The Pat Parris Fallacies: Pitcher should bat ninth to improve offense

by on June 13, 2009 · 6 comments

Earlier this week, Fox Sports Midwest studio anchor and co-host of the “Parris and Burwell” radio show Pat Parris posted to his blog on the 101 ESPN website, indicating he had the answer for the Cardinals’ offensive struggles.

Please, Pat, do tell!

Instant Help For Offense…Bat Pitcher 9th

With a title like that, it seemed so easy.  Surely Parris had found the Holy Grail within some obscure subset of statistics, the sort only a manager for the hometown club could love, and the Cardinals could get back on their way to running away with the division as they provided day after day of twenty-five cent drinks for everyone in the St Louis area…right?

The fine folks at STATS, INC providing me with the info that definitively shows it is time for TLR to stop batting the pitcher 8th.  The overall line-up is being hurt…

Disappointment and astonishment were the initial reaction when beyond this opening line, the post unveiled a list of five statistics, compared between pitcher eighth and pitcher ninth lineups.  Games, wins, runs per game, batting average, and on-base percentage.

Was it really necessary to get STATS involved to dig those up?

Should we get NASA mathematicians involved to determine that in the 24 games that the pitcher hit eighth (now 26), only one took place during the glorious 16-7 month of April?  Or that Tony LaRussa didn’t go back to his contrarian lineup making until halfway through an already dreadful May in which the team wasn’t scoring any runs?

At least give us some statistics that mean something…  Ok, we’ll do it.

Fair to assume, for the sake of argument, that pitchers are going to be a woeful bunch at the plate no matter where they hit in the lineup?  Good, let’s move on.

In the aforementioned happy month of April, Todd Wellemeyer was the only pitcher to hit eighth, and he lasted one at-bat.  Joe Thurston and Brian Barden hit in the eighth slot for the majority of the team’s at-bats there in April.  Thurston went .312/.405/.500 and Barden was .526/.591/.895.  Heck, even Jason LaRue was .714/.714/.714 (five singles in seven at-bats) in the eight hole during April.

May brought the team-wide slump and it affected the hitters in the eighth spot similarly.  In May:  Thurston – .125/.263/.250; Barden – .182/.308/.273; Tyler Greene – .250/.308/.583.  At this point, about halfway through May, TLR made the switch back to his 2008-style Pitchers Hit Eighth lineup.

Remember that we’re still assuming pitchers will be relatively horrible at the plate no matter where you hit them, so let’s see what position players have done in the ninth spot.

No surprise to anyone who watched the team during May, the hitters struggled in the ninth slot as much as they did hitting eighth.  Brendan Ryan was .154/.154/.154.  Tyler Greene went .200/.273/.400.  Skip Schumaker and Thurston started to turn things around in this spot, at .400/.500/.500 and .333/.600/.500 respectively.

Where we see the largest difference, however, is entering this month of June.  Through the June 11 victory over the Marlins, Brendan Ryan had occupied the ninth slot the majority of the time, and over his 26 at-bats, he’s hitting .423/.423/.538.

There are a lot of numbers in there that may be difficult to follow, but hopefully this will make things more clear:

8th, April – .366/.429/.537
8th, May – .151/.208/.312
8th, June – .189/.211/.243

9th, April – .227/.308/.303
9th, May – .178/.245/.233
9th, June – .342/.375/.421

So when position players were batting eighth in April, they did well.  When position players and pitchers split the month of May between eighth and ninth, they were both miserable.  Now position players are hitting ninth, and appear to have found their stroke back.

It is important to note, that I don’t believe that hitting eighth or ninth influences a player to hit better or worse.

This is especially true for the rest of the players in the lineup.  Does it matter to the fourth or fifth hitter in the order whether the pitcher is hitting eighth or ninth?  I doubt it.

To that end, is it the pitcher’s fault then, hitting in the eighth slot, that the Cardinals hit only .230/.299/.389 for the month of May as a team?  Not to mention that May was split about evenly between pitcher eighth and pitcher ninth game?

Your argument isn’t holding much water here, Pat.

What I *do* think is important is what happens after hitters get on base from either the eighth or ninth position in the order.

This has been beaten to death since Tony first started using the pitcher eighth lineup with any regularity back in 1998, for the same reasons he does it now.  In ’98 it was a ploy to get more at-bats for Mark McGwire while at the same time trying to maximize his RBI opportunities beyond the first inning.  Now it’s the same ploy, but for Albert Pujols.

Many statisticians, all of them smarter than yours truly, have analyzed the results of altering lineups from “traditional” and concluded that there is very little, if any, difference.

With that said,  I wish to present the most even presentation of the argument from David Pinto at the Sporting News.  (Pinto writes regularly at Baseball Musings.)

There are many tidbits in Pinto’s article that bear discussion:

Every successive lineup slot loses, on average, 17.5 plate appearances. Why give a terrible hitter an extra 17 or 18 chances to make an out? Calculating runs created in each slot showed those extra trips to the plate don’t make much of a difference in offense generated by the two bottom hitters.

Extra plate appearances do, however, make a difference at the top of the lineup. A decent hitter batting ninth gives the 1-2-3 hitters more opportunities to drive in runs. Since lineups are constructed to optimize scoring in the first inning (the only inning in which the manager can control the batting order), it makes sense to boost production the rest of the game.

Again, this illustrates exactly one of the reasons LaRussa has always used for the pitcher hitting eighth.  Batting Pujols third guarantees he will hit in the first inning of every game and batting a position player ninth provides Albert with additional RBI opportunities the rest of the game.  This is fact, borne out by the statistics showing Pujols will bat more than other positions in the lineup, and clearly a Brendan Ryan-sort of hitter at nine is better than the pitcher.  Pujols essentially becomes the cleanup hitter after the first inning.

Ruane’s optimum lineup does something else Yost mentioned: It moves a power hitter to the No. 2 slot.

So why not put Ruane’s No. 9 hitter in the leadoff spot and have the optimum lineup at the start of the game? Because the leadoff hitter gets 120-140 more plate appearances over the course of a season than the hitter in the final slot. Remember, Ruane’s No. 9 is not a particularly good hitter; he is just better than the pitcher. In Ruane’s lineup, that hitter’s plate appearances are minimized, but his value to the top of the order is maximized.

This passage refers to a study done by Tom Ruane (warning, high level mathematics!) that outlines an “optimum” lineup.  Most important thing to note is that the top performing lineups in the study are those producing the most projected runs per game.  Ruane’s study agreed with LaRussa’s philosophy of putting a hitter with power in the second spot (and at this point, I’m not convinced that Ruane’s study isn’t posted on Tony’s wall in his office).  So Ruane’s nine hitter is the traditional eight hitter (exactly the Cards’ pitcher eighth lineup), his first hitter is same as traditional leadoff man, his two hitter is the guy who might normally hit third (a bit more power).  Starting to notice a pattern here?

The ultimate result is that by hitting the pitcher eighth and position player ninth, you are reducing the at-bats for that position player, but almost equally increasing the amount of impact his at-bats should have on the team’s ability to score runs.  That latter value is increased because he is much more likely to score with the 1-2-3 hitters coming up behind him than a pitcher and then 1-2.

Still with me?  Good, then I will try to confuse you more.

It turns out that pinch hitters negate much of the advantage gained by switching the No. 8 and No. 9 hitters. While switching a poor hitting pitcher and a decent No. 8 hitter can add about 0.1 runs per game, when you factor in the other players who bat in the pitcher’s spot, there is not enough difference between the eighth and ninth hitters to increase scoring noticeably.

Pinto makes great arguments for the pitcher hitting eighth throughout his article, then proceeds to kill it with the bit above.

Not to worry, the argument here is not that batting the pitcher in the eight slot is “better”, but rather to prove that Pat Parris’ assertion that moving the pitcher back to the nine spot would equate to “Instant Help For Offense”.

It’s likely that runs per game are only slightly different in each lineup, if at all.  But to suggest that moving the pitcher back to nine is the answer for this team’s search for runs is not only irresponsible, it’s just flat wrong.

Writing about the Cardinals and other loosely associated topics since 2008, I've grown tired of the April run-out only to disappoint Cardinal fans everywhere by mid-May. I do not believe in surrendering free outs.
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Justin Hulsey June 13, 2009

This was a very good piece.

I’m gonna go on a limb and say that one of your objectives when writing this was to convince people that the offensive woes was not due to the pitcher hitting eigth… Well you certainly changed my mind.

Well done.

Justin Hulsey

PHE June 13, 2009

Thanks Justin.

I’m glad you phrased that the way you did. Despite my site name, I’m not trying to convince anyone that the pitcher in the eighth spot is the best practice, or even advantageous in any way.

But for Parris to claim it was the reason the Cards weren’t scoring any runs was just silly. And his “statistical proof”? Laughable.

Thanks for reading.

Cardz Fan March 2, 2010

I am of the old school. Pitchers should bat 9th, unless they are better hitters than any others batting 8th. I guess the thinking is that AP would be in the clean-up position…Maybe…lol TL is a better judge of line-ups than I. I hope… smileee Let the season begin. Go Cards

PH8 March 2, 2010

Not only theoretically moving Pujols to the “clean-up spot” for the rest of the game, but batting him third allows for more at-bats as well.

It’s a fun debate, but not one I expect to be discussed much during the 2010 season or near future. Holliday in the lineup pretty much makes pitchers ninth a certainty.

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