Chip Hale told reporters yesterday that he would like to bat all of his pitchers eighth.
This would move Hale into a growing trend of managers batting their pitchers eighth. The trend was started by none other than Diamondbacks Chief Baseball Executive Tony La Russa in 1998, when he batted pitcher Todd Stottlemyre eighth. This was the first time since 1979 a pitcher batted outside the ninth spot. This trend has since been emulated by the likes of Joe Maddon, Terry Collins and several others who have put this strategy into practice.
The reasoning behind batting pitchers eighth goes like this: If you have an elite No.3 hitter, the No. 9 hitter acts as a second-leadoff option, giving the No. 3 hitter more opportunities to hit with runners on base. This was La Russa’s situation in 1998 with Mark McGwire, and Arizona obviously has an elite No. 3 hitter in Paul Goldschmidt this season. So this theoretically sounds like a great idea.
Only this theory in practice has produced only inconclusive results.
This spectacular piece in Grantland (rest in peace) last year examined the trend of batting pitchers eighth, and found the results to be inconclusive. Most executives interviewed said that they either tried it and did not get desired results or did not even bother with it. The 1998 Cardinals were the first team to do this; their runs-per-game went from 4.9 before the switch to 5.0 after. It’s unclear if that small boost is due to batting the pitcher eighth, if any.
The only thing we know batting a pitcher eighth does is guarantee the worst hitter in your lineup more at-bats. A No. 8 hitter coming to the plate in an RBI situation would cause the manager to either burn a pinch hitter or bite the bullet and bat the pitcher in that situation. No. 8 hitters in the NL make just under 3,900 plate appearances per year, while the No. 9 hitter makes about 3,750.
Zack Greinke, however, may be an exception to this rule. Greinke batted .249/.300/.357 with three home runs in 185 at-bats with the Dodgers, with two of those home runs coming last season.