPS in September despite chronic foot problems. The concept of lineup protection has been studied rather extensively and none of the studies have shown “protection” to exist in any meaningful fashion. In fact, Baseball Between the Numbers (written by the Baseball Prospectus staff) did the most extensive study I’ve seen yet, concluding, “There’s no evidence that having a superior batter behind another batter provides the initial batter with better pitches to hit; if it does, those batters see no improvement in performance as a result.”

...Before Pence, Howard hit 20 home runs in 390 at-bats (one HR for every 20 AB) while he has hit 13 home runs in 149 at-bats after Pence joined the team (one HR for every 11 AB). On a per-fly ball basis, the rates are 22 percent and 38 percent, respectively. Howard’s overall career HR/FB rate is 29 percent, roughly halfway between the two totals, so it is reasonable to say Howard may have been a bit unlucky before Pence and a bit lucky after Pence. Additionally, it goes without saying that we are dealing with small samples. If Howard had 12 HR instead of 13, his HR/FB drops by a whopping three percent.

...All told, there is no reason to conclude that Pence has provided protection to Howard in the lineup. Howard’s numbers are slightly better as a result of small sample variance, the improvement of his lineup, and visiting ballpark “friendliness”.

Repoz Posted: September 20, 2011 at 01:48 PM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: phillies, sabermetrics

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   1. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: September 20, 2011 at 05:06 PM (#3930908)
Interesting. I would think you'd want to look at pitch location in addition to simply pitch types.
   2. ColonelTom Posted: September 20, 2011 at 05:09 PM (#3930912)
Intentionally walking Howard has been an awful strategy this year. It's happened 16 times; the next batter has put up a line of .692/.625/1.077 (no, that's not a misprint - 1.702 OPS!) with 16 RBI. Pence is 4-for-5 with 4 RBI, while Raul Ibanez was 5-for-5 with a walkoff sac fly, 1 HR, and 11 RBI.

Ironically, the one bad thing about having Pence in the lineup may be that pitchers are now more likely to pitch to Howard in a clutch situation.
   3. Never Give an Inge (Dave) Posted: September 20, 2011 at 05:22 PM (#3930932)
For what it's worth, Howard has walked in 14.1% of his PA since August 1, compared to 11.1% beforehand. Which would also cause one to question the "protection" he's getting from Pence.

Not mentioned in the link is that, for whatever reason, Howard has historically been a much better second-half hitter than first-half hitter (.997 vs. .867 OPS), with a 1.075 OPS in September/October during his career. This is something we should probably be used to by now, as this trend has been seen in every year of his career with the exception of last season, when he was injured in August (he still managed to come back strong in September and had even first-half vs. second-half splits). It's not something that necessarily needs a special explanation this season.

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