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? 


Jeff Kent: The Hall of Fame 2nd Baseman.

     Not that it is a sure thing.  Not that he is Willie Mays or anything.  But Jeff Kent seems to be a Hall of Famer.  If Kent played any position outside of the middle infield–or catcher–he probably wouldn’t be a Hall of Famer.  But since Kent was able to field the position, giving whichever team he played with at the time, a great luxury, then Kent deserves to be enshrined into Cooperstown. 

     Jeff Kent had a late start, as far as being great goes.  There are players like Albert Pujols who bust out of the gate with great years from age 21 on.  There are some players who don’t do much, then hit their prime and greatness surrounds them, See: David Ortiz.  And there are others, Jeff Kent being one, that don’t do much, hover around average at the plate for a while, then all of a sudden at age 30, Boom!  They take off.  They learn how to be a great hitter, or so it seems.

     In 1997, it was only the second time that Jeff Kent played 140 games or more in a single season.  Kent played in 155 games that season and was merely average at the plate.  But after that year, after the first 500 AB season of his career, Kent became a beast at the plate in 1998.  His OPS+ of 142 that year was by far the best of his career until then.  A previous best of 111 in limited time.  In what I believe was the first season that Bonds apparently started juicing, if the book is true, Kent also became a much greater hitter.  Not implying anything, it just happened to coincide with that.  But Bonds may have been accused of using in 97′ too, I am not positive.  But anyway, Kent was a great hitter that year, batting behind Bonds, and not in front of him.  In 99′ Kent was again great, and again batted fourth while Bonds batted 3rd.  2000…same thing…and so on.  Jeff Kent from 1998-2007 posted OPS+’s of 119 or better–a string of ten consecutive years of dominance at the second base position.  In 2007, at the age of 39, Kent still slugged .500.  Still got on base at a .375 clip.  Still batted .302.  The guy was a hitter, plain and simple.

     To get back to why I made a point of saying that Kent hit “behind” Bonds…Some might say that since Kent played in the same lineup as Barry, that his numbers were enhanced because he saw more fastballs or whatever.  The problem with that theory–if it even exists to begin with–is that the player benefiting from the “protection” supposedly must bat in front of whoever the truly great hitter is.  Kent did not.  So if anyone uses that argument to keep Kent out of the Hall, then I must disagree.  And even if Kent did bat ahead of Bonds, then that argument still has little validity, because I don’t want someone being kept out of the Hall without some evidence that protection actually impacts individual hitters by any great measure. 

     The one problem with Kent is that his defense was…well…he was no Roberto Alomar.  But Kent fielded the position, so if his glove-work was truly atrocious, if he truly hurt the team in a significant way, wouldn’t he have been moved somewhere else?  Hate to bring up Derek Jeter again, but if Jeter is a Hall of Famer, then so be Jeff Kent.  Currently Jeter is regarded as a below average SS, and probably has never been better than average.  Seems reasonable to assume that Kent always hovered around average–or worse–most of his career, too.  Jeter has some Gold Gloves to his name, but that does not mean he was a great SS, simply means that he may have been perceived as a great SS. Jeter’s average WARP1  throughout his career is 6.9.  Kent’s, over a longer career  is 6.6.  Naturally, Jeter’s average WARP1 will decline as he ages.   And since they are both middle infielders, and both limited defenders, I felt that they would be a good comparison.  Derek Jeter is a Hall of Famer at this point, Kent should probably be as well.

     So when a 2B bats a little like this:  .290/.356/.500.  OPS+ 123.  All in 2,298 games.  Then the Hall will probably be calling, or should be calling anyway.  Jeff Kent was not Barry Bonds…but then again, no one was Barry Bonds.  But Jeff Kent WAS one of the best players in baseball for a long period of time, people just didn’t talk about him all that much.  And just because the media didn’t seem to make everyone think that Jeff Kent was great, doesn’t mean that he wasn’t.