While a lot of fans are upset that the Phillies didn’t sign that big-name free agent to fit into the number 5 slot behind MVP slugger Ryan Howard, two sports colunmists present opposite views on protection and whether or not
the search is really necessary or whether there is already ample resources in-house.
Inquirer Sports columnist Bill Conlin writes;
Now, only a trade that will involve components Gillick either does not have or can’t afford to give up can add a righthanded bat to a lineup that still has more questions than answers.
Blog Nation and its e-mailing disciples remain locked in historic silk-purse-for-sow’s-ear mode. Like their snail-mailing fathers and catcalling grandfathers, they insist you can get five-tool outfielder Vernon Wells from the Blue Jays for oft-injured, power-deprived outfielder Aaron Rowand and $4.2 million bonus flop Gavin Floyd.
They believe a similar package certainly should be able to land Orioles shortstop Miguel Tejada, a former MVP. Oh, yeah, since the Migster is adamant about remaining at shortstop, selfless, all-for-the-team-except-taking-a-pitch Jimmy Rollins would volunteer to jump on over to third base. Sure. The deal-breaker, of course, is at the action end of the deal, not the consequences end.
Andruw Jones, that’s it. Atlanta GM John Schuerholz and manager Bobby Cox are dying to move their best player so they can help Ryan Howard get more pitches to jack out of the yard. Let’s see… How about Rowand, Floyd and a couple of minor league pitching prospects, maybe Gio Gonzalez and J.A. Happ?
Nobody ever wonders, of course, how people that dumb managed to win their division 14 straight seasons.
But, Kevin Roberts of the Courier-Post sports staff has a different spin on whether or not protection, acquisition of a big bat is needed behind Ryan Howard;
The protection thing?
It’s a myth.
According to every substantive study in the history of man, the quality of the on-deck hitter has about zero effect on the hitter at the plate. Statisticians, pundits, seamheads and Sabremetricians (the good people from Society of American Baseball Research) have devoted countless hours to this, crunching the numbers from every possible angle, and no one seems to be able to prove that a good fifth hitter makes your fourth hitter any better — or that a bad fifth hitter hurts your fourth hitter in any way.
“In the second half pitchers were very careful, and I had to be patient,” Howard said. “The hard part is, you’re coming up there knowing they’re not going to give you much to hit — so when you do get a pitch, you have to be ready to jump all over it.”
Indeed, when Howard committed himself to being more selective and walking more, that’s when he took off. Before the All-Star break, Howard hit .278 with 28 homers in 316 at-bats and 33 walks in 87 games. Then he won the home run derby, and pitchers became more aware of him.
As they worked Howard more carefully, Howard adjusted (the way he adapts at the plate is part of what makes him such a spectacular hitter). As he became more selective, he went from a dangerous hitter to the most valuable player in the league.
After the All-Star break, Howard walked a stunning 77 times in 75 games — and he hit .355 with 30 homers in 265 at-bats. His production increased.
Walking Howard didn’t hurt the Phillies at all — after the All-Star break the Phillies were 31-13 when Howard drew a walk, including 15-5 when he walked more than once.
Now that doesn’t mean the Phillies can just bat Abe Nunez behind Howard and go get ‘em. Walks are not a bad thing, and protection is a myth — but there is a reason managers put a lineup together a certain way.
“It matters, to a certain degree,” Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said. “Pitchers are always going to be careful with Ryan and he has to be patient. But whoever hits behind him has got to have a good season.”
This is where the hitters who bat behind Howard matter — when pitchers walk him (and they will), there has to be a price to pay. The next hitter, and the next two or three hitters, have to produce when opposing pitchers put runners on base.
And it turns out the Phillies have a guy who was pretty good after opposing pitchers walked Howard. You want to guess who it is?
Brace yourself . . .
Pat Burrell hit .423 after opposing pitchers walked Howard, with a .769 slugging percentage.
Burrell had all sorts of problems last year, but producing after pitchers walked Howard was not one of them. In fact, you could argue that batting Burrell behind Howard helped rescue the Phillies’ season.
Through July, with Bobby Abreu hitting third, Howard batted fifth (234 at-bats) or sixth (63 at-bats). The Phillies were abysmal after Howard walked — led by David Bell and Aaron Rowand, the Phillies mustered a .182 batting average after a walk to Howard.
In August, after Abreu was traded, Howard moved to the fourth spot with Burrell primarily hitting fifth. And the lineup took off — the Phillies batted .472 after a walk to Howard in August. The Phillies batted .279 after a walk to Howard in September, but that’s a little misleading — Burrell and Jeff Conine (Howard’s primary “protection”) combined to hit .382 after a walk to Howard.
Because Manuel was so quick to yank Burrell in the late innings, Howard often found himself batting ahead of the likes of Chris Roberson or Danny Sandoval — which led to a lot of intentional walks in the late innings that didn’t cost the opposition a bit.
But until then, the Phillies offense made great use of Howard’s walks — which is why they did, indeed, lead the league in runs scored.
“I’m a very competitive person,” Howard said. “When they’re taking the bat out of your hands by walking you, it’s frustrating. But at the same time, they’re putting you on base. You just hope the guy coming up next picks you up.”
The Phillies, particularly Burrell, did just fine in that regard. And it all makes the case that chasing the protection myth instead of adding to the pitching staff would be a mistake for the Phillies.
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