When Prince Fielder left the Milwaukee Brewers last winter to sign with the Detroit Tigers, it became trendy to assume Ryan Braun's production would dip while Miguel Cabrera's would improve. The questioning around Braun and Cabrera had nothing to do with their particular skill set or talent level, merely with how they would fare in a lineup with or without the slugging Fielder's presence and the assumed lineup protection he provided. One season of data does not support the idea of lineup protection.
From a traditional statistics standpoint, Braun took a step forward, seeing increases in home runs (41, up from 33) while nearly replicating his totals in RBI (108 from 109), runs (112 from 111) and stolen bases (30 from 33). The only obvious number where Braun did seem to be impacted by Fielder's absence was in his intentional walks. After being intentionally walked just twice in 2011, he received 15 such free passes in 2012. Aside from the minor increase in intentional walks, there is zero evidence of pitchers working around Braun due to the lack of Fielder hitting behind him. In 2011, with Fielder, 41.4% of the pitches Braun saw were in the strike zone. In 2012, that number rose to 41.9%. If pitchers were trying to pitch around Braun, as the notion of lineup protection would imply, they failed miserably.
Not only does Braun's increase in strike percentage debunk the long-held adage of lineup protection, he proved that great players can put up great counting stats despite lower-tier teammates. Yes, Aramis Ramirez and Norichika Aoki had good 2012 seasons, but Rickie Weeks, Nyjer Morgan, Martin Maldonado, Cody Ransom, Travis Ishikawa, and Cesar Izturis did not, and the latter group combined for over 1,750 plate appearances for the Brewers. Despite most of his teammates struggling to avoid outs at even a league-average clip, Braun managed to finish third in baseball in runs scored and fourth in RBI.
Jumping from the 2011 NL MVP to the 2012 AL MVP, on the surface, Miguel Cabrera's numbers did benefit from the addition of Prince Fielder to the lineup of the Detroit Tigers. Most notably, his home run total jumped from 30 to 44 and his RBI went from 105 to 139. But this rise was due in large part to having better teammates overall, not necessarily having lineup protection from Fielder. Most notably, outfielder Austin Jackson turning into an offensive force during 2012 had a much larger impact on Cabrera's triple crown-winning season than Fielder's presence in the on-deck circle. Need evidence? Fine.
While Cabrera did see an uptick in the percentage of strikes thrown to him, with his Zone% going from 44.1% in 2011 to 46.9% in 2012, attributing this rise to Fielder is misguided. After all, Fielder saw a similar increase (45.5%, up from 43.0%), and since Fielder wasn't batting behind himself, it is wrong to claim the change in strike-rate is due to lineup protection because the guys following Fielder in the lineup were less than impressive. Delmon Young (.707 OPS), Brennan Boesch (.659), and Jhonny Peralta (.689) split duties following Fielder in the batting order, making it a modern miracle he saw any strikes at all, let alone more than when in Milwaukee.
In certain situations, lineup protection does exist. To say otherwise would be focusing too much on the data and not enough on the field, but the idea that the hitter following someone in the batting order has a large enough impact to effect their baseball impact over a long period of time is wrong. Great players are great players, and both Cabrera and Braun, no matter whose name is listed after theirs on the lineup card, are great players. The narrative says Prince Fielder is the best example of lineup protection in all of baseball. The numbers say he has simply been fortunate enough to bat behind two players who are simply two of the best hitters on the planet.
stats courtesy of
stats courtesy of