Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Should Pitchers Always Hit 8th?

For the first time in his managerial career, Joe Torre batted a pitcher in the 8th spot and a position player in the 9th spot for Wednesday's matchup against the Giants. The move was not an indictment of Juan Pierre or a reward for Eric Stults, but rather an attempt to maximize the RBI potential for Manny Ramirez.

With the Dodgers biggest lineup threat batting in his customary 3rd spot, batting Pierre 9th is almost like having two leadoff hitters back-to-back with Furcal at the top of the order. It gives the team a better chance of having multiple runners on base when Manny comes to the plate after his first appearance.

In fact, Torre considered making the move the last time Pierre was in the lineup.

"In a situation with a player like Juan, he'd be more free to steal with Furcal batting behind him instead of the pitcher," Torre said before the game. "It just makes sense with a guy with (Pierre's) speed."

Some might look at the move as some type of demotion for Pierre, and Torre was well aware of that possibility. Before announcing his decision, he spoke to Pierre privately about it.

"The last thing you want to do is embarrass someone," said Torre. "I explained the situation to him, and he was completely fine with it."

The last time a Dodgers' pitcher didn't bat ninth was on Aug. 15, 1965, when Don Drysdale hit seventh in a 4-2 loss against Pittsburgh. Catcher John Roseboro hit eighth that day and shortstop John Kennedy batted ninth.

While Torre is utilizing this lineup shift for the first time, it is not exactly new to the game. Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa has batted the pitcher in the 8th spot several times with the likes of Mark McGwire and Albert Pujols hitting 3rd in his lineups.

Last season, LaRussa even considered batting the pitcher 8th for the entire season, although that never completely panned out.

The mere mention of such a move begs the question: Should pitchers always bat 8th?

Arguments have been made both for and against this non-traditional baseball move. I can see both sides of the argument, and sometimes the argument for one side makes the case for the other.

I believe, ultimately, however that over the course of an entire season, it is more beneficial to have your best hitters (ie. position players) get as many plate appearances as possible, and the majority of statistics back up that belief. But I also believe certain situations call for a certain type of thinking--outside the batters box, you could say.

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