MLB Betting: Should NL Pitchers Bat Eighth or Ninth?

Posted by Alex Murphy on July 24, 2015 in

It seems like each season a different odd controversy pops up as far as tactics in major league baseball play. Should infielders make a radical shift for pure pull hitters? What influence does catcher framing have on umpires when they call balls and strikes? Should the pitcher always bat ninth in the National League? But what MLB betting fans are now discussing is should pitchers bat eight or ninth? Let’s find out…

Tony La Russa, when he managed the St. Louis Cardinals, would occasionally bat the pitcher eighth, going against conventional wisdom that had the pitcher in the ninth spot. La Russa is long gone, but now that Joe Maddon is managing in the senior circuit with the Chicago Cubs, has been rolling with the pitcher in the eighth spot, and some other managers – most noticeably Walt Weiss – seem to be following suit. What’s the deal?

MLB Betting: Should NL Pitchers Bat Eighth or Ninth?


Just about all the time, the pitcher is the weakest batter in the order, and it seems to make sense to put him in the spot where he will have the likelihood of batting the fewest times. The best hitters – those who reach base most often – generally go at the top of the lineup. Then, the power hitters come, so they can drive in those who are already on base. The lowest third of the order is reserved for people who are the least likely to reach base or hit for power.

However, not every inning starts at the top of the order. And with only one or two hitters with high averages ahead of the 3-4-5 hitters in the order, that means that those power hitters often don’t have as many people on base when they come up to bat. Having the weakest bat in the #9 position means that if an inning starts with the #9 hitter, the #3 hitter often comes up with two outs and one on – at most. In the National League, the #8 hitter gets on base about twice as often as pitchers do. So swapping those spots in the lineup makes some sense, because if the inning starts with the #9 batter, the power hitters are more likely to have one or more people on base to drive in.

Historically, hitting the pitcher ninth has been a dominant trend. Except for Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth (when he was still a pitcher), it was almost nonexistent for the pitcher to hit anywhere else until 1957, when it happened 66 times, as three different managers tried moving the pitcher around. In 1998, La Russa did it a lot, although he stopped until 2007.

So if it adds even a small benefit to the offense, why wouldn’t you want to move the pitcher to the eighth spot? One reason is tradition – a powerful influence in sports. Many times, people don’t want to try anything different than what has always been done for the simple fact that it disrupts routines. This is probably why Joe Maddon is doing it – he is known to be a maverick.

However, it also can be irritating for the player who gets slotted into the 9-hole after the pitcher. Even if the manager sells him on the idea that he can make life easier for the power hitters in the order, some hitters just don’t like the idea of hitting after the pitcher, still thinking that the weakest hitter should be in the last spot in the order. And if you’ve seen “Bull Durham,” you know how important the mental element is for a hitter.

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