Batting The Pitcher 8th: Method In The Madness

The announcement that the Pirates would be batting their pitcher eighth in the 2010 lineup will, no doubt, be taken by some as further proof of the insanity to be found in Pittsburgh. After all, they haven't had a winning season since Bush Sr. was in office. But is there something to it? Said manager John Russell:

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It sets us up to score more runs. It really seems to make a lot of sense, a way to get more guys in scoring position in front of [the top of the order]. It creates good balance in the lineup.

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That's really the aim. Yes, by having the pitcher hit eighth, you will give extra at-bats to the worst man with the lumber in your lineup [20 more PAs, in the case of the 2009 Pirates]. However, you will also get a better chance of having the No. 9 man on base, to be driven in by the top of the order. It's not an enormous advantage - studies have shown that, at most, it's probably worth less than one-tenth of a run per game - but one can hardly blame the Pirates for wanting to use every advantage they can.

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It's a tactic with a special home in the NL Central. Tony LaRussa was the modern pioneer: in 1998, he batted his pitcher eighth almost half the time, and adopted the tactic again in August 2007 and for almost all 2008 (153 games). In 2008, the Pirates and Brewers did it for part of the year - and the Brewers may again this season. But since the introduction of the DH in 1973, the high outside that trio is eight times, by last year's Dodgers - no other team has had more than three.

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Like most things lineup associated, it probably provokes more fuss than it actually deserves. Still, by following conventional wisdom and batting the pitcher ninth, teams basically give up on free runs, albeit admittedly a small number. Still, in a world of economic restraint, it seems strange to pass on that, for the sake of peace and media quiet.

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