Thursday, April 15, 2010

Revolution 9

We all like the Pirates, right? But the Pirates are terrible. So I'm going to try to limit how much I write about the Pirates here.

One thing to say about the Pirates, as this Mondesi's House post does, is that through nine games the 2010 Bucs' matches have looked superficially a lot like the 1960 team's World Series games, in that when they win they squeak by and when they lose they get blown out. This seems apt, it being the golden anniversary year for that championship team and this being probably the only way in which the current team can behave at all like that classic one.

Another thing to say is that on Tuesday Dejan Kovacevic, as a throwaway line in his morning link post, mentioned that Ronny Cedeno was leading the team in batting average while batting regularly in the ninth spot. (The ninth spot is customarily reserved for the pitcher in National League lineups but manager John Russell, in his continuing efforts to make chicken salad out of the Pirates' lineup card, has committed to batting a position player ninth, according to the interesting theory that if the #9 guy were more likely to be on base when the top of the order came back up then that #9 guy might actually be batted in.) This is an odd quirk! In fact it still holds as of this typing, among the regular starters anyway, with Cedeno batting .323. Aki Iwamura and Lastings Milledge are tied for second at .250.

To look at just the spot in the lineup, regardless of who's in it -- there has been a lot of juggling so far for this early date, mainly it would seem as Russell tries to determine who could conceivably be consistent enough to bat third -- I crunched out the box scores so far, and came up with these numbers:

Lineup Spot - Average (H/AB)
1 - .263 (10/38)
2 - .243 (9/37)
3 - .297 (11/37)
4 - .250 (9/36)
5 - .200 (7/35)
6 - .194 (6/31)
7 - .226 (7/31)
8 - .148 (4/27)
9 - .343 (12/35)

The nine spot is indeed better than any other slot in the lineup so far. It's basically the Cedeno show down there, although Bobby Crosby did chip in a solid 2-for-4 for showing in a 10-2 loss to the Dodgers a week ago.

This has me thinking: Has this ever happened before in the history of anything, even though it's only nine games into the season? The post-DH Rule American League should probably be discounted because position players routinely bat ninth there, and surely one of them since 1973 had a hot week and a half at the beginning of a year. Or perhaps not surely! The circumstance requires not just a surging #9 hitter (or hitters) but also consistently less-surging 1s through 8s. I'm not sure how typically a hot bat gets moved up in the lineup within the first two weeks of play but that's a consideration too.

Stated more clearly: What, since Abner Doubleday first discovered the rules of baseball engraved on golden tablets buried in the woods outside of Cooperstown, is the latest point within a professional season at which the last spot in a team's lineup had a higher collective batting average than any other spot? And what would it take for Ronny Cedeno and company to beat that record, if they don't own it already?

How would one go about answering this question? It's not a useful new statistic like the OPS ("on-base plus slugging") or the WHIP ("Charlie Morton got WHIPPED out there for a second consecutive start, giving up three home runs"), but surely with all the sabermetricians and Moneyballers working today, the numbers are there to be crunched. If you just type a question into the Internet somewhere, does that mean the answer will be on Wikipedia the next day?

I'd really like to see the Pirates set this standard; they're not going to break any of the good kind of record, obviously. And some sort of quirky objective record of the futility of their lineup would be a lot neater than a gruesome, but most likely not record-breaking, win-loss record.


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