Upon hearing the news that the Tigers had traded Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, Miguel Cabrera appeared to be mourning a bit on Twitter, posting a collection of pictures involving the two during their time in Detroit. It was a humanizing moment for a player who has given us no choice over the last two years but to think of him as an unstoppable hitting machine.
Many, particularly those in the national baseball media, wonder how Cabrera will fare without Fielder behind him to protect him.
#Tigers now need a LH bat. Choo? Beltran? Granderson? Need protection for Miggy.
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) November 21, 2013
Tigers fans don’t cry about the lack of scoring next season. With Fielder gone, u lose only power lefty bat and Cabrera’s protection. #watch
— Rob Parker (@RobParkerLocal4) November 21, 2013
But as David Schoenfield illustrates in his column at ESPN Sweet Spot, there just isn’t any evidence that Fielder actually provided any lineup protection to Cabrera. He notes that Cabrera hasn’t seen many more fastballs nor many more pitches in the strike zone, at least at a statistically significant level. Additionally, while Victor Martinez may not have Fielder’s power potential, he is no slouch.
The same idea pops up whenever two great hitters either come together or go their separate ways. I dug into the numbers back in September 2011 to see if Hunter Pence was actually providing Ryan Howard with any protection for the Phillies. Like Schoenfield, there just wasn’t any evidence.
Based on the numbers we’ve been able to compile over the years, lineup protection either doesn’t exist or the effect is so small as to be indistinguishable from random variation.