Since we have gotten into the habit of dispelling a number of myths over the last few days, I thought we might look at one more: Lineup protection. Ever since Alex Rodriguez has returned, people have been crediting him for Mark Teixeira’s resurgence. However, most statistical studies have found that the idea of lineup protection produces at best a negligible effect. In fact, JC Bardbury has done a study that shows having a great hitter behind you may actually hurt the batter’s chances of reaching base:
The play-by-play data allowed us to control for the game situation during every plate appearance. While we were looking at protection, we were also curious in identifying another possible spillover, which we call the effort externality. While having a good hitter batting behind you might put more balls in the strike-zone, it doesn’t mean these pitches are of the same quality than with a poor hitter on-deck. It’s not that the pitcher just wants to avoid walking a batter when a good hitter follows. The pitcher wants to keep the hitter off-base any way he can. Pitchers are not dumb. They understand that putting more balls in the strike-zone increases the chance that the hitter will reach base via a hit, possibly with power. So, pitchers may reach back for a little extra gas in these situations. This means that a good on-deck hitter has reason to lower a current batter’s chances of reaching base via a walk AND a hit. If the effort effect is larger than the protection effect, then a good on-deck hitter can hurt rather than help the batter in front of him. Since the effect is ambiguous we need to go to the data.
The results lead us to not only reject the protection hypothesis, but also we find evidence that good on-deck hitters actually harm the hit and power probabilities of the current batter. This is consistent with the effort hypothesis. However, the magnitude of the spillover is tiny and for all practical purposes the effect is zero. Even very good (bad) hitters have only a very small impact on the batters who precede them.
Basically the study shows that being protected in the lineup has zero effect on the performance of the hitter. Mark Teixeira is killing the ball now because he is a very good hitter who typically heats up over the course of a season. When he slumps later in the season, those citing lineup protection now will conveniently discard the argument until he heats up again. For the rest of us, we know that this is part of the typical ebb and flow of baseball, a game of streaks.
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