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Why are we surprised by Ryan Braun’s fast start again?

May 1, 2012, 12:03 PM EDT

Ryan Braun Getty Images

Ryan Braun hit three homers last night and, after a tumultuous offseason that had many people worrying about his prospects for 2012, he’s right back to MVP form, hitting .294/.347/.647 with seven homers and sporting an OPS+ of 167, which is exactly what he finished with last season.

But there is still some surprise about all of this. Here it is, voiced by Buster Olney:

During spring training, several pitchers mentioned to me that they thought this could be a really difficult season for Ryan Braun because of the departure of Prince Fielder … they all had the same theory: Because Fielder no longer hits in the lineup behind Braun, this makes it easier for opposing pitchers to follow the best-possible approach (in their eyes) to attack the Milwaukee left fielder … when Fielder was in the lineup, there was always this fear that if you nicked Braun, then you’d be setting up the big man in the lineup behind him.

Question: why wouldn’t Olney’s response to this be “man, these pitchers I talked to are dumb”?  Because as study after study has shown, the notion that one player protects another in the lineup like these people think Fielder protected Braun is a total myth. Really: coaches, broadcasters, reporters and players will all go on about lineup protection over and over again, yet there is no empirical evidence that it exists.

I don’t mean to pick on Olney here, or the pitchers he spoke to. But I do wonder why in baseball, unlike in almost any other endeavor, people who stand to benefit most from specialized knowledge or research never seem to know about it.

And actually, I would guess Olney does know about it. Just that he’s understandably not going to challenge his sources with it, which could be construed as calling them ignorant or whatever.  Still, it’s kind of annoying to see this sort of thing perpetuated.

  1. WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 1, 2012 at 12:12 PM

    He’s a naturally good MLB player. If PED’s had such a MAJOR effect on talent, I’d have made it to AAA at least on the stuff, for crying out loud.

    I hate that he likely cheated, but I’m glad he can show that he’s just as good of a player clean.

  2. icanspeel - May 1, 2012 at 12:13 PM

    Well the 1 game vs the Padres really padded his stats for April. With that said.. the Padres pitched him poorly and tried to challenge him and got burned each time. Now teams can just pitch around him since there is no Prince Fielder behind him. Let’s see how things go now that he opened peoples eyes again with his performance last night.

    • Bill - May 1, 2012 at 12:52 PM

      Please read that really long link Craig put in his piece just above.

  3. churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 1, 2012 at 12:18 PM

    Oh come on, maybe people are surprised because prior to yesterday’s outburst, he looked nothing like last year:

    Last year in April:
    [last year v this year]
    10 HR v 4
    23 RBI v 11
    36 H v 21

    It was the same with Granderson, who was struggling to begin the year hitting .208/.321/.458 with 3 HR, then he has his 3 HR game which boosted his stats to .283/.377/.679.

    • jfwiii - May 1, 2012 at 1:23 PM

      So basically you’re saying that these guys aren’t as good when you take out their good performances. Gotcha.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 1, 2012 at 2:46 PM

        No, what I’m saying is if you take out ONE good performance, his numbers look bad. Also, because we’re only 25ish games into the season so far, one great game can overshadow 24 games of mediocrity.

      • jobotjones - May 1, 2012 at 3:44 PM

        He is like any other player…the other day he went 0/4 then this game he has a monster. That is why they have a batting AVERAGE as a stat.

    • mgv38 - May 1, 2012 at 3:52 PM

      And without those 3 HR’s in the deciding game of the 1977 WS, Reggie Jackson slugged only .489 career in the postseason, not a 1-game “inflated” .527. Loser.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 1, 2012 at 5:10 PM

        Yes, because a .489 increase to .527 is equivalent to .458 and .679.

  4. ezthinking - May 1, 2012 at 12:25 PM

    I think its applies except when it doesn’t. Simply put, I agree there is no hard and fast rule about lineup protection.

    8 hole hitters are pitched around all the time in the NL to get to the pitcher. The Howard-Pence example made some points, however, Howard definitely is a strikeout guy, so pitchers definitely go after him. Late in games, lefties are brought in to challenge him since he mostly sucks against them.

    Braun can flat hit. Aramis, while struggling early, can hit too. .348/.375/.609 .984 OPS in the last 7 days. So I think it is foolish to believe the attack against Braun would change much just because Fielder is gone.

    • Kevin S. - May 1, 2012 at 4:18 PM

      When people talk about lineup protection being a myth, they mean between two competent major league hitters. But hey, watching the worst everyday hitters in a lineup getting treated like Barry effing Bonds is totally awesome, right?!

  5. sj39 - May 1, 2012 at 12:38 PM


    • mgv38 - May 1, 2012 at 3:47 PM

      You’re talking about Olney, right?

  6. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 1, 2012 at 12:44 PM

    I suppose you can learn all you need to know about lineup protection by looking at Kemp last year, Pujols’ best Cardinals years, or Barry Bonds in SF. Those three had little to no lineup protection, and they did OK. They may have received a bunch more IBBs than they would have otherwise, but you can’t walk them every time.

    • thefalcon123 - May 1, 2012 at 12:50 PM

      “Kemp last year, Pujols’ best Cardinals years, or Barry Bonds in SF”

      Point 1. I fully agree. Lineup protection is a myth, BUT

      Bonds and Kemp, fine. The only two seasons Pujols didn’t have stud hitters around him were 2006 and 2007. Jim Edmonds posted a .988 OPS from 2001-2005. Pujols had Ryan Ludwick (.966 OPS) behind him in 2008 (along with Glaus and a pretty good Ankiel) and Matt Holliday from the back end of 2009 on. Albert always been surrounded by some excellent hitters.

      • sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 1, 2012 at 2:11 PM

        Fair enough on Pujols, though I don’t think any of those guys (except maybe prime time Edmonds) count as a feared hitter the way Fielder does. Even now, Aramis Ramirez hits behind Braun, and that guy is pretty good, but people were talking about the ‘downgrade in lineup protection” as something that would ruin Braun.

  7. Jonny 5 - May 1, 2012 at 12:49 PM

    “Question: why wouldn’t Olney’s response to this be “man, these pitchers I talked to are dumb”?”

    Maybe because when pitchers do tell you they will take a slightly different route pitching to Braun now that Fielder is gone he has no choice but to take their word for it?

    Also, I’d like to direct the crowd of folks who enjoy pointing at the “line up protection crowd” as if they are half wits, to this article.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - May 1, 2012 at 1:08 PM

      Batting in front of the pitcher is completely different though.

      • Jonny 5 - May 1, 2012 at 1:38 PM

        It is, and the exact opposite of batting in front of a known slugger like Fielder. I’m not firmly for one side or the other but I think it’s presumptuous to say it doesn’t exist because I can’t see it. I’d say a really good hitter in front of a really good hitter is going to be very tough to prove the existence of protection (nearly impossible) through the numbers. But a good hitter in front of a terrible one may tell us something. I say if it’s there for one extreme, it also may be there for the other extreme as well, even if it’s nearly impossible to prove. I mean the guys throwing the pitches say they pitch differently depending on who’s behind them yet we’re going to say, “you’re dumb”, or lying? Naaa, not me.

  8. btwicey - May 1, 2012 at 4:14 PM

    Buster is 100% right, there’s no such thing as lineup protection

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