On May 16th San Francisco Giants Manager Bruce Bochy batted starting pitcher Madison Bumgarner 8th in the batting order, and he almost issued a written apology over it. In interviews before and after the game, Bochy grumbled, looked down and seemed embarrassed as he told reporters he’s trying to score more runs but “this probably won’t happen again”.
Bruce Bochy attended the baseball school that was in place before the old school was built, so he isn’t going to be putting something new or innovative in place on a baseball diamond any time soon. The fact that he started his pitcher in the 8th spot in the batting order twice since taking over as Giants’ manager in 2007 is itself an astounding development.
The other time? On May 20, 2010 Bochy batted Tim Lincecum in the eighth slot against the Arizona Diamondbacks. Which makes it 2 games out of 851 so far.
Although Bruce Bochy is more comfortable matching righty-lefty line-ups, it is always relevent to note that he won the 2010 World Series and is known as a masterful bullpen tactician.
The concept of batting the pitcher 8th has seen two great proponents in the past fourteen years: former St. Louis Cards Manager Tony La Russa and former Pirates Manager John Russell.
Tony La Russa was one of the greatest managers in the history of the game– 3rd all time in wins (2,728), second all time in games (5.097), and 3rd all time in number of playoff appearances (14). He had the credentials to do just about anything he wanted.
In 1998, La Russa’s third year as Cards’ manager, what he wanted was to increase the team’s run scoring potential with a “second lead-off man” batting 9th– especially with #3 batter Mark McGwire hitting home runs. So on July 9, 1998 he began batting his pitcher 8th in the line-up and did that through the remaining 76 games of the season.
Throughout the rest of his tenure in St. Louis, La Russa had a streaky attachment to batting his pitcher 8th: for eight seasons following 1998 he didn’t do it once. Then on August 5, 2007 La Russa inexplicably went back to the second lead-off man concept for the remaining 56 games of that season.
In 2008 La Russa batted his pitcher 8th in 153 games; in 2009, 54 games; in 2010, 77 games; and in 2011, 13 games. No doubt a lot depended on La Russa having an actual “second lead-off” batter who would have the OBP to qualify fitting into the #9 spot in the order.
John Russell managed the Pittsburgh Pirates from 2008 through 2010. In the 2008 season Russell experimented by hitting his starter 8th in the order in 27 games. In 2009 he didn’t do it once. In 2010 Russell announced he was going to use a second lead-off man in the Pirates’ batting order the entire year. It lasted only the first 24 games of the season before ownership essentially shut it down.
Two statements about Major League Baseball’s establishment are true in the extreme: 1) strategic innovations (like batting the pitcher 8th or recognizing the value of player OBP) are looked upon with suspicion and disdain; 2) revenue increasing innovations (like interleague play, and expanded playoffs) are welcomed with open arms. And the game’s traditions and integrity? Well that all depends.
While hitting the pitcher 8th in the batting order is a huge step in the direction of increasing long term run production, it still falls short of the perfect batting line-up. The Mobius Strip Theory, conceived by this writer in 2010, presents the best possible mathematically designed run scoring attack.
I will re-present the Mobius Strip Theory using the current San Francisco Giants roster in an upcoming blog. It has been described (primarily by me) as a stunning and historic innovation in MLB run generation. I only hope the first team to experimentally use the Mobius Strip Theory is not the Pittsburgh Pirates.