Why are we surprised by Ryan Braun’s fast start again?

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Ryan Braun hit three homers last night and, after a tumultuous offseason that had many people worrying about his prospects for 2012, he’s right back to MVP form, hitting .294/.347/.647 with seven homers and sporting an OPS+ of 167, which is exactly what he finished with last season.

But there is still some surprise about all of this. Here it is, voiced by Buster Olney:

During spring training, several pitchers mentioned to me that they thought this could be a really difficult season for Ryan Braun because of the departure of Prince Fielder … they all had the same theory: Because Fielder no longer hits in the lineup behind Braun, this makes it easier for opposing pitchers to follow the best-possible approach (in their eyes) to attack the Milwaukee left fielder … when Fielder was in the lineup, there was always this fear that if you nicked Braun, then you’d be setting up the big man in the lineup behind him.

Question: why wouldn’t Olney’s response to this be “man, these pitchers I talked to are dumb”?  Because as study after study has shown, the notion that one player protects another in the lineup like these people think Fielder protected Braun is a total myth. Really: coaches, broadcasters, reporters and players will all go on about lineup protection over and over again, yet there is no empirical evidence that it exists.

I don’t mean to pick on Olney here, or the pitchers he spoke to. But I do wonder why in baseball, unlike in almost any other endeavor, people who stand to benefit most from specialized knowledge or research never seem to know about it.

And actually, I would guess Olney does know about it. Just that he’s understandably not going to challenge his sources with it, which could be construed as calling them ignorant or whatever.  Still, it’s kind of annoying to see this sort of thing perpetuated.

Masahiro Tanaka to throw off a mound this weekend

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Earlier this month Yankees starter Masahiro Tanaka strained both of his hamstrings while running the bases in an interleague game against the Mets and was sent to the 10-day DL. Today it was announced that the beginning of the end of most DL stints for pitchers — throwing off of a mound — is in Tanaka’s immediate future.

Tanaka is scheduled to throw off a mound Sunday, which will be his first real (well, fake real) pitching action since the June 9th injury. Assuming the session goes well, Tanaka is expected to return to the Yankees’ starting rotation sometime in early-to-mid July. With the All-Star break coming the week of July 16, it would not be hard to imagine the Yankees giving him a few extra days to get right.

Tanaka is 7-2 with a 4.58 ERA and a K/BB ratio of 73/19 in 72.2 innings on the season.