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I've seen some managers bat their pitchers 8th. Tony LaRussa was one of the more noticeable ones. Is this move statistically sound? Why or why not?

Ignore cases like Dontrelle Willis early in his career or Michah Owings, both of whom are good hitters anyway. I'm talking about run-of-the-mill, bad at hitting, pitchers.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

La Russa's penchant for batting the pitcher 8th got a fair amount of press a few years ago.

Link 1
Link 2

This link from Retrosheet does some significantly more detailed statistical analysis about general lineup composition.

Here's a PDF from 1999 that does a comparison between Larussa and Gant.

These basically conclude that there is essentially no statistical difference.

And finally, here is the Sabermetric Guide to Managing. It includes an optimized lineup and clearly claims that batting the pitcher 8th is better.

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1  
+1 for the excellent link to the Sabermetric Guide to Managing. Never read that and an excellent read in addition to answering the question. –  Will Cole May 14 '12 at 22:58
    
It's the system behind the real events that led to the movie "Moneyball". Basically, by taking the same statistical analyses that are used in investments and business to identify potential strengths and opportunities, and applying them to the players on the team and opposing players, the A's were able to be successful in MLB despite being a very money-poor team. –  KeithS Jun 11 '12 at 15:24

If two people strike out, or get out in any other fashion, and 3 people get onto base, your 6th and 7th hitters have a chance to bring in runs by getting a hit. Thus pushing the pitcher back to 8th to allow for this extreme scenario of giving your self two chance to get a run score after immediately getting two outs at the start of your lineup.

get-out get-out on-base on-base on-base hit=run hit=run pitcher last man
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what? pitcher usually bats 9th so I'm not sure about your reasoning here. Care to explain a bit more? –  wax eagle May 24 '12 at 12:58

Several reasons, basically along the lines of "you don't want the pitcher batting last in the 9th inning":

  • In the case of a no-hitter, everyone will have batted 3 times and the pitcher will be last at the plate. This is a really bad situation; if it's been a pitcher's duel all night and the score is only 1-0, your pitcher, typically your worst batter, is your last hope.

  • A team, statistically, gets an average of 9.27 hits in a game. So, on average, you can expect everyone to bat four times, and again, your pitcher will be last at the plate in an average situation.

  • Basically, you don't want to put him anywhere else. Read up on Wikipedia, but essentially, #1 should be the best baserunner (including stolen base percentage) and have a good OBP made up primarily of hits. #2 should be able to get on base by any means necessary, and failing that should be able to make the sacrifice to advance a runner. #3 should be good at RBIs and second-best OBP. These guys' job is to "warm it up" for the cleanup hitter, #4; this should typically be your slugger, the best batting average with runners in scoring position, highest home run count, the works. #5 and #6 are your best RBI men (to bring home the "heart of the order" when they get on base); their OBP is typically driven by home runs and sacrifice hits. 7 and 8 are where you stick the weaker players, with 8 being the traditional slot for the worst fielder. The 9th slot varies; in the AL, where the pitcher doesn't bat, this spot's typically filled by the guy you'd use as your #1 if you didn't have the guy you put in #1; he's a "second leadoff hitter" designed to get a good baserunner on base for the top of the order. In the NL, #9 is traditionally the pitcher's slot, though if your team is hitting well, you can arrange your lineup similarly to the AL and put a "second leadoff" into the #9 slot.

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ack, so tempted to downvote for even the insinuation that it's a good idea to have your #2 hitter bunt with a runner on first. –  wax eagle Jun 11 '12 at 21:07
    
... and yet that's exactly what the Wikipedia article says could be done. Don't shoot the messenger. –  KeithS Jun 11 '12 at 21:21
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In the case of points 1 and 2, the guy who would have been your last hope is already out anyway. Why would the order make a difference? –  Michael Myers Jun 11 '12 at 21:21
    
@MichaelMyers: Because the situation differs if your last "real" hitter makes it on base. If you have your 7, 8 and 9 due up, and two of them suck but one's decent, the decent guy should hit last. Why? The DP. Let's assume 7 doesn't make it on base either way (he'd be your worst batter besides the pitcher). If #8's your pitcher odds are he'll strike out or ground out with empty bases, and then if your #9 gets on base your leadoff hitter can try to turn it into something. But, if your decent player were #8 and your pitcher was #9, you now have serious potential for a DP that ends the game. –  KeithS Jun 11 '12 at 21:32
    
@KeithS the wikipedia article reads like a folks manager's guide to lineups. Their baseball stuff is usually really good, that article is good for the historical construction of lineups...but gosh if it could use a sabr makeover –  wax eagle Jun 12 '12 at 2:44

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