In putting together a batting order, major league managers have traditionally had one iron-clad rule: the pitcher bats ninth. Even pitchers who are excellent hitters are stuck in the last spot in the order. Don Newcombe hit .359 when he won 20 games for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1955, with seven home runs in 117 at-bats, and was used as a pinch-hitter 23 times, but he batted ninth in all 31 of his starts. Wes Ferrell hit .347 as a 25-game winner for the 1935 Boston Red Sox, with seven homers in 150 at-bats (he had a .446 career slugging percentage), and was used as a pinch-hitter 36 times, but batted ninth in all 38 of his starts.
The urge to bat the pitcher ninth is so strong that Hall of Famers Babe Ruth and George Sisler both batted ninth as pitchers in seasons during which they hit in the heart of the order when they played in the field.
But in recent years, some managers have moved the pitcher out of the ninth spot in the order on a frequent basis (one manager, as you may know, far more than others). This post will not include what those managers said about their decisions to modify the traditional batting order, nor will it make any attempt at analysis to determine if using the pitcher elsewhere in the order is more effective. What I will do is quantify the use of this tactic and show the teams and managers that have used it most often.
To get the information, I’ve used Baseball-Reference.com’s Play Index that makes use of the box scores compiled by Retrosheet from 1916 through 2012. The Retrosheet site also has box scores from 1915 that are not yet part of Play Index, so they’re not part of my search, but I can check the 1915 boxes for players discussed here.
I will exclude some players from the discussion because they saw extensive action playing other positions; they’re not what we think of as “pitchers.”
Babe Ruth: When Ruth was a full-time pitcher, through 1917, he batted ninth. But starting in 1918 he saw more action as an outfielder than as a pitcher. In 1918 he batted cleanup while pitching 11 times and seventh once. (He batted ninth in seven of his starts.) In 1919 he batted cleanup in 13 of his mound starts and ninth in the other two. (Ruth led the American League in homers in both 1918 and 1919; I wonder if he’s the only player who ever led his league in homers during a season in which he started a game batting ninth?) Ruth started four games as a pitcher for the Yankees, during the years when he was a full-time outfielder, and batted third or fourth in all of them. The Babe is the only player in the 1916-2012 database who batted cleanup in a game he started as a pitcher and may be the only man in major league history to pitch a shutout while batting cleanup, his last major league shutout in 1918. Babe is also the only starting pitcher in postseason history, going back to the first World Series in 1903, to bat anywhere other than ninth; he hit sixth for the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 1918 World Series (he drove in Boston’s first two runs and was the winning pitcher).
George Sisler: Sisler was primarily a first baseman and an outfielder as a rookie in 1915, but he also pitched 70 innings. He batted ninth in all of his pitching starts that season, even though he typically batted third (and never ninth) in other games. Sisler also batted ninth in the first game he started on the mound in 1916, despite having batted third or fourth in all his previous starts in the field that year. But in his two pitching starts later that season and one in 1918 he batted third. (That includes the game in which he pitched a 1-0 shutout against Walter Johnson and the Senators, which may make Sisler the only player in major league history to pitch a shutout while batting third.)
Ed Konetchy: Konetchy played more than 2000 career games at first base. He batted in what was then his regular spot in the order, sixth, when he made his one major league pitching start in 1918 for the Boston Braves (pitching a complete game but getting clobbered). The player who batted ninth for the Braves, Hugh Canavan, was making his only career major league start in the field; he was normally a pitcher. I’d love to know more about the circumstances of that game. Konetchy made two relief appearances in the majors and got credit for a victory with 4-2/3 innings of shutout relief in a game for the Cardinals in 1913. (If anyone can help with the date of that game, I’d be grateful.) (UPDATE 8/4/13: Turns out that game was May 4; I have more about that game as well as the game Konetchy started in this post.)
Jack Bentley: Bentley was both a batting and pitching star in the minor leagues (leading the International League in both RBI and ERA in 1920) and also pitched a little in the majors in his younger days. The New York Giants acquired him in 1923 as a pitcher, but in 1926, the Phillies picked him up and switched him to first base. He normally batted fifth when he played first, and Bentley also hit fifth in his first start as a pitcher that season, although he hit ninth in two later starts.
Bucky Walters: Walters was primarily a third baseman in the majors until he made his first pitching start in the final game of the 1934 season (he batted ninth in that game; in the first game of the doubleheader, starting at third base, he batted seventh, and I wonder if that makes him the only man in major league history to start one game of a doubleheader in the field and the other on the mound). From 1935 on he was primarily a pitcher, normally batting ninth except for a game when he batted seventh in 1935 and a game when he batted eighth (and pitched a shutout) in 1937. (Walters started games in the field in 1935 and 1937 and always batted higher in the order when he did.)
Johnny Lindell: Lindell reached the major leagues as a pitcher, having never played any other position in the minors, but was a full-time outfielder with the Yankees from 1943-50. He then went back to the minors, started pitching again, and returned to the majors as a pitcher in 1953. He typically batted ninth when he pitched that year, but he batted fifth in two of his starts (he also batted fifth in two starts at first base).
Cesar Tovar: Tovar was the starting pitcher and leadoff hitter in the game in which he played all nine positions in 1968. (Obscure fact: no starting pitcher batted in the number two spot in the order in the 1916-2012 period.)
There’s one other pitcher I’m going to exclude: Andy Sonnanstine, because he batted third by accident, not by managerial design. That happened in a game in 2009; Sonnanstine was not listed in the original batting order, but he wound up hitting third after Rays manager Joe Maddon submitted a lineup card with two third basemen and no designated hitter. Sonnanstine took advantage of the rare opportunity to bat in an American League game by hitting an RBI double.
Okay, with those exclusions out of the way, here’s the rundown of times in which a team had the starting pitcher batting somewhere other than the ninth spot, by year, since 1916:
The only true pitcher who batted anywhere but ninth during these years was Walter Johnson. We don’t have box scores available for Johnson’s first eight seasons in the majors (1907-14). In 1915 he batted sixth three times. Then in 1916 he batted seventh eight times, sixth once and batted fifth on June 1, the highest position in the lineup ever (from 1916 on, anyway) for a pitcher who did not also have extensive experience as a position player. That made a total of 10 pitching starts in which Johnson did not bat ninth that year. In 1917 he batted eighth once; in 1918 he batted eighth once and seventh once; in 1919 he batted eighth once and sixth once. Clark Griffith was the Senators’ manager in all those seasons, giving him a known total of 18 games in which he batted the pitcher somewhere other than ninth. From 1920 on Johnson hit only in the ninth spot as a starting pitcher. He actually started at least five games in the outfield in his career (one in 1915, two in 1918 and two in 1919) and was a .235 career hitter.
A starting pitcher batted above the ninth spot just 10 times in this 30-year period, and only one season saw it happen more than once: 1933, when Cincinnati’s Red Lucas batted seventh on August 25 and September 7. Lucas was a .281 lifetime hitter who held the major league record for career pinch-hits for more than 30 years. He also started some games in the field; in 1925, he was the Boston Braves’ second baseman for the first six games of the season, and in 1927 with the Reds he started three games at second base, two games at shortstop and one game in left field, getting at least one hit in each game.
The other pitchers who didn’t bat ninth in this period were George “Hooks” Dauss of the Tigers in 1920 and 1921, Eddie Rommel of the A’s in 1924, Waite Hoyt of the A’s in 1931 (a game in which Rommel started in left field and batted ninth, the first of three consecutive days Rommel started in the outfield), Herman Fink of the A’s in 1937, Curt Davis of the Cardinals in 1938, Jim Tobin of the Braves (managed by Casey Stengel, whose name we’ll see again later) in 1941 and Early Wynn of the Senators in 1947. All hit eighth except for Wynn, who became the first pitcher to be in the starting lineup batting sixth since Walter Johnson in 1919.
This was the first time a pitcher made more than two starts in a season batting outside the ninth spot since Johnson in 1919. The man who did it was Ned Garver, who hit .286 on the season and was used as a pinch-hitter six times for the St. Louis Browns. Garver batted eighth once, seventh once and sixth once. The next year, 1951, Garver was even better, winning 20 games for the last-place Browns (the rest of the team won 32) and batting .305, but he batted ninth in every game he started.
Also in 1950, Gene Bearden batted eighth in a game for the Senators. His manager was Bucky Harris, who will return in a moment.
All starting pitchers batted ninth.
For the first time (at least in our 1916-2012 database) a manager used more than one pitcher in a season outside the ninth spot. That manager was Lou Boudreau, in his first year as skipper of the Boston Red Sox. Boudreau had not used the tactic in his nine years in charge of the Indians, but in 1952 he batted his pitcher eighth twice, seventh once and sixth six times, with six different pitchers involved. Allan Wood wrote extensively about Boudreau’s experiment last month at The Hardball Times, a story I hadn’t seen until I started researching this post…nicely done, Allan. All other starting pitchers in 1952 batted ninth.
Boudreau also batted his pitcher higher in the order nine times in 1953, eight of them in the sixth spot; those events are also covered in Allan Wood’s post. Casey Stengel, now managing the New York Yankees, used Johnny Sain and Eddie Lopat in the eighth spot once each.
Washington Senators manager Bucky Harris batted Mickey McDermott (a .252 career hitter) in the seventh spot 10 times, the most times any pitcher had hit above the ninth spot in a single season since Walter Johnson (him again) in 1916 (and thus tying Harris with Johnson’s manager, Clark Griffith, as the manager who used the tactic the most times in a season). McDermott was the only pitcher who didn’t bat ninth in ’54.
Stengel broke the single season record held by Harris and Griffith when he batted his pitcher somewhere other than ninth 15 times. Tommy Byrne (a .238 career hitter) batted eighth eight times and seventh three times, and Don Larsen (a .242 career hitter) batted eighth four times and homered in the first of them (the only one of his 14 career homers he hit outside of the ninth spot in the order). Stengel was the only manager who batted a pitcher anywhere but ninth in 1955.
First-year major league manager Bobby Bragan of the Pirates set single-season and career records for batting his pitcher outside the ninth spot when he his pitcher seventh 21 times, all from July 26 through September 3, with seven different pitchers involved. That’s by far the most games a team has had a pitcher bat seventh (the 1954 Senators with McDermott being next on the list). Stengel batted Larsen and McDermott (now a Yankee) in the eighth spot once apiece in 1956 (giving Stengel a career total of 20). Dick Donovan of the White Sox batted eighth once and never actually got to the plate; he was knocked out of the box in the first inning.
Bragan’s records didn’t last long, thanks to Lou Boudreau, now managing the Kansas City A’s. After his 1952-53 experiment in which he moved the pitcher up in the order a total of 18 times, Boudreau had batted his pitcher ninth in every game with the Red Sox in 1954 and again in every game during his first two seasons in the A’s dugout in ’55 and ’56. But in 1957 Boudreau batted his pitcher eighth for the first 56 games of the season, ending on June 15, bringing his career total to 74. (Boudreau would be fired in early August.)
Bragan batted his pitcher eighth in the first two games of the season and then abandoned the tactic; like Boudreau, he would be fired before the end of the season. Two other managers used a pitcher outside the ninth spot in 1957, to set a record for most managers doing so in one season. Stengel batted Don Larsen eighth twice and seventh three times (bringing Casey’s career total to 25), and Bob Lemon hit seventh once and eighth twice for Cleveland manager Kerby Farrell. Lemon reached the major leagues as a third baseman and opened the 1946 season as the Indians’ center fielder, but he had only 66 major league plate appearances before becoming a full-time pitcher. Although Lemon batted second as a center fielder, he hit ninth as a pitcher in 1946 and in every other game he started except these three.
But after all the records set in 1957, the practice of batting the pitcher anywhere but ninth came to an almost complete halt for 40 years. It didn’t help that the most prominent advocates of the tactic, Boudreau and Bragan, had both been fired; of course, Stengel was the era’s most successful manager, but he used the tactic with some of the best-hitting pitchers of the day (Larsen, Byrne, McDermott).
In this 40-year span a starting pitcher batted anywhere but ninth just five times.
In 1965 Don Drysdale — who hit .300 that year with seven home runs in 130 at-bats and was used as a pinch-hitter 14 times for a woefully weak-hitting Dodger team — batted seventh in a game on August 15.
In 1968 Gary Peters, arguably one of the best hitters on an awful-hitting White Sox squad (he was used as a pinch-hitter 17 times), batted sixth on May 26. No pitcher has appeared that high in the lineup since.
In 1973 Steve Renko, who started his minor league career as a first baseman, batted seventh on August 26 and stroked a single and a double to raise his batting average for the season to that point to .292. This was also the first season of the designated hitter in the American League, meaning the number of teams that could even try to bat the pitcher anywhere but ninth was diminished.
But the next pitcher to move up in the order was an American Leaguer. In 1976 Ken Brett, who finished his career with a .406 slugging percentage, batted eighth in a game on September 23. Brett remains the only pitcher ever to start the game batting anywhere other than the ninth spot (on purpose) in a game in which the designated hitter was available.
More than 19 years after any starting pitcher had batted anywhere than ninth, Tony LaRussa of the St. Louis Cardinals shook things up. Starting July 9, LaRussa batted his pitcher in the eighth spot in each of the last 77 games of the season, breaking Lou Boudreau’s season and career records. Kent Mercker even hit a grand slam home run as the number eight hitter on September 2, the only homer of his major league career.
LaRussa’s tactic didn’t catch on, even with LaRussa (yet). All starting pitchers batted ninth during this five-year period.
Tomo Ohka, who went just 2-for-25 on the season and hit just .138 in his major league career, batted eighth for Montreal manager Frank Robinson on May 30.
Dontrelle Willis, one of the better-hitting pitchers of the modern era, was moved up in the lineup four times by manager Jack McKeon, batting eighth twice and seventh twice. When he batted seventh in the final game of the season on October 2, it marked the last time as of this writing that a starting pitcher batted above the eighth spot.
As of this writing, this is the last year that all starting pitchers batted ninth.
LaRussa goes all the way, batting his pitcher eighth in all 153 games in which the Cardinals could not use a designated hitter. And for the first time since 1957, multiple managers used the tactic. Milwaukee’s Ned Yost batted his pitcher eighth 42 times in the Brewers’ first 49 games. Pittsburgh’s John Russell batted his pitcher eighth 26 times in a 27-game stretch from June 30 through July 30. And Arizona manager Bob Melvin batted Micah Owings (who through the 2012 season has a career major league average of .283 with a .502 slugging percentage) eighth on June 4. The total of 222 times that a starting pitcher did not bat ninth in 2008 remains the most of any season.
LaRussa batted his pitcher eighth 55 times through July 21, then abandoned the tactic for the rest of the season, including the three-game playoff series against the Dodgers. A record total of five teams had their pitcher bat outside the ninth spot at least once. Milwaukee manager Ken Macha did it nine times in August; the Dodgers’ Joe Torre did it eight times; San Diego’s Bud Black did it three straight games in June; and Kansas City’s Zack Grienke became the first American League pitcher to bat eighth since 1976 on June 23.
LaRussa batted his pitcher eighth in 77 games, while in Pittsburgh John Russell, who did not bat his pitcher eighth in 2009, did so in the Pirates’ first 24 games. Milwaukee’s Macha did it three times and San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy hit Tim Lincecum in the eighth spot on May 20.
The pitcher-hits-eighth tactic died down, as LaRussa did so only 14 times, never after July 19, including the postseason in which the Cards won the World Series. Washington’s Jim Riggelman batted the pitcher eighth in 11 straight games in June, and Atlanta’s Fredi Gonzalez did it three times in August.
With LaRussa retired and his successor Mike Matheny always batting his pitcher ninth, pitchers batted eighth fewer times than in any season since the tactic was revived in 2007. Atlanta’s Gonzalez had the pitcher bat eighth five times in an eight-game stretch in late May and early June, making him the only manager to do so more than once. Madison Bumgarner batted eighth for the Giants’ Bochy on May 16, and Cubs skipper Dale Sveum had Jeff Samardzija bat eighth on September 8.
[ADDED 10/22/13]: Only two starting pitchers batted anywhere other than ninth. David Phelps batted eighth for the Yankees and manager Joe Girardi in a game at Colorado on May 8, and Jeremy Hellickson batted eighth for the Rays and manager Joe Maddon in a game at Dodger Stadium on August 11. It was the first time using the tactic for both managers (well, for Madden, the first time he had the pitcher bat somewhere other than ninth on purpose).
Here is the list of managers who have batted their pitcher outside the ninth spot more than once since 1916. (Instances with the players I excluded at the start of this article are not included.) An asterisk means that man also managed before 1916, but any instances of batting the pitcher higher in the order during that time are not included. UPDATED 10/22/13
And these managers each batted a pitcher out of the ninth spot once each: Walter Alston, Ossie Bluege, Ty Cobb, Frank Frisch, Joe Girardi, Trey Hillman, Hughie Jennings*, Joe Maddon, Marty Marion, Gene Mauch, Bob Melvin, Danny Ozark, Paul Richards, Frank Robinson, Eddie Stanky and Dale Sveum.
I’ve worked to make this completely accurate, but if you find any errors or omissions here, please let me know. I’ll be happy to give you credit when I fix it.