18 August 2008

How does that protection thing work again?

I didn't even know that about the Kent v Scully thing until I read Dodger Thoughts. Well, I knew Scully was saying things about how Kent was doing batting in front of Manny. But I didn't know Kent was complaining about it to TJ Simers. I wonder who started it? Did Simers smell blood and see if he could stir something up, or did Kent go to Simers on his own and complain about Scully?

After about the third time Vinny mentioned Kent's success batting ahead of Manny, my wife asked me why it would matter. She's been following baseball for four years, and she knows quite a lot about it now, but there are still traditional bits of baseball lore and knowledge that are unfamiliar to her.

"Well," I say, in answer to her protection question, "the pitcher doesn't want to walk Jeff Kent, because that would put someone on base for Manny Ramirez. Therefore Kent will see more strikes."

She considers this, then says, "But if he sees more strikes, won't he get more hits, and get on base more that way?"

"Um, well, the pitcher isn't thinking about that. He just doesn't want to walk him."

"That doesn't make sense."

Indeed. It was a lame answer, in explanation of a lame theory. I don't much believe in protection myself, so I wasn't trying to defend it as much as explain it. If in fact pitchers have changed their approach to limit Kent getting on base in front of Manny then it has been a miserable failure. He's getting on base a lot more than before. Another thing: I've seen Kent chase after bad stuff before. He's not always the most patient guy up there. Why would any pitcher worry primarily about walking Kent, about making sure he threw strikes? That's just asking for trouble with Manny coming up next. If anything I would expect Kent to hit worse with Manny on deck, because pitchers were so zeroed in on getting him out. I would expect Kent to see fewer strikes.

Maybe the protection theory is that pitchers will throw mostly balls to Kent, until the count gets to something like 3-1, whereupon suddenly they have to worry about the walk and they groove a fastball that Kent can crush. But how many of Kent's recent hits have come with three balls?

It did appear that Martin was messed up batting in front of Manny. But I don't know that one thing had anything to do with the other. Hitters get messed up from time to time during the season. They start pressing, chasing bad stuff, watching hittable fastballs go by and swinging at outside curveballs. ( Or is the theory of the pressing hitter just another myth? ) In any case, Martin seems to be fine now. Kent seems to be fine after injury woes and a streak of bad luck. Manny's doing great. Kemp is on fire. Ethier is so hot he's undergoing solar fusion as we speak. These guys don't need protection. They got talent.

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