Effects of Batting 8th in the NL

The stats of the 8th hitter in the National League can be deceiving because of the pitcher hitting after them. Teams pitch around the 8th hitter. They are not allowed to make an out with the pitcher hitting, so are rarely given the green light to steal a base. I have gone through and looked at how the stats of the 8th hitter change when they are moved to another position in the lineup.

Recently, I noted the Darwin Barney moved out of the 8 hole and moved up in the lineup. He should have better production, but I didn’t know the exact numbers. I took the 3 most used #8 hitters for each NL team this season. Then I matched up the results to different positions in the lineup using the harmonic mean of the stat and PA. Finally I compared how their stats changed when they were moved from the 8th spot. Here are the results:

Note: One item to remember is that the hitters aren’t good. They would have around an 0.250 average, 10 HRs, 6 SB and 55 Runs and RBI’s if there were given 600 PA in the 8th spot.

8th to 7th 8th to 6th 8th to 5th 8th to 4th 8th to 3rd 8th to 2nd 8th to 1st
BA -0.014 -0.026 -0.002 -0.017 0.063 -0.047 -0.025
BB/PA -0.015 -0.016 -0.029 -0.033 0.095 -0.007 0.008
IBB/PA -0.019 -0.021 -0.015 -0.019 -0.022 -0.016 -0.016
K/PA -0.006 -0.008 0.003 0.033 -0.058 0.001 0.001
HR/PA -0.001 0.001 0.019 0.004 0.002 -0.007 -0.002
RBI/PA 0.001 0.001 0.045 0.007 0.002 -0.031 -0.009
Runs/PA -0.004 0.013 0.059 0.042 0.029 0.010 0.028
SB/PA 0.015 0.001 0.000 0.016 -0.013 0.003 0.026
Total Match PA 2580 1051 357 79 100 1352 961

These numbers aren’t the easiest to translate, so here is how the players’ values would change going from the 8th to the new position pro rated to 600 PA:

8th to 7th 8th to 6th 8th to 5th 8th to 4th 8th to 3rd 8th to 2nd 8th to 1st
BA -0.014 -0.026 -0.002 -0.017 0.063 -0.047 -0.025
BB -9.1 -9.4 -17.6 -19.7 57.0 -4.3 4.7
IBB -11.2 -12.7 -9.1 -11.3 -13.0 -9.7 -9.4
K -3.4 -4.6 2.1 19.6 -35.0 0.5 0.7
HR -0.6 0.6 11.4 2.7 1.3 -3.9 -1.1
RBI 0.5 0.8 26.8 4.4 1.2 -18.4 -5.4
Runs -2.3 7.5 35.4 25.2 17.2 5.8 16.9
SB 8.9 0.7 -0.1 9.3 -7.6 1.5 15.8

Note: I am going to ignore the results for the player moving to the 3rd, 4th and 5th position because of the small sample size.

Batting Average (AVG)
The batting average of the player drops when moving to 1st, 2nd, 6th or 7th spot. This change doesn’t make a lot of sense to me. Do pitchers think the 8th hitter isn’t good and pitch them easier than if they were in other spots? Are they willing to let the hitter the put the ball in play because they have to face the pitcher next? In my opinion, I expect the opposing pitcher to not give the 8th hitter much to hit and they would have weak contact and therefore more outs. Any other ideas?

Plate Discipline (BB%, IBB%, K%)

The player’s walk rate drops when they are moved off the 8th position. Almost all this change can be attributed to the change in IBB%. I had expected to see the player in the 8th spot get a few more unintentional intentional walks in order to face the pitcher. If the 8th spot was getting pitched around, I would expect the BB% to drop even more.

One explanation could be seen in the K%. The 8th hitter knows that the pitcher is next and is trying harder to put the ball in play as seen by the drop in K’s when moving to the 6th and 7th spot.

Home Runs

Home runs are both up and down, but generally there is little change. The one piece of data I would like to explore further is the drop when going to the 1st and 2nd spots, but an increase when going to the 3rd, 4th and 5th spots. These hitters seem to change their approach depending on the lineup position. I have added this to my to do list to look at further.

Runs and RBIs

The number of Runs scored goes up for all position changes except when moving to the 7th spot (those darn 8th and 9th hitters). The jump to the 1st spot is pretty dramatic with a jump of 16 Runs scored over the course of a season. RBI chances are up, except for the 1st and 2nd hitter. The drop in RBIs is about the same as the jump in Runs Scored

Stolen Bases

The hitter’s SBs increase quite a bit, especially if they are moved to the lead off spot. They go from averaging just 6 SB to 22 SB over 600 PA. Also, SB jump by 9 by moving to the 7th position.

Conclusion

A player put in the 8th hole will have their stats effected when compared to other positions in the lineup. By moving out of the 8th spot, they should expect their Runs and SB to increase. Their AVG, Walks and RBIs may go down with home runs remaining relatively constant.




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Jeff writes for FanGraphs, The Hardball Times and Royals Review, as well as his own website, Baseball Heat Maps with his brother Darrell. In tandem with Bill Petti, he won the 2013 SABR Analytics Research Award for Contemporary Analysis. Follow him on Twitter @jeffwzimmerman.


2 Responses to “Effects of Batting 8th in the NL”

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  1. Brad Johnson says:

    Why don’t you expect average to drop? 8 hole hitters should be expected to see juicier pitches in certain situations, especially with 2 outs. Pitchers like when their opposing number leads off an inning since it greatly reduces the run expectancy.

    Along with that, the way a pitcher is going to attack an 8 hole hitter is often transparent. For instance, if there is a man on second and third with two out in the third inning, he’s not likely to much of anything.

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  2. Ratwar says:

    One thought on your conclusions:

    I don’t think you can really support the idea that their RBIs decrease. Looking at your data, it would appear that RBIs largely remain the same when moved into the 6th or 7th spots, but take a dive when they’re moved into the 1st or 2nd. This of course makes sense due to the numbers of opportunities.

    The most interesting things to me are the differences between SB increases when moving to the 6th or 7th. I’d expect some increase (the old can’t steal in front of the pitcher), but I wouldn’t have guessed that the difference between 6th and 7th would be so large.

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