The numbers behind Joe Maddon’s decision to bat pitchers eighth

SHARE The numbers behind Joe Maddon’s decision to bat pitchers eighth
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Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon n the first inning during a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks, Saturday, May 23, 2015, in Phoenix. | AP Photo/Rick Scuteri

Much has been written and debated about Joe Maddon’s decision to bat his pitchers in the No. 8 spot in the lineup.

Maddon loves an old-fashioned barroom debate on baseball strategy and intricacies, and his batting order has prompted a good one.

ESPN’s Jayson Stark added to the conversation Thursday with a story all about the history, argument and statistics surrounding Maddon’s quirky lineup decision. The last of those three facets — the statistics — are what we’ll share in this space.

Using the lineup analysis tool at baseballmusings.com, Stark plugged in the Cubs lineup with Jon Lester (career 0 for 61 at the plate) in the No. 8 spot and Addison Russell in the No. 9 spot. He then entered the Cubs lineup with the two reversed.

The results are … inconclusive.

And guess what? The simulator projected the Cubs would score 45 more runs this year with Lester in the 8-hole than they would if he were in the 9-hole. Now that’s using current stats, which might be too small a sample. So our esteemed colleague Dan Szymborski, master of the fabled ZIPS projection system, plugged in the projections for the rest of the season and ran the simulation again. His data projected the Cubs would actually score eight more runs with Lester hitting ninth than they would if he hit eighth.

And so here we are, with the argument about batting a pitcher eighth as unclear as ever.

Asked if he’s confident that he’s created more opportunities for Rizzo and Bryant this way than with a traditional lineup, Maddon replies: You know, it feels that way. But I’d have to see the actual numbers.

As Stark’s story notes, the Cubs have gotten subpar production from the No. 8 spot compared to the rest of the National League, but are also getting better production from the Nos. 9, 1 and 2 spots.

“I’m not the first,” Maddon told Stark of batting the pitcher eighth. “Really. Tony [La Russa] was the trailblazer with all this stuff primarily. But I like to believe I’m a good listener. And I truly believe I don’t know everything. But to me, for all the reasons I’ve just given you, this makes the most sense for us right now.”

You can read those reasons and the rest of the story here.

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