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Comparing an NL lineup to an AL lineup


Migrant Redbird

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When looking over the lineup posted for today's game in St. Louis, hosting the Pirates, I was struck by how much the OPS for the St. Louis hitters resembled that of an AL lineup. So, for laughs, I compared it to the starting lineup of the O's last night.

St. Louis, Sept. 3, 2007

                AB  BA  HR RBI SB  OBP  SLG  OPSD. Eckstein ss 356 .284  2  25  8 .333 .337  .670R. Ankiel rf    68 .353  6  19  0 .382 .676 1.058A. Pujols 1b   480 .317 30  84  2 .419 .556  .975J. Edmonds cf  314 .252  9  41  0 .322 .392  .714C. Duncan lf   358 .265 21  66  2 .355 .494  .849A. Miles 2b    326 .301  1  25  1 .338 .365  .703Y. Molina c    295 .285  6  35  1 .358 .386  .745K. Wells p      47 .340  1   5  0 .340 .426  .766B. Ryan 3b     118 .339  4  10  4 .395 .492  .887

Baltimore, Sept. 3, 2007

                AB  BA  HR RBI SB  OBP  SLG   OPS    T. Redman  cf   31 .323  0   4  2 .364 .419  .783J. Payton lf   365 .255  5  47  4 .295 .362  .657N. Markakis rf 530 .292 16  89 16 .359 .464  .823M. Tejada ss   418 .304 17  69  2 .362 .467  .829K. Millar 1b   384 .260 14  57  0 .374 .427  .801A. Huff  dh    468 .271 14  63  0 .321 .434  .755M. Mora 3b     385 .262 13  48  8 .332 .421  .753R. Hernandez c 294 .241  7  49  1 .325 .357  .682F. Bynum 2b     61 .262  2   8  5 .297 .475  .772

What brought the lineup particularly to my attention is the ongoing arguments I'm having with La Russa loyalists about how stupid it is to bat the pitcher in the 8th spot in the lineup. I've even resorted to recycling some of Drungo's arguments in favor of the DH. :) I believe in pitchers having to take their at bats, but giving them extra at bats in place of a position player seems totally asinine to me. Plus, in certain situations, it could easily force a manager to pull his starter out of the game an inning earlier than might otherwise have been the case. It probably doesn't cost La Russa's teams more than 1 or 2 losses per season -- at most -- but why would any manager intentionally disadvantage his team. In 1998, it was so that there were more likely to be runners on base when McGwire came to the plate so that he would get more good pitches to swing at during the home run chase, but there's not even that fig leaf of an excuse for doing it now.

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1. Kip Wells' career OPS is .498.

I know; 2007 is a small sample. It didn't even occur to me to look at Kip's career OPS because I know that really good hitting seasons for pitchers are flukes. Drysdale had a .300 season once and hit 7 home runs in a single season twice, but his career OPS was still 99 points below that of Paul Bako!

I wouldn't even have noticed Kip's OPS in the posted lineup had it not been for the current rationalizations being offered by La Russa defenders for the stupidity of batting the pitcher 8th. Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post Dispatch even wrote a column about it.

Shades of '98. The last time Cardinals manager Tony La Russa decided to hit the pitcher eighth, in 1998, the Cardinals won 43 and lost 33 in the second half of the season. They increased their run production — barely — with the pitcher eighth and a position player ninth, going from 4.95 to 5 runs a game.

.... Even after losing Friday's series opener to Atlanta, 7-2, the Cardinals are 11-8 with the pitcher hitting eighth, as opposed to 50-56 before that. They scored 4.94 runs a game with the pitcher hitting eighth, as opposed to 4.39 before that.

Hummel was inducted into the writers' section of the HOF this summer, but I've never been too impressed with his columns. At least, he did acknowledge the improvement in pitching had more to do with the Cardinals winning when the pitcher batted 8th than from any theoretical advantage for using that lineup.

I think that Diamond Mind or someone else ran simulations a few years ago (maybe even back in '98, when La Russa's stunt was more controversial) which demonstrated that the effect of lineup optimization is relatively small and quickly gets lost in the noise from normal variations in hitting performance. So arguments that the Cardinals have done better with the pitcher in the 8th spot don't sway me -- they might have even won an additional game or two if the pitcher had batted 9th over that same stretch.

I am thoroughly convinced that giving extra bats to pitchers with their average .364 OPS (NL pitchers in 2007) over a position player who will almost inevitably be in the .500 - .700 range is simply asinine. It might not actually cost the team a game, but it absolutely has to reduce their chances of winning each game by some minute fraction. The average fan won't notice unless there is a specific situation in a game where having the pitcher batting in a critical situation occurs, and he'll forget about it before he finishes the first post game Budweiser.

I also believe the greater argument against hitting the pitcher 8th is that it can very easily force the manager to pinch hit for his pitcher an inning earlier than would otherwise be the case. For teams with weak bullpens, forcing a starter who's pitching well out of the game an inning earlier than necessary could easily be the difference between a won and a lost game.

For grins, here's how ML pitching staffs have been hitting for the 2007 season. The Cardinals pitchers lead the NL in average, OBP, slugging and OPS even after Jason Marquis moved on to the Cubs. The Devil Rays lead the majors, but that's only over 22 at bats.

RK     TEAM        GP  AB  R  H 2B 3B HR RBI  BA   OBP  SLG  OPS1   Tampa Bay      13  22  3  8  1  0  0   4 .364 .364 .409 .7732   St. Louis     126 232 20 45  6  0  2  18 .194 .224 .246 .4703   Toronto         9  19  0  4  0  0  0   1 .211 .250 .211 .4614   LA Angels      10  20  1  4  1  0  0   2 .200 .200 .250 .4505   Kansas City    11  22  2  4  1  0  0   2 .182 .217 .227 .4456   Boston          9  23  1  4  1  0  0   1 .174 .208 .217 .4267   NY Mets       131 251 14 43  5  0  1  15 .171 .213 .203 .4178   Chicago Cubs  130 285 21 46  7  0  3  18 .161 .176 .218 .3939   Arizona       133 278 22 42  6  1  5  20 .151 .156 .234 .39010  Milwaukee     128 259 14 40  6  0  3  15 .154 .177 .212 .38911  Philadelphia  131 287 25 45  7  0  1  14 .157 .197 .192 .38812  LA Dodgers    128 240 13 33  9  0  2  17 .138 .188 .200 .38813  Colorado      128 254 16 38  6  0  0  10 .150 .209 .173 .38214  Atlanta       129 247 16 38  5  0  1  19 .154 .187 .186 .37315  San Diego     131 250 14 38  7  1  0  14 .152 .184 .188 .37216  Seattle         9  15  1  2  0  0  0   2 .133 .235 .133 .369   NL Average    129 254 16 37  6  0  2  14 .144 .177 .187 .36417  Florida       129 228 15 29  6  1  2   9 .127 .174 .189 .363   NL Average     10  20  1  3  1  0  0   1 .145 .178 .177 .35618  Cleveland       9  20  1  3  0  0  0   0 .150 .190 .150 .34019  Pittsburgh    128 259 16 37  3  0  1  14 .143 .169 .166 .33520  NY Yankees     13  20  0  2  1  0  0   0 .100 .182 .150 .33221  Oakland         9  18  2  2  1  0  0   2 .111 .158 .167 .32522  Minnesota      10  25  2  2  1  1  0   1 .080 .115 .200 .31523  Cincinnati    129 260 12 32  4  0  1  11 .123 .158 .150 .30824  San Francisco 132 273 12 30  6  0  3  15 .110 .135 .165 .30025  Texas           9  17  2  2  0  0  0   0 .118 .167 .118 .28426  Houston       129 236 12 27  2  0  1   5 .114 .143 .136 .27927  Washington    129 226 11 24  5  1  0   8 .106 .137 .137 .27428  Baltimore      10  22  0  3  0  0  0   2 .136 .136 .136 .27329  Detroit         9  26  2  2  1  0  0   1 .077 .074 .115 .18930  Chicago Sox     9  16  0  0  0  0  0   0 .000 .000 .000 .000

The NL teams are mostly clustered in a pack that constitutes 7th through 15th place, with only the Cards well above the pack and 7 teams scattered through the bottom of the cluster. The AL teams are dispersed over a much wider range due to the small samples, as we would expect.

The poor White Sox pitchers have been completely futile at the plate, without even a single hit or walk. However, the D-Rays pitchers getting 7 singles and a double in only 22 at bats still impresses me. I recognize that the difference between them and the Cards pitchers is a sample size fluke, but 8 hits in 22 at bats against major league pitching isn't something which your "average high school hitter" could manage without an incredible string of luck. Perhaps it's because the D-Rays pitchers are mostly young guys, and the typical atrophy which affects the hitting "skills" of AL pitchers hasn't had time to work on them too much?

2. Yea, the O's suck.

That occurred to me as well, but I figured that I'd let you folks say it rather than rub it in. Roberts would normally have been in the O's lineup, but Bynum's hardly the worst hitter on the team. It's Payton, not Bynum, who's the only O with a worse OPS than the illustrious Eckstein. (I like Eckstein, but I'd like an upgrade at shortstop even better.)

I considered doing a comparison with the Red Sox or Yankees starting lineups, but figured that I wouldn't like what I saw. :)

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What brought the lineup particularly to my attention is the ongoing arguments I'm having with La Russa loyalists about how stupid it is to bat the pitcher in the 8th spot in the lineup.

FWIW, you're dead wrong.

The second leadoff hitter theory exists. You can put your pitcher in the eighth slot and gain a couple of extra runs per year.

Buy The Book.

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FWIW, you're dead wrong.

The second leadoff hitter theory exists. You can put your pitcher in the eighth slot and gain a couple of extra runs per year.

Buy The Book.

I'm familiar with the theory. I don't buy into it. The concept is that the top of the lineup is more likely to have runners on base when they come up to the plate if there's a position player batting 9th, which may be true, but the odds of driving in runs when the middle of the lineup gets on base is reduced by a similar factor.

Even if it could garner you a couple extra runs per season, which I don't concede, being forced to pinch hit for your pitcher an inning early could easily cost you a couple of games per year.

Just in the couple dozen games in which the Cards have played this year with the pitcher batting 8th, the pitcher has come up in key situations (runners on 1st and 2nd or even bases loaded) and committed the final out. Of course, that's anecdotal evidence, with little relevance.

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I'm familiar with the theory. I don't buy into it. The concept is that the top of the lineup is more likely to have runners on base when they come up to the plate if there's a position player batting 9th, which may be true, but the odds of driving in runs when the middle of the lineup gets on base is reduced by a similar factor.

Even if it could garner you a couple extra runs per season, which I don't concede, being forced to pinch hit for your pitcher an inning early could easily cost you a couple of games per year.

Just in the couple dozen games in which the Cards have played this year with the pitcher batting 8th, the pitcher has come up in key situations (runners on 1st and 2nd or even bases loaded) and committed the final out. Of course, that's anecdotal evidence, with little relevance.

Obviously you aren't very familiar with the theory. You are free to believe what you want, but recognize that your beliefs are just that, and there is a lot of objective reasearch that has been done on this issue.

The idea of the trade-off you present in the first paragraph, while an interesting hypothesis, has been disproven. In the end of the day, its still just a few runs. But it is still a few runs.

I have no idea why you believe in the idea you present in the second paragraph. All I'll say is that while baseball as a whole gets the idea that you want your best reliever (usually the closer) in in tight games in the 9th (which is the biggest area for gains in terms of applying the lessons from the idea of leverage), MLB as a whole exhibits inefficiencies in their bullpen usage up to that point.

Going with a pitcher too long or too short costs you runs, not games. Just as inefficiently organizing one's lineup costs one runs, not games. You can win by outscoring your opponents too. (not to say all runs are created equally). Bottom line, MLB managers could stand to better use their bullpens. Generally this refers to not going to better relievers early enough, and pushing starters too long.

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...there is a lot of objective reasearch that has been done on this issue.

Just because reasearch (sic) is "objective" doesn't guarantee that it's valid.

My employer is a research and development institution. I understand the value of simulations. I also understand some of the limitations.

If the game were only played on computers, then it could be simulated more precisely.

...I have no idea why you believe in the idea you present in the second paragraph.

If your team is tied 0-0 in the 6th or 7th inning and you have the bases loaded with 2 out and the #8 spot coming up, any manager is going to consider using a pinch hitter.

If the #8 hitter is a position player, then all the manager has to take into account is whether his pinch hitter is more likely to be successful than the guy he's replacing, and whether he has an adequate defensive replacement. If the #8 hitter is a pitcher, the manager also has to consider whether the reliever from his bullpen can be as effective as the starter who's getting pulled for a pinch hitter.

In the case of the O's right now, if they're playing in an NL park and the starter is breezing along, it's going to be a more difficult decision for the manager because of the unreliability of his bullpen.

More often than not, a pinch hitter is used, and probably makes the final out of the inning about 2/3 of the time. The starter might have been able to make it through another inning or two, but now the manager has to rely upon his bullpen for those extra pitches. If his bullpen is unreliable, it's likely to result in a lost game. My guesstimate was that it might be 1 or 2 extra lost games per season, but I would emphasize that it's a total wag. The actual number of games affected could be higher or lower; I'm only certain that there would be an effect which would be quantifiable if we had sufficient data.

If the pitcher is batting 9th and the #8 hitter hits a grand slam, the pitcher bats for himself and gets to stay in the game with a 4-0 lead. If the #8 hitter makes the final out, the pitcher still stays in the game and the manager gets to defer the decision on a pinch hitter until the pitcher leads off the next inning.

Regardless, the net effect is that a pitcher batting 9th will end up getting to pitch an extra inning occasionally over a pitcher batting 8th. Whether that affects the outcome of the game or not depends upon how he pitches in that extra inning.

Whether the pitcher is batting 8th, 9th, or any other spot in the order, there will always be situations which come up where the pitcher is batting in a critical spot and the manager chooses to pinch hit for him, even if he's been pitching very well. If the pitcher is batting 9th, those situations will come up later in the game -- on average.

It's not rocket science, just imagination and common sense.

...All I'll say is that while baseball as a whole gets the idea that you want your best reliever (usually the closer) in in tight games in the 9th (which is the biggest area for gains in terms of applying the lessons from the idea of leverage), MLB as a whole exhibits inefficiencies in their bullpen usage up to that point.

Perhaps true, but irrelevant to my point.

...Going with a pitcher too long or too short costs you runs, not games.

It costs you runs, which often ends up losing games as well. My point is that hitting the pitcher 8th or 9th probably has a very small impact on your own team's run production. We can agree to disagree on whether the impact of the pitcher in the 8th hole is positive or negative to your own offense -- I'm convinced it's negative and you've not presented convincing evidence otherwise -- but there's no question that hitting the pitcher 8th will force his removal from the game an inning or two earlier on occasion. The potential impact of having to remove a pitcher who's cruising for a pinch hitter an inning earlier than necessary is more likely to impact the game outcome than having a position hitter in the #9 spot in front of the top end of your lineup.

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