There’s been quite a bit of chatter on blogs and Twitter about Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington‘s decision to bat Mike Napoli seventh in World Series Games 1, 2 and 3 — and eighth in Games 4 and 5. This author has been a part of the chatter, going so far as to start a Napoli Support Group with the Twitter hashtag #BatNapoliHigher.
So why the hubbub?
Napoli has been the Rangers best hitter in the postseason. In 51 at bats, he has 16 hits, including one (game-winning) double and three home runs. His postseason slash through 16 games is .314/.383/.570. Napoli’s playoff run comes on the heels of his superb regular season: .320/.414/.631 in 432 at-bats with a wOBA of .444 and a wRC+ of 178. He led the Rangers in every one of those offensive categories.
It’s not every day that you see a manager bat his best offensive player seventh or eighth in the lineup — especially in the World Series.
In fact, I wasn’t able to identify any other instance in the past 25 years where a manager batted his most productive regular-season player seventh or lower during any one playoff series.
To be sure, since 1986, there have been several players who hit out of the seven, eight or nine hole and posted the best offensive numbers for their teams in a single postseason. But none was the most productive player on his team during the regular season.
Mark Lemke is the prime example of a player who came out of nowhere to lead his team offensively in the playoffs. During the 1991 season, the Braves second baseman hit a paltry .234/.305/.312. His wOBA was .279 and he managed a wRC+ of just 70. Not typically the stats of a future postseason star.
But in the 1991 World Series, Lemke was the Braves’ most-potent offensive force, batting .417/.462/.708 in 24 at bats over six games. In three games he batted seventh; in the other three he batted eighth. The next most-productive Braves hitter in the Series was Terry Pendleton, who hit .367/.424/.667 in 30 at bats over seven games. Pendleton hit second in all but one World Series game; in the other, he batted third.
In 2003, the unsuspecting hero was Florida Marlins left fielder Jeff Conine. The Marlins got Conine from the Baltimore Orioles late that season. In 84 at-bats with the Fish, he batted only .238/.337/.452 with five home runs. Derrick Lee, Mike Lowell and Ivan Rodriguez all had better numbers than Conine in the regular season. But the postseason was a different story. Batting out of the seventh spot in the lineup for 14 of the Marlins’ 17 games, Conine put together a team-leading slash of .367/.437/.483 in 60 at bats. He had 22 hits, including two doubles and a home run. He also walked nine times. Only Rodriguez came close to matching Conine’s postseason offensive output, hitting third in the lineup.
Philadelphia Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz revved the Phillies’ offensive engine in the 2009 postseason from the eighth and ninth spots in the batting order. In 15 games, Ruiz hit .341/.491/.591 with three doubles, one triple and two home runs. He outperformed Chase Utley, Ryan Howard, Jayson Werth and Shane Victorino — all of whom posted significantly better numbers than Ruiz during the regular season.
And then there’s last year’s World Series MVP, Edgar Renteria. To say that Renteria wasn’t an offensive force for San Francisco in 2010 is an understatement. A big understatement. He played only 72 games, hitting .276/.332/.374 with a wOBA of .313 and a wRC+ of 93. His power was all but gone, leading to an ISO of .099 and just three home runs.
In late October, Renteria came alive. In just 17 at bats during the five-game series, Renteria hit two home runs, including the game-winning shot in Game 5 in Arlington. His overall line was .412/.444/.765, the best among Giants’ hitters. And he did it hitting eighth in the lineup in all five games.
There are others including Minnesota’s light-hitting second baseman, Steve Lombardozzi (7-for-17 in the 1987 World Series hitting eighth and ninth), and Toronto Blue Jays catcher Pat Borders (9-for-20 in the 1992 World Series, while hitting eighth).
But Napoli stands alone.
Stop the insanity. Join the Mike Napoli Support Group and use the hashtag #BatNapoliHigher.