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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Cardinals pitcher hitting eighth experiment failing

Both the position players and pitchers were more productive offensively when hitting in their traditional spots in the St. Louis Cardinals batting order.

Chris Carpenter's 2009 grand slam (AP Photo/Al Behrman)Oh, to recapture the glory of 2007.

OK, I readily admit that comment is ridiculous in the context of the big picture of the St. Louis Cardinals as the defending World Series champions finished six games below .500 and missed the playoffs that season.

While the 2007 ship was listing, but not yet sunk, manager Tony La Russa trotted out his lineup twist last employed on a regular basis in 1998, Mark McGwire’s glory days – the pitcher hitting eighth.

PHE is the convenient term to characterize the moves, but in reality, the reason for doing it is not for the pitcher’s benefit, but instead to increase the chances of getting another baserunner on prior to the top of the lineup coming around. This would be the desired result from the position player batting ninth.

Despite the fact that in 1998 both the pitcher and the position players hitting eighth/ninth generally performed better in their traditional lineup spots, the move was one of the few things that worked as planned in 2007.

That season, batting ninth, the position pitchers hit better, got on base more often and had higher overall productivity as measured by OPS than when the position players were on the lineup card in the eighth spot. This allowed La Russa to brag about his “second leadoff hitter.”

Though it is more of a side point, the pitchers also performed better when batting eighth in 2007, further supporting the moves.

Unfortunately, that did not continue in 2009 or here in 2010.

Similarly in this season and last, both the position players and pitchers were delivering better results when in their traditional spots in the order. As the table below indicates, it isn’t even close, whether batting average, on base percentage or OPS.

It is true that in the ninth spot, the position players are producing better than did the pitchers when there, at least, but that isn’t the entire story. Let’s look at on base percentage, as that is what is desired from the ninth-place hitter.

In the ninth spot in 2010, the position player’s OBP is 73 points better than the pitcher (.263 vs .190) . Check. The downside is that the pitcher’s OBP is 145 points worse in the eighth spot compared to when the position players hit eighth (.182 vs .327). The same kind of differential existed last year, too.

So, is adding 73 points of OBP in the number nine spot worth losing 145 points at number eight?

(Note: These four seasons were chosen as they are the only ones in which there is a reasonable sample of both approaches in the same year. Bolded data is the higher of the two.)

Thanks to researcher Tom Orf for the raw data which I summarized here.

PH8 PH9 NonPH8 NonPH9 PH8 PH9 NonPH8 NonPH9 PH8 PH9 NonPH8 NonPH9
BA BA BA BA OBP OBP OBP OBP OPS OPS OPS OPS
2010 0.143 0.150 0.254 0.211 0.182 0.190 0.327 0.263 0.348 0.400 0.713 0.560
2009 0.135 0.163 0.254 0.236 0.155 0.198 0.327 0.292 0.338 0.439 0.730 0.633
2007 0.216 0.185 0.275 0.279 0.248 0.212 0.329 0.335 0.495 0.449 0.686 0.730
1998 0.106 0.192 0.217 0.221 0.153 0.242 0.302 0.286 0.327 0.445 0.656 0.594

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