Before the opening game of the series against the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez made an interesting decision reminiscent of a former Cardinals manager: he moved the pitcher to the eighth spot of the lineup. The Braves’ offense has had great difficulty scoring runs of late, and Gonzalez felt the need to shake things up a bit.
It’s good that Gonzalez is willing to make adjustments — he’s just not making the right ones.
The idea of hitting the pitcher anywhere other than ninth in the order is somewhat controversial. Tony La Russa was the most prominent manager to use this strategy, frequently hitting the pitcher eighth to help slugger Albert Pujols. The idea is that moving the pitcher up adds another hitter who can potentially get on base in front of the team’s No. 3 hitter. For La Russa’s Cardinals, that was Pujols; for the Braves, that is Freddie Freeman.
Sabermetricians actually lend some credence to this theory. Depending on the projection formula used, hitting the pitcher eighth would add one to two runs per year. That’s not a noticeable improvement, but it’s certainly not hurting the offense. This probably wasn’t in Gonzalez’s mind when he decided to make the change, as his reasoning was simply reported as, “The offense is sputtering around, why not do it?”
There are other moves that Gonzalez could have implemented that would be more than just a symbolic change. Ramiro Pena could be given more at-bats and an opportunity to hit at the top of the lineup. Jason Heyward is hitting over .300 since April 20 and could be moved to the middle of the order to get more opportunities to drive in runs. Andrelton Simmons could be moved up to the No. 2 spot of the order to hit in front of Freeman.
Obviously, the performance of the players matter more than where Gonzalez slots them in the batting order. But if Gonzalez really wants to make a statement, he can do better than moving the pitcher up one spot in the lineup.