When pitchers can hit, it’s a no-brainer, but that’s rarely the case.
Callaway explained his reasoning, saying:
"“If you are putting one of your better hitters batting second, it makes sense to bat the pitcher eighth, so you have another guy in front of that guy when he comes around. Between the eighth and ninth spot if that pitcher is getting a third at-bat, he is dealing anyway so we are in a good spot. If not, the pitcher is going to get two at-bats and get out.”"
Callaway justifies this possibility in two ways. First, he marvels at the opportunity of getting position players to hit 9th and 1st in the order, so that a slugger hitting second will have men to drive in.
This makes sense, considering that according to MLB’s Anthony Dicomo, Yoenis Cespedes is likely to bat second often this season. Callaway’s alternative reason is that if the pitcher is taking three at bats in a game, it means he is having a good start, so whether he bats 8th or 9th will not be a game changing factor.
The skipper certainly has some intriguing points, especially given the fact that Mets’ pitching has actually had success at the plate, so placing them a little earlier might not block the offense so much. Noah Syndergaard, Matt Harvey, and Jacob deGrom have all homered in their careers, and deGrom even had an excellent (for a pitcher) .211 average last season. Given the solid circumstances for this experiment, the question is, do the numbers support batting the pitcher 8th?
In recent years, two teams have used this procedure more than any other; the 2008 Cardinals, under Tony LaRussa, and the 2015 Cubs, under Joe Maddon.
The 2008 Cardinals had pitchers bat 8th every possible game that season, and had solid results. Interestingly, their pitchers hit .175, in the 8 hole, far higher than the league average of .139. Most importantly, batters hitting in the #2 spot for St. Louis tied for the league lead with 99 RBI, which confirms Mickey Callaway’s idea that an offense surrounding the 2 hole can be effective.
Similarly, the 2015 Cubs used this tactic a ton: in a whopping 140 of their 152 games with no DH, pitchers batted 8th. The Cubs enjoyed less success with this plan, as they didn’t finish in the top half of the MLB in terms of run production, or get particularly good numbers out of their #9 and #1 hitters. However, Cubs batters in the #2 spot finished second in the league with 98 RBI over the season.
Clearly, the “pitcher batting eighth” strategy has the potential to catalyze an offense and increase production, or simply be a non factor. With the Mets’ tendency to rely on home runs, and the increase of this trend in the last decade, it is not a far off possibility that this strategy could appear early and often in the season. This might just be the kickstart to the Mets offense that could elevate it to greatness.