Memo to managers: Stop batting pitchers eighth

Jordan Lyles left three men on base Sunday, which wouldn’t be so bad if we were talking about his pitching.

But Lyles left three men on when he batted with the bases loaded and one out and popped out. This wouldn’t be noteworthy, since Lyles is a .148 career hitter, but that the .148 career hitter was eighth in the lineup, one spot ahead of infielder DJ Lemahieu, whose lifetime average of .282 is nearly twice as much.

Eight times this year, through Monday’s games, managers have batted their pitchers eighth and position players ninth, all presumably because Tony La Russa once tried it. La Russa must regret never having batted the pitcher first or fourth, just to see how many others would have copied that.

The Cubs are the leaders with five, which is understandable given that Arsimendy Alcantara, who batted .205 last year, is 1-for-17. Alcantara should bat ninth when Travis Wood pitches, because Wood has better power (nine homers in 242 at-bats to Alcantara’s 10 in 295). It also might be the only way to get Wood an extra at-bat before he departs the game because of his pitching. Joe Maddon might not be sure where Kris Bryant will bat when he’s called up, but it won’t be ninth.

On Sunday Lemahieu followed Lyles and drove in all three runners with a triple. That doesn’t mitigate the error, and it’s heartening to note that a day later, pitcher Eddie Butler batted ninth, and LeMahieu, batting .517 in the new season, was promoted all the way to eighth

There’s a reason pitchers have generally batted ninth in modern-day baseball and position players eighth: because the worse the hitter, the fewer at-bats they should get. La Russa deviated, if only because he could, or maybe because Adam Wainwright batted .290 in 2007 and .267 in 2008.

There may be a legitimate question, that only the numbers can answer, about whether it’s better for the Reds to hit Joey Votto second, where he can get more at-bats, or third or fourth, where he can bat with more runners on base. Perhaps it depends on whether they get runners on base.

But unless it’s Travis Wood, bat the pitcher ninth. Batting a position player ninth doesn’t give you two leadoff hitters, and pinch-hitters for the pitcher often won’t be better. Most managers are choosing from a bench that is limited to a utility infielder, two platoon outfielders and a backup catcher, because so many of them need so many pitchers. Of course, those managers are the ones batting the pitcher eighth to begin with.

Other musings from the first week or so of the season:

  • Maybe the Braves know what they’re doing. They’re 6-1. Evan Gattis went 0-for-23.
  • There’s still hope for the Yankees. They’ve hit 12 home runs in their first seven games, which is tied for the major-league lead. Teams that hit more home runs tend to win more games than teams that don’t (yes, the Royals were last in home runs last year, but they’re fifth with 10 this year). Home runs are one way to beat the many shifts the Yankees see. But of the 73 innings pitched by the Yankees this year, almost half (35.1) have been by the bullpen. Yes, some of that is because of Friday’s 19-inning game, but some of that is also because the only starter to see the seventh-inning stretch is Michael Pineda, and only then because the Yankees were on the road Monday. Yankees relievers have allowed seven earned runs for a 1.78 ERA; Yankees starters have allowed 22 earned runs in 37.2 innings for a 5.26 ERA. The Yankees bullpen is better than last year’s — David Carpenter and Justin Wilson are upgrades over Shawn Kelley and Matt Thornton — and manager Joe Girardi knows how to handle it. But you can’t manage the whole season as if it’s a best-of-seven series without hurting a few arms.
  • Tom Brady threw out the first ball at the Red Sox game Monday. No truth to the rumor the Nationals asked to see if it was deflated.
  • Of the three NL teams which finished 2014 under .500 and started 2015 4-0, the Rockies are the best bet to maintain their improvement — because of the good health of Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez and a bullpen, that other than Latroy Hawkins, has pitched 22.1 scoreless innings. Monday the Rockies removed Hawkins, 42, from the closer’s role and replaced him with someone younger, even if by only two years — Rafael Betancourt, who will be 40 by the end of the month. Betancourt’s is an interesting story. He hurt his elbow in 2013 and, then 38, he weighed retirement against the Tommy John surgery necessary to pitch again. When Betancourt decided to have the surgery, the Rockies, as might be expected, declined to pick up his $4.2 million option for 2014. He didn’t even sign a minor-league deal with the Rockies until April and pitched just 19.1 ineffective innings last summer in the minors — he gave up 18 hits in 13.1 Rookie League innings. But Betancourt made the Rockies this year and has faced 12 batters in four games, retiring them all. Monday’s save was his first since Aug. 20, 2013.
  • Spend $227 million on payroll, most in MLB, and the Dodgers expect to win a World Series with Jimmy Rollins batting leadoff? Rollins does some good things — he hit 17 homers, stole 28 bases and walked 64 times last year — but getting on base isn’t one of them. Rollins’ .323 on-base percentage last year might have been his highest since 2011, but that’s like saying Brandon McCarthy is a better starter than Kevin Correia. It’s damning with faint praise. Rollins’ career on-base percentage is .327 and his career-high is .349 — not coincidentally in 2008, when the Phillies won the World Series. His 64 walks last year were a career-high, but coupled with a .243 average, they weren’t enough to bat leadoff.
  • Steve Wright pitched five innings in relief for the Red Sox Friday night, beat the Yankees and was optioned to the minors. The Yankees’ Chasen Shreve held the Red Sox off for 10 outs Friday, fanned four, and was sent to the minors. Kyle Crockett pitched for three straight days for the Indians, allowed no hits, fanned four and was sent to the minors. Sometimes effectiveness isn’t rewarded if you’re the 25th player on the roster. “Crockett had pitched three days in a row,” Indians manager Terry Francona said, according to “We told him it was not an indictment on his pitching. He’s a smart kid. He knows we got into a bind. We can send him down, but our plans are not to have him pitch in Triple-A. You can’t make promises, but we want him to help us win major league games.”
    Francona is right. Crockett probably is smart enough to know, that like many a worker, he’s suffering for a supervisor’s mismanagement. Because there’s an easier way for Crockett to help the Indians win games. Keep him in the majors.
  • Jon Lester’s problems aren’t his inability to throw to first. They’re his ineffectiveness throwing home. He’s allowed 18 hits in 10.1 innings in two starts, and opponents are batting .383 against him. Mark Buehrle’s pickoff move wouldn’t help. According to David Schoenfield, Lester threw to first base Monday for the first time since April 2013. Two-thousand-and-thirteen would be Lester’s last full year in Boston and the year the Red Sox won the World Series. Not throwing to first apparently didn’t hurt either Lester of his team that year.
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