Baseball Notes: Lineup Protection

baseball notesPart of the perceived strength of last year’s Detroit Tigers offense came from the arrangement of the middle of the batting order: Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, and Victor Martinez; two huge bats following the biggest one in the game. The idea was that Fielder, batting fourth, “protected” Cabrera in the three hole because he was there to make pitchers pay if they wanted to simply intentionally walk Cabrera to mitigate his potent power, the same way pitchers treated Barry Bonds a decade a go. With Fielder there to “protect” Cabrera, the theory went, Cabrera’s offensive numbers should improve because pitchers would have to be more aggressive with him.

The lineup protection concept makes intuitive sense, but it has been a popular target for the sabermetric folks, who insist that “protected” hitters show no measurable improvement as a result of lineup protection. In light of Prince’s departure from Detroit, ESPN’s Jayson Stark, who surely knows much more about baseball than me, is the latest to take up the advanced statistical ax against the lineup protection effect:

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Bird Law and Baseball: ESPN’s MLB Rules Quiz

ESPN’s resident baseball-knowledge mouthpiece, Jayson Stark, decided that too many professional baseball people were acting like Donovan McNabb and forgetting the rules of the game this season, if they ever knew them to begin with, so he and Rich Marazzi, “esteemed baseball rules expert,” came up with a ten-question quiz  to test folks. They then administered it to “20 of the most astute players in the game,” four coaches, one manager, “six ESPN baseball ‘geniuses,'” and one broadcaster.

Who were these people? The twenty-seven active players, managers, and coaches represent eleven of baseball’s thirty teams, and of those eleven teams, six of which are East Coast teams. That seems like a not unreasonable balance for a small sampling of people.

We don’t often hear people associating baseball players and intelligence, though, so the phrase “20 of the most astute players in the game” caught my eye. Stark pays close attention to the details of the game, so it certainly is possible that he has a good feel for what players might qualify. Maybe it was because I had just read Tommy Craggs’ article on Howie Schwab, but I started to worry that “astute” might mean something like “scrappy.” I took a look at the profile pages for each of the “20 of the most astute players in the game,” and while Stark may be right– he goes to great lengths to discuss Sam Fuld’s academic credentials– my hunch wasn’t wrong: of the twenty, nineteen are white. The one exception was Jimmy Rollins, who is black. (According to the first Appendix of the 2013 Race and Gender Report Card for Major League Baseball, 61.2% of players are white, and 8.3% are African-American.)

mlbracialbreakdownAs far as the quiz itself, it turned out to be pretty tough. Marazzi decided that a passing grade was 6/10, and by that measure, just thirteen of the thirty-two takers passed. That’s probably because, as Stark writes, “the rules might be the rules. But that doesn’t mean they have to make much sense.”

The rest is baseball minutiae and hopeless reform rhetoric. If you want to see how the quiz-takers performed, click here. If you want to take the quiz yourself– at last count, over 171,000 people had– click here. And if you really must know, this writer scored a five, which, while not “passing,” ranks me better than or equal to all but two of the professional media “geniuses.” You get what you pay for here at ALDLAND.