The Lineup Protection Theory: Was Carlos Pena's DL Stint the Cause of Evan Longoria's Slump?

Carlos Peña's DL-stint ran from August 1st to August 15th. In that time, while the Rays had a middling 7-7 record, the offense seemingly fell apart; the Rays scored a measly 58 runs which, while not terrible, was fairly bad. The team's triple slash line was an even more embarrassing .227/.331/.367. Most notable during this time, however, was a slump from Evan Longoria with his line coming in at a .246/.283/.386 for the 15 game stretch.

Slumps like this are fairly common in all types of hitters during 15-game stretch, but this one just so happened to coincide with the absence of the Rays' premier power hitter. Moreover, Peña hits behind Longoria and, as we've heard Kevin Kennedy adamantly insist repeatedly, he was providing "protection" for Longoria. This theory was given a little bit more credence when Longoria, who began smashing the ball promptly after Peña returned, himself went on to say that Peña's return had an impact on his performance. Many statistical analysts are skeptical of the claims of "lineup protection". However, was there anything to this claim?

The first thing to look at would be the source of Longoria's slump. Consider how his four factors changed during this time:

Season 8/1 to 8/15
BB% 11.3 5.0
K% 21.5 24.6
xBH% 44.4 50.0
BABIP 0.339 0.326

It's fairly obvious here that Longoria's slump wasn't a mere BABIP fluke as they so often are. While he was still hitting doubles and triples, the walks absolutely vanished, and the strikeouts picked up a little. Something changed in Longoria's offensive game.

Longoria all year:

Type Selection Swing
Fastball 60.5% 36.1%
Slider 18.8% 37.6%
Changeup 11.5% 48.3%
Curveball 9.2% 35.3%

Longoria from 8/1 to 8/15:

Type Selection Swing
Fastballs 51.7% 44.3%
Sliders 26.3% 43.5%
Changeups 12.3% 34.5%
Curveballs 9.7% 52.2%

Longoria's fastball percentage dropped drastically, a full 8.8% drop. Pitchers were clearly pitching around him during this time, with an increase in change-ups, curveballs, and, most of all, sliders. Longoria was also swinging more at everything except the changeups during this time, although whether that can be attributed to small sample size or a true change in approach is up for debate.

It is clear, however, that Longoria's fastball percent dropped drastically. Pitchers clearly tried pitching around him, and so the protection will be crucial to his and the Rays success going forward, given Longoria's history of smashing fastballs. Even if Peña struggles going forward, his value to the team will be there in making sure that Longoria continues to hit.

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