Manny, Ortiz, and Protection

Sorry for the light posting this week. I have had visitors in town and dealing with the first days of kindergarten. I saw this post the other day, and I wanted to link to it.

Leigh Grossman at LyfLines looked at how Manny Ramirez‘s presence in the lineup affected David Ortiz this season in response to claims that Big Papi is missing some “protection.”

As expected, Manny’s absence has led to more walks for Ortiz, some increase in intentional walks, and probably a fairly large increase in “unintentional intentional” walks. But his batting average and isolated slugging are higher without Manny, too. On the whole, he’s put up a much better statistical performance without Manny in the lineup. Some of that is obviously a result of the additional walks, and some, if not most, of the additional walks are almost certainly a result of not having a Hall-of-Fame slugger in the on deck circle. But even without the walks, his performance on at-bats when not walking is better – higher average, more power, HR more frequently – without Manny in the lineup. The evidence is pretty overwhelming that, despite the early concerns in the press, David Ortiz’ performance is not dependent upon having Manny Ramirez hitting behind him.

This fits exactly with a study that Doug Drinen and conducted several years ago. Here is a description of our finding from my book.

Though the conventional baseball wisdom—a better on-deck hitter does protect a batter from being walked—is partially correct, the hitter also lowers his ability to hit for average and power.

The evidence still leaves us with a puzzle: why is it that pitchers don’t give batters better pitches to hit when a good hitter follows? If a pitcher prefers to face the upcoming hitter without an extra man on base, then he ought to attempt to avoid walking the batter by throwing more pitches in the strike zone. In fact, this is exactly what pitchers do, but this doesn’t result in more hitting power.

The placement of the ball around the strike zone is not the only method a pitcher can use to get the hitter out. A pitcher in a tight spot can also reach back and put some extra mustard on the ball. The gains a batter receives from seeing more pitches in the strike zone can be offset by the pitcher making those pitches more difficult to hit. Pitchers regulate their effort throughout a game in order to conserve energy for important moments, such as facing Ortiz with Ramirez on deck. An improved Ramirez may cause Ortiz to be walked less, but Ortiz will be seeing tougher pitches to hit.

Doug and I found something else important about protection.

Though we found the impact to be real—it’s more than a product of random chance—the size of the effect is tiny. So tiny, in fact, that it’s best to say that on-deck hitters have virtually no effect on the performance of the batter.

Thanks to David Pinto for the pointer.

5 Responses “Manny, Ortiz, and Protection”

  1. JB says:

    True, Ortiz will probably still see plenty of walks now that there’s no Manny on deck. But that’s only when there’s an empty base and may even happen with men on 2nd and 3rd despite having Manny on deck, depending on the opposing manager, pitcher on the mound, score, and number of outs, etc. 

    How will Ortiz perform without Manny hitting behind him? You’re probably right in saying not much differently. While the quality of pitches he sees will be drastically affected by Manny’s absence, in situations with men on base or where Ortiz cannot be walked, Ortiz’s pure hitting prowess will most likely come through more often than not because he’s a good hitter and he can hit most pitchers’ best stuff. 

  2. charlie says:

    cough, sample size, cough

  3. JC says:

    Four years of play-by-play data is a small sample?

  4. hankonly says:

    Fair enough, but the Braves replaced Tex with McCann – another good hitter. Perhaps a better study would be of KJ, i.e., what is the diffference in him hitting 2nd and 7th?

  5. Brandon says:

    Would it be out of bounds to say that Bill James — at least in the work he published before contracting with the Red Sox — would concur?