Player’s View: Does Lineup Protection Exist?

Lineup protection may or may not exist. Studies suggest it doesn’t, at least not statistically, but many within the game insist it does. In their view, the pitches a batter sees are influenced by the batter on deck. Almost all agree that situations play a role, but beyond that, just how much effect is there? The question was posed to six pitchers, four hitters, and two managers (both of whom are former catchers). Here are their responses:

Madison Bumgarner, Giants pitcher: “I should look over at the on-deck circle a lot of time, but my pride gets the better of me. I can’t remember a time that I looked over there and was actually smart about the situation. It should be that way. It’s a hard thing to do. You don’t want to give in, I don’t want to give in.”

Kevin Cash, Rays manager: “A lot of those questions have been asked about Longo (Evan Longoria). You have the guy who protects, you have the guy who gets the benefit of having protection, and then you have the really good hitter who does both. We factor in protection, but it’s not just having that one guy in front of him, or behind him. That’s not the driving force when making a lineup.”

Josh Donaldson, Blue Jays infielder: “I think it’s like this: If you’ve been around a little bit, people are going to pitch to you the way they’re going to pitch to you. But when you have guys behind you, they’re going to be more apt to make mistakes in the strike zone. They’re going to be more aggressive throwing strikes, but not more aggressive throwing fastballs. They’re going to throw their pitches, but they’re going to throw them more for strikes.”

Joe Girardi, Yankees manager: “I worry more about stacking lefties or stacking righties. I want righties between lefties, so it’s harder for them to match up against us later in the game. That’s my biggest concern. I think about that type of protection more than anything. I don’t think hitters think a whole lot about (who’s behind them) and I don’t necessarily either, because lineups today are so deep.”

Tim Hudson, Giants pitcher: “You’re foolish if you don’t look at the next hitter. Especially for us older guys; we know who in the lineup has had success against us and who hasn’t. If you have a guy on deck that you know doesn’t see you well, and there’s a guy in scoring position, and you’re facing a guy that sees you well, you’ve got to be smart. Pitch him tough, and take your chances with the guy on deck.”

Kevin Jepsen, Rays pitcher: “As a reliever, if I’m coming into the game and facing three-four-five, on most teams they’re all studs. If I’m behind a batter 2-0 or 3-1, I’m not too upset if I walk him. If he chases, great. If not, I get a fresh count against the guy on deck. Every hitter is dangerous when he’s ahead. The only time I’m really looking to see who’s on deck is when there’s a base open.”

Evan Longoria, Rays infielder: “I think that’s a pretty silly question. It’s a question that answers itself. If you have somebody like Miguel Cabrera behind you, you’re going to get pitches to hit, as opposed to if it’s a rookie without much big-league time. There’s also handedness. If you’ve got a left-handed guy behind you, and there’s a lefthander on the mound, a right-handed hitter isn’t going to get as many pitches to hit in certain situations. They’d rather face the left-handed hitter.”

Rick Porcello, Red Sox pitcher: “It puts you more in the strike zone than you want to be. You don’t want to walk a guy and have to face a guy behind him who is capable of doing just as much damage. And hitters hit strikes, whether it’s a strike breaking ball or a fastball that catches the middle third of the plate. I think anybody who watches the game knows protection exists. If we don’t have Hanley (Ramirez) coming up behind Papi (David Ortiz), that works in their favor.”

CC Sabathia, Yankees pitcher: “I’m always conscious of it, but I try not to change the way I pitch too much. I like to stick to the game plan. I try to get everybody out, but if a certain situation calls for it, I’ll pitch around the zone a little. You have to be careful in certain situations. You don’t want to let a Miguel Cabrera hurt you, but then you have a Victor Martinez hitting behind him, and that makes it tough.”

Pablo Sandoval, Red Sox infielder: “It doesn’t matter for me. I could be hitting ninth or first. I don’t care. I think it matters for some hitters, but not for me. I’m just going to go up and swing the bat.”

Mark Teixeira, Yankees infielder: “There are a lot of variables, but common sense tells you that if a stud is hitting behind you, you’re going to see better pitches. In today’s game, you have so many match-ups. The guy behind you might not have the most robust numbers, but if he matches up really well against the pitcher, you’re probably going to see better pitches, and vice versa. But I’ve hit third, in front of Vlad Guerrero, and fourth, behind Chipper Jones. I had good seasons with both, so I don’t think it makes that big of a difference.”

Adam Warren, Yankees pitcher: “Early in the game, it’s more about getting the hitter out who’s right in front of me. I’m not worried about who’s coming up next. The deeper you get into the game – maybe it’s tied – you have to start thinking about who you’d rather face. You might pitch around a guy, or you might go right after him. You have to be smart.”

Thanks to colleague Eno Sarris for suggesting the topic, and for procuring the quotes from Bumgarner and Hudson.

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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7 years ago

The Sandoval response was such a Sandoval response