Explaining an eighth-inning phenomenon

Phillies reliever Mike Adams watches from the dugout as the Phillies play the Braves. (David Maialetti/Staff Photographer)

TAMPA, Fla. — Mike Adams was well aware of the numbers, and understood it was not coincidence.

"I've seen statistics," Adams said, "where I'm facing 3-4-5 guys more than the closers do."

He is right. But that is not why the Phillies will pay Adams $12 million over the next two seasons. The Phillies saw a void last season in the eighth inning that everyone saw. They blew 13 eighth-inning leads. The pitchers tasked with the eighth inning were, in order of innings pitched, Antonio Bastardo, Chad Qualls and Phillippe Aumont.

They blamed it on inexperience. They blamed it on happenstance. They blamed it on the fact lefthanded pitchers rarely serve as setup men.

What they did not blame it on was basic baseball logic.

The most frequent outcome for nine-inning games during the last 12 seasons was 36 batters faced, according to Sports Illustrated research.Work backward, and that means the No. 9 hitter made the final out in his fourth plate appearance. It means the closer faced 7-8-9 in the lineup most often.

Another perspective: With an average of 11.2 baserunners in 2012, that means the eighth inning most commonly starts with the No. 3 or 4 hitter batting.

So that fell on Bastardo. Look at these splits (AVG/OBP/SLG) from 2012:

BAT 1-2 (66 PA): .218/.308/.364
BAT 3-6 (102 PA): .202/.304/.393
BAT 7-9 (56 PA): .204/.304/.286

Expectedly, the middle of the order hit for the most power against Bastardo. And he faced the middle of the order more often than not.

Consider the hitters Bastardo faced the most in 2012: Bryce Harper (8 PA), Lucas Duda (6 PA), Freddie Freeman (6 PA), Chipper Jones (6 PA), Martin Prado (6 PA), Michael Bourn (5 PA), Jason Heyward (5 PA), Brian McCann (4 PA).

Now look at Jonathan Papelbon's splits from 2012:

BAT 1-2 (55 PA): .264/.291/.396
BAT 3-6 (116 PA): .274/.330/.434
BAT 7-9 (113 PA): .130/.216/.220

Change it to 6-9, and Papelbon faced the bottom of the order 151 times as opposed to 133 times for batters 1-5. Papelbon saw, in order of plate appearances, the seventh, sixth, eighth and ninth hitters most often.

Now, let's examine Mike Adams, who has recorded more outs in the eighth inning during the last three seasons than any pitcher in baseball. His splits from 2010-12:

BAT 1-2 (197 PA): .235/.289/.328
BAT 3-6 (365 PA): .198/.264/.297
BAT 7-9 (210 PA): .199/.249/.301

Those numbers are relatively insane when you think about it. Not only does Adams most often face the heart of an opposition's lineup, but he is at his best when doing it. Again, that is a .561 OPS for hitters 3-6 in the last three seasons against him.

Adams turns a third, fourth, fifth or sixth hitter into Dee Gordon, who had a .561 OPS in 2012.

"It's crazy what the percentages are," Adams said.

But it is no coincidence.

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