Should Mets Bat Pitcher Eighth?

From “DanB” in the comments section:

Hey Joe, I am (surprise!) tired of talking about why our shortstop position sucks. What about a good ole’ baseball post about Collins’ idea (actually LaRussa’s) of pitchers batting 8th? At first I didn’t like it because it gives the pitcher 18 more ABs per year. But then I realize a pitcher only gets two to three ABs anyway before they get pinch-hit for. It would be the pinch hitters getting 18 more ABs per year. I actually like the idea of the pinch hitters getting more ABs rather then the typical eighth place hitter, especially since it will be in the late innings. And this is before we debate whether it would give DW more RBI opportunities. Anyone?

Thoughts?

If you care what I think … well, I don’t care, is what I think. Like Dan, I do agree that at least half of the at-bats in the pitcher’s slot in the lineup will usually be performed by pinch-hitters, so it’s not a big deal. But then again, if that’s true, then how many more RBI opportunities will David Wright really get in such a configuration? Because at least half the time, the 9th slot in the order will be filled by a pinch-hitter, who may be a better OBP guy than whomever Collins considers batting there (i.e., Juan Lagares, Ruben Tejada). I GUESS there’s the possibility of one more RBI opp if you have a Lagares or Tejada batting 9th instead of the pitcher.

But then there is the issue of the #7 hitter getting pitched around, because the pitcher is batting 8th. Is that good or bad in situations when runners are on base? On the one hand, if the #7 hitter is patient and disciplined, he may be pitched around and walked because the pitcher is batting next. On the other hand, a less-disciplined batter in that slot might be more prone to making an out with the opposing pitcher throwing pitches outside the strike zone.

I don’t know the statistics regarding how many times a #7 or #8 hitter bats when there is a scoring opportunity. And, I’m not sure whether those stats are useful / apply if the pitcher is batting 8th, because such a lineup changes everything.

In the grand scheme of things, let’s assume that there is some kind of advantage of batting the pitcher eighth. How MUCH of an advantage is it? Will it result in as many as one or two more wins? Five? Is there any way to determine the advantage or disadvantage?

I really don’t know. I’m a firm believer of putting your very best OBP guy first in the lineup, followed by your very best hitters, with the idea that you want to give your best offensive players as many opportunities to help you as possible.

What’s your thought? Should the Mets consider batting the pitcher eighth on occasion? All the time? Why or why not? Answer in the comments.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. DanB March 21, 2014 at 10:31 am
    Thank you, Joe, for addressing one of the many thoughts that bounce around endlessly in my head. You brought up something I never thought about — the effect on the #7 hitter. Is it better for #8 hitter or the #7 hitter to be pitched around. On one hand, #8 hitter needs more help then a #7 hitter. On the other hand, the Met’s #8 hitter might not be pitched around if he is hitting .220 or lower. To me, it is about the number of ABs since, statistically, every slot sees 18 more ABs then the slot after it. For example, if Wright moves to the #4 slot, he will lose 18 ABs throughout the year compared to hitting #3. And all of those ABs will be in the last, and usually the most important, at bat. This is one reason (along with Wright’s OBP and speed) that I would love Wright to hit #2 if the Mets ever had another hitter to bat #3. The bottom line, if moving the pitcher to #8 means 18 more at bats for a pinch hitter rather then our usual #8 hitter, then that alone could result in two to three more wins per year. I am always for two more wins without spending more money. Also, would moving Laguares to the ninth slot mean it is easier to deal with his bat?
  2. Bill March 21, 2014 at 10:48 am
    Hi Joe, this is an interesting one and the wording of your question makes it even more interesting. Some thoughts:
    First, your “All the time?” qualifier: This is one of my pet peeves over the last couple years – way too much playing with the lineup. If they decide to do the pitcher in the 8-hole, fine (and there are merits for it), but do it and leave it alone. Don’t keep switching things up, so yes, it is either an ‘All the time’ or ‘None of the time’.
    Second: I don’t think it has as much to do with who the pitcher is as it does with what does the rest of the line-up look like and what the overall approach of the team offense will be. First off, who is their lead-off hitter? Eric Young Jr. is not (a) an everyday player, or (b) a great leadoff hitter – he is a fourth outfielder. He simply does not get on base enough. I don’t see Chris Young up there either. Murphy is a better #2 (or 6) hitter. So the discussion of hitting the pitcher 8th and trying to place 2 lead-off hitters in there seems a little premature. Now my solution – my opinion is that if Legares is good enough to ‘lead off’ batting 9th, why not have him hit 1st? As he has shown, both in winter ball, and again this spring, he is a better hitter than his full year results showed last year. Nobody will show their potential hitting in the 8 hole – the mindset and approach are completely different, both at the plate and on the bases. I may be alone in this thought, but I would put Lagares at the top of the line up and ‘coach’ him to take more walks. I think a reasonable projection would be something like a .275 avg and .330 OBP with 15-20 SBs, a bunch of doubles (30??) and a few HRs. And he will only grow as a hitter over time, but put him in there at the top and stop bouncing him around. With that, it leaves the shortstop position as the 8 (or 9th) spot. And with that, do they really need to play with the line-up down there? Probably not, as it will weaken the 7th hole meaning d’Arnaud (making an assumption here) will not get as much to hit. So . .my answer is, if they are going to bat Lagares in either the 8 or 9 hole, put him 9 and the pitcher 8. If they want to listen to me (lol) and move Lagares up to the top, there is no need for this discussion. I guess I’m thinking this because Lagares gives you much more upside than a Tejada does for this argument. So, my everyday lineup looks like:

    1- Lagares – CF
    2- Murphy -2B
    3- Wright – 3B
    4- Granderson – LF
    5- C.Young – RF
    6- Davis – 1B (a separate discussion)
    7- d’Arnaud – C
    8- Shortstop (would love to see Gregorius, but still another discussion)
    9- Pitcher

    Obviously, they cannot throw the same lineup out there for 162 games, but mix in EYoung, Satin, or whoever else as appropriate. The most difficult lineup to fill out is when Granderson needs a break – how do you fill that clean-up spot?

    BUT, to summarize (did I say this before??): Get something fairly set, stop screwing with it and let everyone know their role.

    Return thoughts? Discussion?

    Thanks!!

    • Joe Janish March 21, 2014 at 3:02 pm
      Bill, I was with you until Lagares.

      Maybe I’m pessimistic, but I’m not seeing “… .275 avg and .330 OBP with 15-20 SBs, a bunch of doubles (30??) and a few HRs.” as a reasonable expectation from Juan Lagares in 2014. Yes, he hit well in the winter, but, then, Anderson Hernandez won two batting titles in the same league — what does it mean? Yes, Lagares has hit well this spring, but again, what does it mean? Lastings Milledge and Darren Reed were perennial stars in spring training. We need to see what Lagares can do consistently against MLB pitchers, and, from what I’ve seen of his skill set, I’m not sure he’s going to hit enough to warrant an everyday job — especially in a lineup that also includes Ruben Tejada.

      But, if it turns out that you’re right about that offensive projection, Lagares would indeed be a fine option at the top of the lineup.

  3. James Preller March 21, 2014 at 1:04 pm
    I guess the studies have been inconclusive. But one thing is for sure, if TC insists on batting Tejada in the 2nd spot, it’s all just crazy talk.
  4. murph March 21, 2014 at 1:13 pm
    If a team has a stud at #2 and #3 and a guy that can get on base at #9, batting the pitcher #8 makes sense.

    After the first time around, the #2 and #3 become like a #3 and #4. The #9 becomes like a second lead-off guy.

    But the Mets barely have one lead off guy (EY when/if he starts) let alone two. And if the #2 guy (Murph?) was a bonafide #3, he would have be batting there already.

    So in the Mets case, I would say not right now.

    • Joe Janish March 21, 2014 at 3:04 pm
      Murph, I’m thinking like you: the Mets need to find an actual leadoff hitter, before worrying about a second leadoff hitter.

      If indeed the pitcher bats 8th for the Mets this year, I think it will speak more to the complete lack of punch after the cleanup spot than anything else.

  5. DaveSchneck March 21, 2014 at 2:21 pm
    Joe,
    I am rather indifferent as well, but frankly haven’t thought about it much. To me it comes down to the value between protecting the #7 hitter vs. the value of having the pitcher 4 spots from DW in the #3. The other question is who hits 7th and who hits 9th?

    Bill above suggests hitting Lagares in the leadoff. I am totally opposed to Lagares hitting at the top of the order at this point in the season (and his career). I do want his glove in CF regularly, or on most days, but I want him hitting 7th or 8th where he can continue to develop offensively without the pressure of hitting at the top of the order.

    My preference is to let the Youngs share the leadoff spot. I’ll live with Lagares-Tejada-pitcher at the bottom, or Lagares-pitcher-Tejada if need be.

  6. argonbunnies March 22, 2014 at 12:46 am
    If “think outside the box” is the heavy stuff I wish TC was on, I’ll happily accept “bat the pitcher 8th” as a gateway drug.
  7. Izzy March 22, 2014 at 9:17 am
    With all of the metrics being in used in baseball, covering defense, pithing, offense, lefty righty switches, platoons versus everyday players etc, don’t you think National League organizations have plugged the numbers into their computers and studied this as well? How many young metrically oriented managers and GMs have turned to batting the pitcher 8th? NONE. Now hear comes Terry Collins, who obviously has thought about this as much as he thinks about everything else and he knows it best? Terry likes , I mean loves to hear himself blabber away about everything. Whatever he decides he’ll change his mind several times and tell you a million reasons why. Seriously, if the math was there Matheny would have followed in LaRussa’s footsteps with it, but he didn’t, and he is as metrically inclined as any young anager in the NL.
    • Dan B March 22, 2014 at 10:26 am
      I must politely disagree with you, Mr. Izzy. It is always safer for a manager to follow the norm even if the numbers don’t support it. Look how often football coaches punt when the numbers overwhelmingly support going for it. I have read studies that concur that managers (of baseball teams and mutual funds) rather under perform conservatively then take risks venturing from the norm even if the numbers support it.
      • DaveSchneck March 22, 2014 at 1:13 pm
        Dan and Izzy,
        I am a proponent of using the SABR stats, but there is no stat or combination of stats that is the be all and end all. Baseball is a game of infinite variables, so provided there is not overwhelming evidence as to benefit and cost related to batting a pitcher 8th, there are some situations that it may make sense in more than others. I’m sure we would all agree that there is overwhelming evidence not to bat the pitcher 1st, or 4th, but 16 ABs a year, combined with the variable impacts on the 7th hitter, the 3rd and 4th hitters, pitching changes, etc., could make the move good in some spots and bad in others. That said, I don’t disagree with Izzy that Terry Collins is likely doing it on a whim, or at least a partial whim.
  8. Izzy March 22, 2014 at 3:31 pm
    I will partially agree with you Dan B. However, it was on;y recently when managers started the ehifts on vrtually all lefty batters, not just the Ted Williams, pull everything guys. Somebody broke the mold and now they all do it. And managers quickly jumped on the 9yth inning only badwagon for closers and then all set up men. And since LaRussa was a proponent of it and since he won a lot and was recognized as a HoF manager, one would think it would have been easy for lesser managers to pick it up, but I only remember the Brewers mimicking LaRussa (I could be very wrong here) and only briefly.
    I have a question for Dave. Have you all used or studied saber metrics and if so do you think there have been studies trying to determine where best to place the pitcher or has it been ignored. If its been studied and is good I can see many managers being afraid to tick off their players by bating them behind the pitcher. I don’t think any “8 hole” hitters would challenge LaRussa.
    • DaveSchneck March 23, 2014 at 9:24 pm
      Izzy,
      To answer your question, no I haven’t dug into whether there are studies on where the pitcher hits. It looks like you did, so thanks for those links.
  9. Izzy March 23, 2014 at 10:12 am
    I found a study of the 98 Cards….. It is inconclusive.
    http://www.retrosheet.org/Research/PankinM/larussa.pdf

    And here is something for Terry to do so he can further distract from the problems of his team. In 1956, Bobby Bragan, batted the pitcher 7th several times. It might be a better idea than 8th with the power guys up one and two, especially since Alderson doesn’t think a led off guy is important.
    http://www.retrosheet.org/Research/PankinM/SABR,%201-26-08.pdf

    • Joe Janish March 23, 2014 at 2:39 pm
      Izzy, thanks for sharing — that is fascinating.

      Here’s an idea: how about the Mets bat the pitcher leadoff? Then they can get him out of the way immediately. ;-)

      Seriously though, I’ve always thought it makes sense to consider batting David Wright first. He’s the best offensive player the Mets have, the best OBP guy as well — why not give him the most opportunities and the first opportunity?

      • Izzy March 23, 2014 at 3:06 pm
        Batting first….worked for Agee. And he wasn’t as good a hitter as Wright is.
      • NormE March 23, 2014 at 4:02 pm
        If Grandy, CY and the first basemen can be counted on to hit 30+ homers each, then, by all means bat Wright lead off.
        When TC pinch it’s for the pitcher Wright will be the on-deck hitter. That’s good!
      • chris March 24, 2014 at 5:48 pm
        David Wright batting first would be brilliant. It would add chances and give more opportunities to start off on the right foot.

        If there is one thing this team cannot do it is give up at bats, even if it is only 18 per season. If Tejada can’t hit better than Bartolo Colon, then the Mets have a bigger problem than the batting order. If the game is on the line with 2 outs and the #8 hitter coming up, I hope we have a better option than both from the bench, but if not, the season is already lost.

        One other thing; athletes feed on confidence. If you are batting 9th in the National League that is going to be a blow to the ego no matter the reason or who you are.

    • argonbunnies March 23, 2014 at 11:34 pm
      Whoa! Nice finds.
  10. Dan B March 23, 2014 at 4:03 pm
    The Mets should of hit Jose Valentin ninth with Jose Reyes first. Remember how Reyes drove in 80 with Valentin always on?
  11. argonbunnies March 24, 2014 at 12:17 am
    On a team whose pinch-hitters are among its best hitters (i.e. guys who’d be in the lineup if they weren’t terrible defenders), I’d be in favor of routinely batting the pitcher ahead of a “he’s there for his D” guy like Tejada or Lagares. My reasoning is that the flexibility afforded (pinch hit at key moments, without saving a pinch hitter for the #9 spot) outweighs what you sacrifice by default (pitcher’s spot more likely to come up before he’s already done pitching).

    On the other hand, if your pinch-hitters are scrubs, then by all means give them and the pitchers as few ABs as possible, and bury them in the 9 spot.

    Since computer simulations have shown lineup orders to be mostly irrelevant, I assume that “ability to improvise” is vastly more important than whatever lineup you start with. It’s the same logic behind teams with great bullpens exceeding their pythagorean win projections by using their best arms in the most high-leverage spots.

    I wonder if anyone will figure out that carrying Matt Stairs and letting your 6th reliever pitch multiple innings is better than carrying 7 relievers…