New York Mets manager Terry Collins got a lot of attention when he declared that he might consider batting his pitcher 8th in the lineup instead of the traditional 9th spot. While Collins’ idea is hardly revolutionary, it’s an interesting point for debate. What, you might ask, is the advantage to hitting the pitcher further up in the lineup?
Although there haven’t been an overabundance of instances in which managers employed this strategy, it has certainly been done before. Most notably, Tony LaRussa, while managing the St. Louis Cardinals, was famous for hitting his pitcher 8th in an effort to give his hitters at the top of the lineup more chances to hit with runners on base. The theory goes that, assuming a team’s worst three hitters are hitting 7th-9th in the lineup, the players hitting 1st-4th will hit with the bases empty more frequently than they will with runners on base. In keeping with that idea, when the top four hitters in the lineup reach base, it’s up to the bottom of the lineup to produce the runs, the same hitters who are regarded as the weak link of the lineup.
As you can imagine, when managers used this idea in the past, it was met with head scratches, eyebrow raises and much consternation. However, according to “The Book: Playing the Percentages In Baseball”, when hitting the pitcher 8th, the number of runs per game increases from 4.50 to 4.59. While the increase is not earth-shattering by any means, the numbers seem to indicate that there is an advantage, albeit small, to employing this strategy.
Opponents of this idea argue that, while it’s preferable to give your best hitters run producing opportunities, you could also end up with the inverse taking place. For instance, if we continue with the assumption that the lineup’s top four hitters are the best hitters on the team, there’s a far greater likelihood of the pitcher coming to bat with multiple runners on than vice versa. Furthermore, for those managers who rely heavily on their pitchers bunting, the managers would simply be moving what’s considered an automatic out further up the lineup and giving their pitchers more at-bats over the course of the season.
With the significant influence that sabermetrics have started to have on the new age baseball community, it’s inevitable that managers and front offices alike will attempt to exploit these inefficiencies, no matter how small they may be. Although the jury is still out on just how well hitting your pitcher 8th works, for a team like the Mets that needs all the offensive advantages they can get, you can’t fault Collins for thinking outside the box.