Sunday, March 9, 2008

Value of Kendall Batting Ninth

Ken Rosenthal from FOX Sports discusses Jason Kendall batting ninth and the (supposed) impact it will have on the Brewers offense:

"The team's assistant scouting director, Tony Blengino, and statistical analyst Dave Lawson suggested that such an arrangement could help the club score 25 to 30 more runs."
This claim is an absolute, 100% load of crap. There is no way - NONE - that moving Jason Kendall down to the #9 spot and batting the pitcher eighth will have that big of an impact. I have no idea who Tony Blengino and Dave Lawson are. In fairness, I don't know for certain that they even said this, or if Ken Rosenthal has his facts mixed up. But I do know that if they did say it, my faith in the Brewers' ability to statistically analyze the game of baseball has just taken a big hit.

Anything that makes a 25-30 run difference over the course of the season is HUGE. That many runs represents two and a half to three games in the standings. That's about how much the Houston Astros would improve if they replaced their first baseman Lance Berkman with Albert Pujols. It just isn't that easy or every team would be doing it.

All of the research I have seen on the subject suggests that batting the pitcher eighth might gain a team one or two runs over the course of a season. Let's suppose that Jason Kendall is the ideal candidate for this scenario - and that's not saying much because if Jason Kendall were really that good of a hitter he would be batting somewhere else in the lineup - but let's just say; maybe you bump it up to three or four runs. Fine.

Now, that doesn't mean it's not worth doing. If you have a choice of picking up four extra runs by flipping two guys in the batting order or signing a $4M free agent, which is the other way you could do it, you obviously make the move. But let's be realistic about how big of a change this really is.

Later in the article Rosenthal points out:
The plan, Yost says, makes sense only because Kendall is a unique hitter — one with a career .375 on-base percentage and extreme ground-ball tendencies. Hitting him behind the pitcher would help prevent him from grounding into double plays.
This is one of the things that makes this idea work. Batting behind the pitcher, Kendall will rarely be hitting with a runner on first. This is because when they bat, pitchers are trying to bunt runners from first to second, and when they're not doing that, they're striking out. Kendall has hit into as many as 27 double plays in his career and has had seasons of 19 and 18. Let's say that ordinarily he would be at 18. With fewer chances to ground into double plays, maybe you cut that down to six. There - you've got twelve extra outs to work with - about four innings worth. Four innings in which you can score some of those three or four runs.

[Hat tip to Al's Ramblings.]

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