Jake Arrieta is considered one of the better hitting pitchers in baseball and he batted eighth 38 times in his career before joining the Phillies as a free agent this season. But for the second time in as many National League starts Thursday night, Arrieta arrived at the ballpark to find his name ninth in the batting order.
That, of course, is the traditional spot for the pitcher, but if we've learned anything about Gabe Kapler during his first three weeks as Phillies manager it is that he could care less about tradition. Kapler has filled out 15 lineup cards for games against National League opponents and nine of them have had the pitcher batting ninth while six others have had the pitchers batting eighth.
What goes into the manager's thinking on the issue?
"A lot of it is when do we feel that we want somebody on base in front of our best hitters like Cesar (Hernandez) and (Carlos) Santana and Odubel (Herrera) and Rhys (Hoskins)," Kapler said. "Who can we put on base in front of them? Sometimes it's about where we might want to pinch hit. There are a number of factors that go into it. I'm not going to give away an entire strategy because I know that the opposing managers are also listening to this conversation. But I would like to say there are a variety of factors that help us make those decisions."
Asked specifically about Arrieta batting ninth instead of eighth, Kapler declined to explain why.
"A lot of this is strategy that I don't want to give away," he said. "I'm sorry."
The history of the pitcher hitting ninth is a fascinating one. Even Babe Ruth batted ninth when he was a pitcher, but there have been flirtations with the idea of the pitching hitting eighth over the years with the most noted ones coming from Tony LaRussa in St. Louis and Joe Maddon when he took over the Chicago Cubs in 2015.
We suspect Kapler's reasons for hitting the pitcher eighth are similar to those espoused by Maddon a few years ago. The Cubs manager told Jayson Stark a few years ago that he thought Addison Russell, then a rookie struggling to get on base, would see better pitches to hit batting ninth because he was directly in front of the No. 1 and 2 hitters. Maybe that's how Kapler is trying to help J.P. Crawford, who has batted ninth a team-high eight times this season.
The jury about whether batting the pitcher eighth works is still out. All we can do is give you the very small sample numbers for the Phillies so far this season.
With the pitcher batting ninth, the Phillies are 4-5 and are hitting .245 while averaging 5.8 runs per game. That, however, includes the 20-run game against Miami. Remove that game from the equation and the Phillies are 3-5 and hitting .206 while averaging 4.0 runs per game.
With the pitcher batting eighth, the Phillies are 4-2 and hitting .190 while averaging 3.7 runs per game. We'll revisit the subject later in the season when there is a larger sample size.