In last night's game, it was evident that the Miami Marlins have hit a recent hitting struggle despite some strong regression in May. Of course, a good amount of that regression in offense in May was due to Giancarlo Stanton's excellent month; he hit .343/.432/.769 on his way to the National League Player of the Month award. But some of the rest of the team was not so successful that month, and in particular the players behind Stanton did not fare so well.
Word of the struggles behind Stanton have gotten up to Ozzie Guillen, who stated that the thing he needed most was for someone to protect Giancarlo Stanton in the lineup.
"...But my third hitter (Ramirez) is struggling with runners in scoring position, and my five hitter is struggling with men in scoring position. The main thing for us is LoMo's got to get hot because I need somebody to protect Stanton."
Clearly, Guillen is concerned that with the hitters behind Stanton struggling, he simply will not get anything good to hit. But there are two things that tell you that this issue is not that important. One is something Guillen already alluded to: players like Morrison just are not this bad at the plate and are likely to improve. The other is that the effect of lineup protection on the "unprotected" hitter is far less severe than the traditionalists think.Waiting For Regression
I know it may seem like forever that Marlins fans have waited for the guys at the bottom of the order to regress, but just like a number of the Marlins that have already improved since that terrible April, the improvement and regression are coming. Check out the projections for those four hitters going forward.
|Player, ZiPS ROS Proj||AVG||OBP||SLG||wOBA|
The bottom three are not great hitters, but you do not expect your bottom three hitters to necessarily be good. Then again, the numbers shown here are infinitely better than they have been so far this season. Morrison, on the other hand, is the key to this operation, but he should be on his way to improving as well. When you look at his May and overall peripherals, some bad luck definitely seems to be playing a role.
Now, the power issue is not likely to go away so quickly, as we still are not entirely sure where Morrison lies on the power scale, but you can see that a good chink of his batting line is being affected by a terrible batting average on balls in play. In particular, this season Morrison is hitting just .140 on fly balls in play and .600 on line drives versus career rates of .200 and .687 respectively. Those are bound to creep up over the course of the season and drag his line up with them. It may not be enough to pull his batting line up to his career average without that power, but it is a start.
The other reason not to worry about protection is that its effects are very small. The authors of The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball did a study using 2000 to 2004 hitting data where they looked to see what kind of effect protection had on the hitter. It was excerpted at The Hardball Times here. Here are their conclusions.
The Book Says: If a pitcher is trying to avoid pitching to a hitter, the hitter is significantly more likely to draw a walk, and moderately more likely to strike out. Specifically, a good, unprotected hitter in a good intentional walk situation is about 25% more likely to walk than the same hitter in a bad intentional walk situation, as well as about 10% more likely to strike out.
The research showed that a great hitter who is not protected, like Stanton supposedly, is more likely to walk than a hitter who is better protected. This goes along with conventional wisdom. However, when the walk is not drawn, that hitter is otherwise unaffected. That is, hitters like Stanton hit the exact same way and produce similar results when they are not walked, whether they are protected by a good hitter behind them or not. In other words, all that really changes in terms of production by the unprotected hitter versus the protected one is that he ends up one first base more often.
Now of course, that is somewhat by design, but as is noted in The Book, the idea of pitching around a hitter when he is unprotected just worsens the pitcher's efficiency, as he increases his walks more and the other results do not change significantly. But if a good hitter like Stanton can still knock balls out of the park at the same rate when pitched around, then nothing really changes when you add protection. The only difference is how well the next guy, like Morrison. does at the plate, with no effect on how Stanton would have performed.
With that in mind, Guillen just has to wait for Morrison to regress to his mean, as he mentioned to some extent. He does not need to flip-flop any hitters in the lineup, as the effect of protection serves only decrease the number of walks the hitter in front receives. If he is concerned about getting those runs in following a Stanton walk, the only thing he can really do is to help Morrison recover from his slump. Changing the lineup will add nothing to the team's run scoring chances.