By now you should be aware that Miami Marlins' star Giancarlo Stanton's 2013 campaign has begun with a rather sluggish start (that is, before his 3-HR weekend).
In my article last week, I concluded that it was likely that the cause of Stanton's struggles was a product of falling behind in counts and failing to capitalize on the strikes he did see at the plate.
However, the case of Giancarlo Stanton does provide us a unique window through which to examine the idea of "lineup protection." This season, the dropoff in OPS between Stanton and the players occupying the fourth position in the Marlins order (Greg Dobbs, Placido Polanco, and Joe Mahoney) has been larger than dropoff between the average hitter occupying the eighth position in NL lineups and the pitcher.
In an effort to find out if "lineup projection" exists in some form, Dave Cameron of Fangraphs broke down each position in the batting order by Zone%.
The idea is more that batters without protection will see fewer pitches to hit, because the walk is less harmful if the guys behind the guy who walks aren’t likely to drive him in.
Cameron's colleague, Jeff Zimmerman, took the Pitchf/x data from the last five seasons and lined it up by position in the batting order, take a look:
Because no other position occupied by a position player in an NL batting order has a higher Zone% than the eighth position (immediately before the pitcher, in most cases), it's reasonable to assume that the quality of the batter is actually the key factor in Zone%, not the quality of hitters that would be in a position to "protect" them.
What I found more interesting is that in the NL, Zone% generally rises as a pitcher gets further into the lineup, but the numbers show the opposite in the AL. I couldn't find a reasonable way to explain it, other than the difference in how lineups are constructed in the AL compared to the NL, but that doesn't seem like a satisfying answer. If you have an idea of what might be the cause of this trend, please leave a comment below.
It also would be interesting to know how the Zone% changes for each hitter with men on base. This is especially interesting in Giancarlo Stanton's case, since the hitters occupying the batting order positions in front of him are significantly worse than this season than last.