The St. Louis Cardinals have plenty of leadoff hitters in their lineup. Shifting one of them down to the ninth spot in the order would help the team.
Matt Carpenter may or may not be in the lineup come opening day, given the back issues that have beset him in Spring Training. But his history in the one hole for the St. Louis Cardinals has been in many ways outstanding, and he hasn’t consistently replicated that success in any other particular spot.
Dexter Fowler is also a fine leadoff hitter, and brings to the table the speed Carpenter lacks. Kolten Wong, with his continued maturation matched by his own quickness on the bases, possesses some of the characteristics typically found in the first position in the batting order.
It seems for now that Fowler is assuming the leadoff position, and Carpenter would likely be second choice if coach Mike Matheny seeks an alternative. Since neither Dex nor Carp is likely to drop below the top five, it would appear Wong will be left in his most common lineup spot, that of the eight hole.
But should he? There’s another solution that might fit this team and its lineup idiosyncrasies. Kolten Wong could bat ninth in the order.
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I realize that batting the pitcher eighth is heresy for some of you. Giving the weakest hitter in the lineup more at bats isn’t logical, it slows down the run potential earlier on, etcetera, etcetera, blah blah blah.
But a variety of respected managers have done this, among them the Cards’ own Tony LaRussa and the highly successful Joe Maddon. When it’s done, at least by smart bench leaders, the goal is to achieve a particular purpose that other solutions cannot attain, as this particular article in Grantland explains.
The overall data that’s been accumulated on the matter shows little or no difference to the good (and mostly, none to the bad, either) for making the move. But in the case of this year’s Cardinals, there’s a fine reason to consider it.
That reason, of course, is Wong, and especially if the team is serious about using speed as a weapon this season. Yeah, I know we’ve heard it all before, but with both Jose Oquendo and Willie McGee returning to the fold, and with speedsters like Tommy Pham, Fowler and Harrison Bader alongside Wong, the potential for some base running excitement might peek through.
Back to Wong.
. His speed is for the most part wasted in the eight hole:
*When on base, he will steal less than he would in other spots in the lineup.
*If there are two outs, a caught stealing risks the pitcher leading off the following inning.
*If there is one out and he is successful, a bunt moves him to third but with two outs, the benefit of being on third instead of second is largely eliminated.
Unfortunately, there really aren’t other players the team would consider batting eighth. Yadier Molina is perceived as a higher-level hitter, and besides, he could readily be thrown out on a bunt attempt given his superslow speed. Both Paul DeJong and Jedd Gyorko are valued for their power, and won’t be dropped that low.
But the option to shift the pitcher up is somewhat intriguing.
In that scenario, either DeJong or Gyorko COULD bat in front of the pitcher in the seven hole, while Yadi assumes the sixth (or fifth, not my favorite for him) spot. And Wong would bat ninth.
Now, Wong would be right in front of either Fowler (my preference) or Carpenter, and we now have the proverbial “two leadoff hitters” scenario every inning but the first. Wong’s energy and electricity could be used to its full extent, and thinking about something like Wong-Fowler-Pham-Carpenter-Ozuna (I’d move Ozuna up but it sounds like the team prefers him at cleanup) could truly rock.
Is there a drag on the lineup by putting the pitcher in the eight hole? There is, but when you think about it, only in the first inning. After that, If you think of Wong as the start of the eight-batter progression each time the cycle runs through, the results could be electric indeed.
I know this is unlikely to happen; the Mike Matheny school of managing is hardly this daring or inventive. But to me, if I’m trading one time through the lineup with a weaker hitter in the eighth spot versus the prospect of three or four subsequent times in the game that can produce an uninterrupted blend of speed, on base and power, I’m giving it some serious consideration.