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?
The Five Best at the “Hot Corner” in the game of baseball today are…
- Alex Rodriguez: Once his career is all said and done, I won’t mind if people say that he wasn’t the greatest ever. But I will mind if they don’t include him in that discussion. Some put a lot of emphasis on the postseason, and rightfully so, but even if he never has the great postseason that everyone expects from him, it will be tough to make a valid argument against 700+ home runs from an infield position other than first base. His value on an individual basis has been diminished slightly because he moved off of the more difficult position of SS. But 3B aren’t exactly supposed to be this great offensively, either. If Alex Rodriguez is again the best player in baseball in 2009, as he was in 2007, then I will definitely not be surprised. He has been the best player in baseball multiple seasons already.
- David Wright: What can’t David Wright do? Play defense? Check that off. Hit among the best players in baseball? Color in the according circle. Field questions from the media while no one else seems to as your team is collapsing? Circle me silly. And yet, it still isn’t enough. Kind of reminds me of AROD actually, except Wright doesn’t make well over $20 million a year, which people definitely despise Rodriguez for doing. Over the past three seasons, David Wright has three of the top 6 Win Share totals among 3B. The other three belong to Miguel Cabrera (2), and to Alex Rodriguez (1). So what can’t David Wright do? Apparently, he cannot hit in the clutch, or so some think, even though Wright has batted .307/.407/.483 in “Late and Close” situations in his career.
- Chipper Jones: The thing that separates Chipper from the top 2 3B is not performance, necessarily, but performance over a period of time. Chipper is 36 now, and isn’t exactly staying on the field that much. The past two seasons, Jones has played in 128 and 134 games. But the two previous seasons, 2004 and 2005, Jones played in only 109 and 110 games. If Chipper could stay healthy he may move up a slot, but he hasn’t been on the field enough the past four seasons. Don’t take what I am saying the wrong way, because Chipper IS a Hall of Famer. But he happens to slot in nicely at number 3 in this ranking, rather than higher up. When we think of Chipper, think Edgar Martinez, except for one thing, Jones could field third well enough to stick around there, meaning he has/had more value.
- Aramis Ramirez: This is where it drops a little, but far from a ton. Aramis Ramirez, believe it or not, is a really good player. He definitely gets less coverage than the first three 3B mentioned, but that is because two play in New York; one is a Hall of Famer already and appeared in 11 straight postseasons at one point. Chicago is a media haven, but New York is even greater when talking about coverage. Oh, and the other three 3B are better, which may be helpful in adding to why Ramirez gets less props. But Ramirez has five straight seasons of OPS+ of 126 or greater. His defense used to be regarded as semi-atrocious, but apparently he worked on it, and now he is good enough to be regarded as not “semi-atrocious.”
- Ryan Zimmerman: This is where it gets dicey. Evan Longoria may pass Zimmerman this season, but I have one season at the Major League level to analyze Longoria. Zimmerman isn’t the hitter–or hasn’t been yet–that Longoria is most likely going to continue to be. But one thing that Zimmerman does well is his field the position. And three seasons of fielding the position well and batting a little above the average is greater in a ranking like this, than that of one good season. Don’t forget either, Zimmerman is merely 23 years old, Longoria is 22. Both are very young and BOTH have most likely not had the best seasons of their career yet. I do however believe that Longoria moves into the top 5 after another season, might even move up to number 4.