Paul Hagen on Protection, RBI

Bloggers have often been critical of the media when they discuss Sabermetrics. The criticism has usually been somewhat justified as the media hasn’t always taken a sunny disposition towards statistical analysis. Recently, though, we have seen a sea change in the attitudes of most in the media. As a result, Sabermetrics is no longer that niche, taboo subject met with instant derision. It is now a well-respected method of analysis sweeping into Major League front offices.

Paul Hagen’s latest article for the Philadelphia Daily News is an excellent indication of the media’s growing acceptance of Sabermetrics. Viewing articles on Philly.com is usually a big no-no for me because of the Satan-spawned auto-play video ads. However, Hagen discusses the supposed lineup protection that Ryan Howard will be missing now that Jayson Werth moved on to the Washington Nationals. Logic and quotes from SABR’s Gary Gillette are used to provide the reader with reasons to adopt this alternative view of the game of baseball. It’s a great read and I highly recommend reading the full article, auto-play ads be damned. (Nothing this can’t fix, anyway.)

Because as everybody knows, without a legitimate righthanded threat behind him, Howard won’t get a pitch to hit all season long.

The kicker, of course, is that conventional wisdom frequently is somewhere between off base and flat wrong. And Gary Gillette, a writer and member of the board of directors of the Society for American Baseball Research, suggests that fretting about who will replace Werth in that slot is probably much ado about nothing.

“Everything I’ve looked at in the past has either showed no effect or minimal effect. In fact, sometimes it was the opposite,” he said yesterday at the Disney Swan and Dolphin Resort.

[...]

There’s another point to be made here. The point of a lineup is not to feature one player. It’s to maximize the number of runs a team scores.

So how often Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Chase Utley get on base in front of Howard is more crucial to how many RBI he gets than who bats behind him. And if he doesn’t get good pitches to hit, he has to be disciplined enough to take a walk if he isn’t seeing something he can handle.

Along with Hagen, other good Saber-friendly writers in the Philly media include Matt Gelb, David Hale, and David Murphy. For as much complaining as we bloggers do when it comes to the media, the fact is that a good portion of them have made room on the stage for us stats junkies. Writers like Hagen should be applauded for doing the responsible thing: providing the alternative viewpoints to their readers to let them make their own informed decisions.

. . .

On a sadder note, Philly-Twitter favorite Logan Morrison’s father recently passed away. If you’re on Twitter, please take a minute to send him your well-wishes. Logan is a great guy and I’m sure he would be very appreciative of such kind sentiment in his time of need.

Logan Morrison’s Twitter: @LoMoMarlins

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5 comments

  1. Matty B.

    December 09, 2010 03:35 PM

    “Satan-spawned” is the best description of those ads I’ve heard so far. They are evil.

    Good article from Hagan. It’s refreshing to read journalists who are willing to challenge conventional wisdom, as opposed to those who think they’re right about everything — I’m looking at you, Conlin.

    And I hope Manuel is right about Howard.

  2. Nik

    December 09, 2010 05:06 PM

    On another note, with 3 9-digit contracts already handed out to hitters this winter (Tulo extension is the 3rd), is it possible the Howard contract won’t be as bad as feared due to the salary inflation we’re currently witnessing.

  3. Scott G

    December 09, 2010 10:42 PM

    Howard is making more than all of them, and isn’t as good.

    Also, is it that insightful to say that the 4th hitter in the lineup can’t knock in the 5th spot. So in terms of 4th slot RBIs it’s more important for the 1,2,and 3 hitters to get on base than the 5th?

    “So how often Jimmy Rollins, Placido Polanco and Chase Utley get on base in front of Howard is more crucial to how many RBI he gets than who bats behind him.”

  4. Dan

    December 10, 2010 01:46 AM

    Scott, I think what he’s implying is that it’s more important to have skilled batters at the 1,2,and 3 spots for the #4 to hit in than it is to have a #5 protect the #4.

    In other words, the #5 hitter isn’t helping the #4 hitter’s RBIs by being on base for him, but rather forcing the pitcher to throw something that he can hit so that he can get those RBIs.

  5. Scott G

    December 10, 2010 10:14 AM

    Exactly. Why does this need to keep being spelled out? I feel like it’s one of the most obvious things about the dynamic of a lineup.

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