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One thing Miguel Cabrera won’t miss about Prince Fielder: protection

Nov 22, 2013, 7:15 PM EDT

Miguel Cabrera AP

Upon hearing the news that the Tigers had traded Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera appeared to be mourning a bit on Twitter, posting a collection of pictures involving the two during their time in Detroit. It was a humanizing moment for a player who has given us no choice over the last two years but to think of him as an unstoppable hitting machine.

Many, particularly those in the national baseball media, wonder how Cabrera will fare without Fielder behind him to protect him.

But as David Schoenfield illustrates in his column at ESPN Sweet Spot, there just isn’t any evidence that Fielder actually provided any lineup protection to Cabrera. He notes that Cabrera hasn’t seen many more fastballs nor many more pitches in the strike zone, at least at a statistically significant level. Additionally, while Victor Martinez may not have Fielder’s power potential, he is no slouch.

The same idea pops up whenever two great hitters either come together or go their separate ways. I dug into the numbers back in September 2011 to see if Hunter Pence was actually providing Ryan Howard with any protection for the Phillies. Like Schoenfield, there just wasn’t any evidence.

Based on the numbers we’ve been able to compile over the years, lineup protection either doesn’t exist or the effect is so small as to be indistinguishable from random variation.

  1. fbwangus8736 - Nov 22, 2013 at 7:35 PM

    Have we never heard the term of “mental”? Baseball has more mental aspects to it than anyother sport. Maybe miguel felt better knowing He had Prince hitting behind Him. Maybe some pitchers worried how am I going to get that duo out. How exactly was it measured about pitch quality seen? Didn’t Prince play everyday? This article is a waste of space!

    • supersnappy - Nov 22, 2013 at 9:48 PM

      Its quite possible that Miggy was much happier with Fielder batting behind him, or that pitchers were nervous with those two back-to-back. But Cabrera didn’t hit any differently, and pitchers didn’t behave any differently; at least not in a way that is visible enough to be apparent.

    • moogro - Nov 23, 2013 at 12:23 AM

      Wow, Joel Sherman is a Huge breath of fresh air on MLB Network. Just what they need on commentary and analysis. More of this. Hate to lose John Hart.

  2. sportsfan18 - Nov 22, 2013 at 7:43 PM

    I’m not a Tigers fan and I can’t and won’t say what the stats say that you mentioned in your article.

    But I will say that the past two seasons that Cabrera led the league in both Slugging and in OPS.

    And I will say that the past two seasons are the ONLY two seasons Cabrera has EVER done this and he’s been a good hitter for quite a while now.

    And I will say that Cabrera was the MVP of the league the past two seasons and they are the only seasons he has been the MVP.

    Must all be just a coincidence though.

    • metalhead65 - Nov 22, 2013 at 7:49 PM

      surely you know by know you can’t argue with metrics. nothing else matters like pointing out what you said or that maybe miggy felt better about having fielder behind him or pitchers may have pitched differently facing him with a big bat behind him. there is no metric for emotion so what you say may be true but according to metric people who rule the game now it doesn’t matter. you are not to enjoy the game only the numbers.

      • Arods Other Doctor - Nov 22, 2013 at 7:53 PM

        surely you know by know you can’t argue with feelings. nothing else matters like pointing out facts if someone has the impression that something that is not true is true. there is no feeling in metrics so what you say may be true but according to emo people who rule the game now it doesn’t matter. you are not to enjoy the game only the feelings.

      • ctony1216 - Nov 23, 2013 at 10:34 AM

        Great hitters believe they can hit any pitch. Good pitchers will try to expand their strike zones to get them out. Why do you think pitchers do that? So yeah, even good hitters will chase pitcher’s pitches when they shouldn’t.

        Also, I haven’t seen any data that rules out the value of having protection in the lineup. Conversely, when pitchers intentionally give a hitter 10 more at bats with runners in scoring position because they don’t want to pitch to the guy behind him, you have evidence of how protection actually works.

        The degree to which this protection helps Cabrera is almost impossible to gauge because there are just too many other variables, including the ability of the guys in front of Cabrera to get on base, the overall depth of the lineup, the pitching strength of the teams in that division, the player’s health, etc. For instance, fastball percentage may be more of a factor of how often Austin Jackson gets on base than where Prince Fielder hits. But to say that hitters get no benefit from having a big bat in the lineup behind them just ignores the reality of what a pitcher needs to do to get through a lineup.

      • ctony1216 - Nov 23, 2013 at 10:38 AM

        [The above comment was meant as a reply to paperlions (below). Sorry for the mixup.]

    • Arods Other Doctor - Nov 22, 2013 at 7:50 PM

      So, you don’t really know anything about the facts of the mater but it just seems to you that blah blah blah.

      It’s actually really simple: being pitched around versus not being pitched around as much means you see a higher percentage of fastballs and strikes. Fielder didn’t make a difference with those enormous factors to any discernible degree. Other than your feelings, what evidence is there?

    • bender4700 - Nov 22, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      Victor Martinez. Injured 2012. Good 2nd half this year.

      So even if Miggy benefited from a big hitter behind him, he’ll still have a big hitter behind him in 2014.

    • ctony1216 - Nov 22, 2013 at 8:57 PM

      The writer kills his own argument when he points out that Cabrera had fewer intentional walks and 20 more homers in the 2 years with Cabrera hitting behind him. That’s what protection in the lineup does.

      Also, drawing conclusions based on walks and fastball percentage is kind of dumb. Knowing that Fielder is hitting behind him, Cabrera may be more willing to take a walk rather than swing at a bad pitch — even if pitchers are less interested in walking him.

      Percentage of fastballs is also kind of random — Cabrera crushes fastballs (see HRs, Cabrera).

      • paperlions - Nov 23, 2013 at 8:06 AM

        You kill your own argument by suggesting that a great hitter would ever choose to swing at a bad pitch based on who is hitting behind him.

        Miggy’s best year by far was last year. Fielder was a solid but unspectacular hitter last year.

        2012 was Cabrera’s WORST year since 2009. Despite “winning” the triple crown that year, he was a more productive hitter in both 2010 and 2011.

        Protection is a myth that was disproved over a decade ago via analysis of decades and decades of data. Who hits behind a player has no consistent or predictable effect whatsoever on that player’s production.

  3. Arods Other Doctor - Nov 22, 2013 at 7:45 PM

    Lineup protection is a huge fact in high school baseball. Put an ok player in front of an amazing hitter and you end up with an All-American. At higher levels, pitchers are either going to pitch you or not based on the game situation and their own confidence in the matchup. Every once in a while the guy on deck may have a small factor in the approach. Even then, it’s not like Fielder has ever been an elite hitter. He has always had holes where you can attack him so I just don’t see him as a protection kind of guy.

    I love these things where so many ‘professionals’ assume something is true without ever verifying it. Good job for pointing it out Bill.

    • dan1111 - Nov 23, 2013 at 2:40 AM

      Fielder not an elite hitter? From 2007-2012 his .950 OPS is behind only Pujols, Cabrera, and Votto. He led the league in home runs over that span. Also, his strikeout rate is not high for a power hitter.

      If he has major holes in his swing, pitchers certainly haven’t done a good job taking advantage of them.

      • paperlions - Nov 23, 2013 at 8:10 AM

        Yeah, the “demise” of Fielder has been greatly over stated. He was still a very good hitter last year and over his career he has had a pattern of great years interspersed with “only” good years. At this point, it is far too early to know if this was just a down year or part of a trend. I remember a recent article that looked at his production against different pitch types, and there was nothing in there to suggest he is losing bat speed.

  4. rcj22001 - Nov 22, 2013 at 8:17 PM

    Rob Parker doesn’t know $hit. He makes inflammatory comments to piss people off and get a response. He’s definitely no journalist, and using him in this story makes the story itself, have zero credibility.

    • weaselpuppy - Nov 22, 2013 at 9:29 PM

      I’m not saying that Rob Parker has zero integrity, creativity, spark, intelligence, thought process or redeeming value as a human being….but when he gets caught out in the sunlight he turns to stone.

  5. wheels579 - Nov 22, 2013 at 8:20 PM

    The problem with ‘protection’ in this case is nobody on deck is feared more than Miguel Cabrera. The guy on deck should always see better pitches. Fielder still drove in plenty of runs while hitting behind Braun or Cabrera, also walked frequently, so the fact that Cabrera wasn’t ‘protected’ by Fielder doesnt mean Fielder was not a quality cleanup hitter. It’s popular right now to pile on Prince Fielder, but the truth is he had one down year by his normally high standard, and a bad postseason. The rest of his career speaks for itself.

    • bender4700 - Nov 22, 2013 at 9:09 PM

      I think people are going overboard. The trade was and still isn’t an indication of Prince’s ability. It’s a financial move for the Tigers, and an attempt to strengthen a lineup for the Rangers.

      Cabrera surely benefited, but more in the sense that if opponents walked Miggy, they’d have to deal with Prince, but since Prince’s numbers were fairly low for his previous standards, it suggests that simply Miggy handled the at bats he got well.

      How many games before Prince was a Tiger was Miggy intentionally walked? How many the last 2 years? How many games was Miggy walked all at bats in any year?

      I think people are just trying to figure out what this means, other than Victor Martinez now bats behind Miggy.

  6. bender4700 - Nov 22, 2013 at 9:04 PM

    1. Victor Martinez – He’s good. Hits well.
    2. Prince has had 2 “down” years, yet Miggy has been “protected”.
    3. Assumption versus Reality. Quite possible people simply believe the notion that’s commonly referenced in discussions without any basis based on facts. Happens a lot.
    4. Rob Parker is cited in this posting. Done.

    Using Rob Parker in any posting other than to talk about how much of a moron he is, simply doesn’t work. Rob Parker is too busy ignoring reality and just running his mouth and telling himself he’s smart. Despite the evidence to the contrary.

  7. brianc6234 - Nov 22, 2013 at 10:25 PM

    I’m sure Cabrera will be hurt by this. Now Trout can start winning those MVPs like he should have been anyway.

  8. tigers182 - Nov 22, 2013 at 11:19 PM

    Wow, quoting Rob Parker as a reliable source? What next Wikipedia?

  9. metrocritical - Nov 22, 2013 at 11:20 PM

    The statistics concerning Vmart’s ability to hit behind Cabrera speak for themselves and, as a side note, the next time Rob Parker is right about something will be the first.

  10. historiophiliac - Nov 23, 2013 at 12:03 AM

    Thanks for the Tigers awesomeness, Bill. Don’t mind the trolls. Cheers!

  11. tyler200829 - Nov 23, 2013 at 2:09 AM

    Instead of trying to figure out what fielder had on a hall of famer like Cabrera, look at the stars who don’t have protection. Think Votto in Cincinnati as an example. Wins MVP 3 years ago and now with no help behind him barely drives in 70 and leads the league in walks. Many will find out how much fielder meant

  12. ronaldjones - Nov 23, 2013 at 2:40 AM

    Still think there is anecdotal evidence for “protection”. I remember Mattingly pulling Gonzalez in the playoffs, and with no threat behind Hanley, pitchers intentionally walked Hanley with impunity, rendering Dodgers O impotent. Would imagine we’d have seen a similar thing with Cabrera without Prince.

    • paperlions - Nov 23, 2013 at 8:23 AM

      The problem with anecdotal “evidence” for something specific, is that people can then use the data to see if it is anything more than an anecdote…..and this has been done for the myth of protection very thoroughly and there is no evidence that who hits behind a particular hitter affects production.

      The problem with they myth and the reason it persists is the exact situation you are citing. People act like because a hitter is walked, that somehow is a bad thing or is a negative with respect to teams scoring runs, when it is not.

      FWIW, Ramirez was intentionally walked 3 times in the post season, twice with runners in scoring position in extra innings with 1 out, to set up a double play with M. Young coming up. The other time Gonzalez was actually up next and there were 2 outs with first base open.

  13. sfm073 - Nov 23, 2013 at 4:29 AM

    A less talented hitter doesn’t provide protection for a more talented hitter. The whole concept doesn’t make sense. What pitcher would attack Miguel to avoid pitching to prince?

    • dan1111 - Nov 23, 2013 at 5:52 AM

      The idea is that pitching to Cabrera is better than walking Cabrera and facing Fielder with an extra man on base. This actually does make sense–it’s just a question of whether it actually makes a measurable difference.

  14. db2b2 - Nov 23, 2013 at 6:18 AM

    Since when does the game’s best hitter need ‘protection’? Besides watching the Tigers pretty much on a daily basis one realizes that Martinez is a much better hitter and clutch hitter than Fielder. As a fan if the bases were loaded and there were 2 outs we would much rather see Martinez at the plate. He may not hit 25 home runs but you can bet that the ball is going to be hard and be in play the dude is a hitting machine himself. For his career he bats a little over .300 from both sides of the plate.

    • kimdusseau - Nov 23, 2013 at 6:34 AM

      Ah, thank you, a comment from someone who, like me, actually watched a few games this year. Fielder’s departure from Detroit has less to do with his performance and more to do with his attitude.

    • sportsfan18 - Nov 23, 2013 at 8:56 AM

      I’m not a Tigers fan, am a Cubs fan but I just want to point out some stats between Fielder and Martinez for both last season with respect to hitting with 2 outs and runners in scoring position.

      The point of going to bat is to not make and out/to get on base.

      Both last season and for their careers, Fielder’s on base percentage is a good bit higher than Martinez’s.

      So, you said you’d prefer to have Martinez come up to bat than Fielder.

      Sure Martinez has a higher career batting average, but Fielder’s on base percentage is higher than Martinez’s.

      Yet last season they reversed roles so to speak while batting with the bases loaded. Victor only hit .222 with the bases loaded last yr but had an on base percentage of .304.

      Fielder hit .286 with the bases loaded last yr but only had a .286 on base percentage.

      Last season while batting with 2 outs and runners in scoring position, their stats are as follows:

      Fielder .250 BA .368 OBP .438 SLG .806 OPS
      Martinez .239 BA .337 OBP .307 SLG .644 OPS

      Looks like last yr Fielder out performed Martinez across the board in hitting with runners in scoring position while there were two outs.

      • kimdusseau - Nov 23, 2013 at 3:45 PM

        Would like to see those same stats for after the all-star break last season & in the playoffs (don’t forget Victor worked his way back from an entire season off). Again, Detroit fans have more faith in Victor than Prince.

  15. southofheaven81 - Nov 23, 2013 at 7:12 AM

    So Cano wasn’t pitched around a whole hell of a lot more when he was hitting in front of Hafner, as opposed to when A-Rod & Granderson were back in the lineup?

  16. rwstein - Nov 23, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    Seems to me they walked Miggy quite often to get to Prince

  17. homergreenz - Nov 23, 2013 at 10:04 AM

    Anti-sabermetric people think an out is better than a walk. This thread of comments is all of the evidence I need to prove that…

  18. Mark - Nov 23, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    I don’t believe in protection unless it’s at the highest levels. I know in 2011 Bautista had a 15.9% BB rate with nobody on base and a 35.4% BB rate with RISP. Adam Lind and his 700~ OPS was the primary hitter behind him, and it made sense to pitch around Bautista. And make no mistake, he was being pitched around like crazy. Seeing the walk rate double in high leverage situations or with RISP is a pretty strong indication that they aren’t worried about the next hitter. So I think at some level protection matters.

    Generally speaking protection won’t show up in the numbers because you’ll have a solid hitter behind an elite one. But when you have a subpar hitter like 2011 Lind behind an elite one like Bautista you’ll see protection matters very quickly. Cabrera should be fine though.

  19. stevequinn - Nov 23, 2013 at 10:49 AM

    Victor Martinez is a hitting machine. He can provide plenty of protection for Cabrera. Signing Carlos Beltran would be a good thing for the Tigers though although Martinez is the full time DH so Beltran would have to play 130+ games in the OF.

  20. Darkoestrada - Nov 23, 2013 at 11:10 AM

    Robinson cano had absolutely no “protection” last year and he put up numbers better than his career averages and right in line with his past few years. Anecdotal evidence can work both ways. The truth, based on much more research than anyone’s done here, is that lineup protection and even lineup construction have very little effect on individual performances.

  21. tcclark - Nov 23, 2013 at 11:32 AM

    Protection only works when the better hitter hits behind the other player. VMart won’t protect Cabrera. You’re not going to convince a pitcher to give Miguel Cabrera a pitch to hit because they’re afraid of facing Victor Martinez with a man on first. You would, however, convince a pitcher to give Victor Martinez a pitch to hit because they’re afraid of facing Miguel Cabrera with a man on first.

    This is no shot against VMart. You just don’t give a guy batting almost .350 with 44 home runs and 137 RBIs a pitch to hit because you’re afraid of a guy who’s only had more than 100 RBIs 4 times in 11 years. Compared to Miggy, Victor Martinez and Prince Fielder might as well be pitchers.

  22. 2dmo4 - Nov 23, 2013 at 12:05 PM

    Rob Parker is an idiot.

  23. mitchblue - Nov 23, 2013 at 12:40 PM

    It’s Miguel Cabrera. He could have Andy Dirks behind him and he’d mash.

  24. gloccamorra - Nov 23, 2013 at 3:24 PM

    Good hitters gonna hit good.

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