Tony La Russa started it with the Cardinals way back in 2007. Joe Maddon’s Cubs and later Bryan Price’s Reds gave it a try last year. It’s 2016, though, that is shaping up as the year of the pitcher batting eighth. Three of the six NL teams playing day games today are going that route:
Even if none of the NL teams playing later tonight follow suit, just three pitchers batting is a huge rarity. It would have been unheard of before 2015. In the 40 years from 1958-1997, pitchers hit eighth a total of eight times. Even as recently as 2013, there were just three games in which a pitcher hit eighth (and only one of those was by an NL team).
But the pitcher batting eighth seems to make a lot of sense. No. 9 hitters in the AL, even though they’re considerably worse than No. 8 hitters, score more frequently and drive in about 97 percent as many runs (after taking homers out of the equation). In the NL, No. 9 hitters batting behind the pitcher won’t get those RBI opportunities. Still, with all of the quality bats following at the top of the order, ninth is simply the more valuable spot.
Interestingly, though, Joe Maddon, the man who really got this started by hitting his pitcher eighth 140 times last year, is planning on going back to the pitcher in the ninth spot this year. That’s because he thinks Addison Russell, last year’s primary No. 9 hitter, is simply too good not to be put into RBI situations, and he doesn’t feel anyone else would fit there.