Every season has its Sabermetric bellwether issue. Trout vs. Cabrera. The infield shift. Catcher framing. Joey Votto in the two-hole. But before all that, there was Tony La Russa hitting the pitcher in the eighth spot in the lineup. La Russa, when he managed the Cardinals, was known to be willing to experiment a bit to gain an edge. Then again, during his A’s days, La Russa was credited with “inventing” the modern bullpen and Dennis Eckersley. In 1993, he even tried a pitching strategy which had three groups of three pitchers each that worked a three-day rotation. The experiment lasted a week, but he gave it a shot. But now, the La Russa gambit of hitting the pitcher eighth is back.

Joe Maddon, a National League manager for the first time in his career, seems to be sticking by the strategy in the early going. Maddon comes with a pre-installed reputation as a free thinker, so maybe it’s not surprising that on Opening Day, Jon Lester hit eighth for the Cubbies. But that doesn’t explain how Jacob deGrom ended up in the eighth spot of the Mets lineup last week. (Actually, Collins put the pitcher eighth three times last year.) Or why Walt Weiss put Tyler Matzek in the eight hole—against Maddon’s Cubs!

Hitting the pitcher eighth seems to defy conventional wisdom. The pitcher is almost always the weakest link in the lineup, and since there are nine spots, he should be in the one that is least likely to come up, right? It seems to make sense, but like a lot of things in life, it makes sense until you think a little deeper about it. A manager usually puts his best hitters at the top of the lineup, hitters who are usually good at not making outs. The problem comes from the fact that in baseball, a lot of scoring depends on stringing a couple of hits together consecutively before the out clock runs out. Home runs are nice because the batter can do all the work of getting around to score on his own, but home runs don’t really happen all that often. On average, they happen in one out of about 40 plate appearances, and even the really gifted home run hitters only hit them 5 or 6 percent of the time. To win baseball games, a team needs to have runners on to knock in.

The problem with the pitcher hitting ninth is that those really good hitters find themselves without runners to knock in and with more outs on the scoreboard when they come up, because the guy in the number nine spot, the pitcher, is generally a bum with the bat. In fact in 2014, pitchers in the NL put up a combined .124/.156/.155 line. Even lowly no. 8 hitters managed a combined slash line of .233/.299/.326, and while that’s nothing to crow about, it’s a lot better than the pitcher line. The eight-hole guy gets on base almost twice as often as a pitcher. Maybe it makes sense to put the actual major-league hitter in the nine spot. Yes, the pitcher would come up slightly more often, but it’s more likely that the top of the lineup would have a runner on to work with.

It turns out that batting the pitcher somewhere other than ninth is historically pretty rare. It didn’t appear in the modern (post-1900) era until 1916, although in four years 44 games featured this lineup quirk. Almost all of them featured either Walter Johnson or some Red Sox pitcher who eventually got traded for an off-Broadway musical and wasn’t much of a pitcher after being traded. And then the idea went into hibernation. The 1920s saw a total of four games with a non-ninth pitcher, the 1930s saw nine such games, and the 1940s featured only two games with the pitcher out of the lineup cellar. In the 1950s, though, pitchers hitting ninth became a little more optional. For example, in 1952, there were nine times where the manager wrote the pitcher’s name somewhere other than the bottom, and that manager was Lou Boudreau of the Indians each time. By 1957, the pitcher hitting somewhere other than ninth happened an astounding 66 times with Boudreau, Casey Stengel, and Bobby Bragan experimenting with the idea. And then just like that, it vanished again with not a single instance in 1958 or 1959. It happened total of five times in the 1960s and 1970s combined and not at all in the 1980s. It didn’t happen again until 1998, when Tony La Russa brought the idea back. While La Russa did it consistently in ’98, he (nor anyone else) didn’t again until 2007. But La Russa is, by far the patron saint of the movement. Since 1900 (through last year), there have been 803 games which featured a pitcher penciled into the lineup somewhere other than ninth. Tony La Russa wrote more than half (423) of those lineups.

But is it a good idea? This isn’t a new question. The fact that La Russa was hitting the pitcher eighth nearly two decades ago means that someone noticed and ran a study, in this case John Beamer at The Hardball Times. He found that in terms of scoring runs, the benefit that a team gets is small, but since there’s no cost to doing it, why not?

Warning! Gory Mathematical Details Ahead!

We know that lineup construction itself is vastly overplayed. In a study that is not quoted nearly enough, Tom Ruane found that assuming the same nine players, the difference between the perfectly optimized lineup and the “He might actually be trying to sabotage his own team” lineup is actually pretty minimal. People place far too much emphasis on lineup construction relative to the added benefits that it can bring to a team. Still, if it’s just as easy to hit the pitcher eighth as ninth, you might as well pick the option that brings back the most runs, even if the effect is slight. I pulled out my lineup simulator and created a lineup composed of the composite average of a 2014 MLB leadoff hitter, a no. 2 hitter, a no. 3 hitter, etc. and then put a composite major-league pitcher in the ninth spot. The model that I use is a Monte Carlo Markov simulator, which essentially uses a bunch of dice rolls to simulate a baseball game. It includes parameters for speed and for baserunning advancement and double plays, but doesn’t include any context (what the score is). It’s not perfect, but it gives us a rough idea of what we can expect a specific lineup to produce. I ran that model through 100,000 simulated nine-inning games. Afterward, I flip-flopped the pitcher and the eight-hole hitter.

The results (runs per nine inning game):

Pitcher Hitting 8th – 3.7118

Pitcher Hitting 9th – 3.7079

We see that the pitcher hitting eighth wins… once you get to the third and fourth decimal place. Still, it’s a victory. Over the course of 162 games, a team using the “Pitcher Hits Eighth” strategy would be 0.6 runs better off. Not 0.6 wins. Runs. And at that, some of that is blunted by the fact that rarely do teams let their pitchers bat past the sixth or seventh inning (my model plays all nine) so the difference between the two models should probably be chopped by about a third. Additionally, in this simulation, the pitcher was always swinging away. Managers often bunt with the pitcher up, so that’s going to blunt the differences a bit more. So, really we’re talking about maybe half a run over the course of a season by hitting the pitcher eighth. Still, that’s better than nothing.

If we assume that there’s no cost to hitting the pitcher eighth, then we can stop there. But it’s worth noting that there is a cost. And it’s one that anyone who’s ever played a baseball simulation as a National League team is well aware of. Or someone who doesn’t like the DH. It’s that decision. In fact, when anti-DH advocates make their case, they often point to the delightful agony of this particular situation. It’s the sixth inning and you are down 1-0, but there are runners at second and third with two outs and the pitcher is due up. He’s only given up the one run and could keep going if you needed him to. He’s not much of a hitter, so chances are that sending him up there kills this rally. But if you pinch-hit here, you lose the pitcher and have to hope that your bullpen is solid. And that the pinch-hitter doesn’t just pop out to second and make you look like an idiot. Now batting… who?

Let’s for a moment take a look at that decision. Looking at games played under National League rules from 2010-2014, let’s take a look at how often it happened that the pitcher’s spot in the lineup came up and how often the pitcher was allowed to hit for himself.


Pitcher’s Spot Came Up

Pitcher Hit For Self




























Some of these may be relievers. Some of them may not be the nine-spot, because of double switches, but right now I just want to establish something. Look at the “pitcher hit for self” column. We notice that early in the game, it’s pretty much a given that the pitcher will hold a bat when his spot comes up. In the fifth inning, it becomes less automatic, and by the sixth inning, we’re starting to approach an even-up shot. In the seventh inning, the rate is down to roughly one quarter! So, it’s the fifth and sixth innings where that decision gets a little more agonizing. We’ll focus on innings five, six and seven, because that’s when it’s actually a decision.

Now that decision is a pretty big one. A manager has to decide either to let a guy who is basically an automatic out hit instead of a perfectly good pinch-hitter on the bench, or he has to add another inning to the bullpen’s workload, both today and in general for the season. Maybe someone has to get four outs today instead of three or maybe the fourth-best reliever has to pitch today. We know that the bullpen overall is worse when a pitcher doesn’t go as deep into a game, and there are some days where that fourth-best pitcher just isn’t as good as that starter, even in the seventh inning. But I guess that’s NL baseball for you. Pretty much, no matter what he does, the manager gives up value somewhere.

Let’s look for situations which could make for an interesting managerial decision. The pitcher’s spot is due up. His team is losing, although the game is close (within two runs). Our pitcher has only given up three or fewer runs. This is a situation that a manager faces in 13.5 percent of all fifth innings, 4.9 percent of all sixth innings, and 5.9 percent of all seventh innings. In other words, a manager is going to have multiple games during the year in which he has to make a choice between some much-needed offense or keeping the pitcher in the game and where the game could be very much in the balance. He has to make that decision.

That’s how often a manager has to make that decision with the pitcher’s spot, generally the nine-hole. But how often does this set of circumstances visit the eight-spot in the lineup? A quick comparison:


Pitcher’s spot comes up

8th spot comes up














The eight spot in the lineup gets one of these close-game-should-he-or-shouldn’t-he situations in the decision zone (innings five-seven) in roughly 2 percent more games than does the pitcher’s spot now. If the pitcher is batting eighth, that means that the manager will have to make that decision two or three more times per year than he otherwise would have to. That’s roughly two or three plate appearances that will likely be moderately high-leverage situations (it’s getting later, the score is close, there might be runners on) in which the manager might have to send up an automatic out to the plate or he might have to sacrifice his pitcher before he otherwise would. In some cases, the pitcher’s pitch count might make the decision for the manager. He might be pitching well, but why risk an injury? But even if we allow that one of those situations might have the decision made for him, we still have one or two extra times where the manager is in a tough spot tactically, all because he hit the pitcher eighth and that decision snuck up on him. If he had hit the pitcher ninth, he wouldn’t be in this spot.

We assume that a team clears roughly half a run over the course of a season by having a better hitter in the nine spot, but it’s about to give some of that back because of these extra tough decisions. If the manager hits the pitcher ninth, then in these extra situations, it would be the eighth-spot hitter at the plate, rather than the pitcher. (Note: I looked to see how often real eighth-spot hitters are intentionally walked in these situations. The answer is—surprise!—only 1.2 percent. Even if you look at situations with runners in scoring position and two outs and/or first base open—again, in a close game with the batting team trailing—the IBB rate is only 4.9 percent. Intentional walks aren’t as big a factor as I figured they’d be.) The average eight-hole hitter in 2014 had a .143 point edge in OBP over the average pitcher. Changing an out into some sort of on-base event is worth roughly a run in context-neutral value, although that value will be magnified because we’re likely in a higher-leverage situation. So, we’re looking at a loss in value of roughly .15 runs each time one of these “Oops, had to make that decision a little too early” situations happens, and that’s before we adjust for the context of the game itself. Then, there’s some value in being able to send the starter back out for another inning. All of a sudden, most, if not all, of what little value there was to be gained from hitting the pitcher eighth is gone.

Sometimes “Different” is Different than “Good”
I get the fascination with pitchers hitting eighth. It’s new. It looks daring. It just that once you take everything into account, it doesn’t really buy you anything more than a little cool quotient. It doesn’t really help all that much in a best-case scenario and it doesn’t hurt all that much if everything goes wrong. Compared to a traditional pitcher-hits-ninth lineup, it’s pretty much break even. The biggest effect might be that it probably annoys the guy who has to hit ninth behind the pitcher. If there’s something to be said for it, it’s an aesthetic choice really. Pitchers hitting eighth is the bumper sticker of baseball. It doesn’t really affect how the car drives overall, but it’s the thing that people will remember of you if they pass you on the highway.

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Your thinly veiled line about Babe Ruth got me thinking: did he only hit 8th or 9th in the order on his pitching days? That seems like a wasted opportunity.
This is a fascinating read here: Babe Ruth's batting game log for 1918.

It was the first year that Ruth started playing in the field. The Red Sox had started using him as PH in the years before, but now we see him starting to play 1B and LF early in the season, moving into the cleanup spot, and still taking the occasional turn in the rotation. But look at his game on 5/15/1918. He was the starting pitcher that day, and despite having hit cleanup in his previous few starts (and he would hit cleanup the _next day_ playing LF), Ruth was still banished to the 9th spot. Because he was the pitcher. That didn't last though. Ruth didn't pitch as much during 1918, but when he did, he hit 4th.
Did you play out other lineups? For instance, what if the pitcher hit 7th, and had the 7 hitter hit 9th? I realize the second cost becomes greater, but I would still be interested in seeing what the "optimal" lineup construction is for 2014, assuming there are no substitutions like at the end.
If I had the processor power to re-run Ruane's study, I would. This is a fascinating little topic and there's a little bit of room here and there for lineup optimization. I think we might have to settle for basic principles on the order of "Stop hitting the bad hitter leadoff just because he's fast!"
Russell, I used as my lineup cruncher, and ran the following study.

First, I used a team of 9 clones who hit the aggregate 2014 NL line of .312 obp .383 slg - it produced 3.987 runs, which passes the smell test.

Next, I inserted a "pitcher" for one of the clones, and gave him a .156 obp and .192 slg - if you hit this hitter 9th, you lose exactly .5 runs per game, or 12.5% of your total runs. If you hit this hitter 8th, you lose only .342 runs per game. To me, it seems the advantage of this "8th vs 9th" decision is .158 runs * 162 games = roughly 3 wins per year.

Additionally, if you insert a hitter who is obviously better than the pitcher but worse than the clones, give him a .234/.283 slash... the run total for the optimal lineup drops to 3.416 runs per game, 3.312 for the pitcher hitting 9th and the semi-bum hitting 8th, 3.392 if you flip the 8th and 9th hitters.

I like your experiment design better, taking aggregate production for each of the 1-7 slots, but I'm interested that when you change the experiment to 7 clones, the decision to hit the weak link 8th becomes more clear.
The Baseball Musings tool uses a much simpler algorithm. Mine actually simulates innings and knows that after three outs, the inning resets. I also have inputs for speed and some baserunning events as well as double plays. Given Tom Ruane's work, I very much doubt the difference of .158 from one simple lineup change.
Another rationale for batting the pitcher 8th is that it allows you to remove him from the game sooner. I believe Maddon mentioned that factor at least once. Sometimes that first guy out of the bullpen isn't much worse than the starter. Also, the pinch hitter can be selected to make a favorable matchup with the opposing pitcher and the subsequent reliever can matchup with the opponent's upcoming hitters -- also advantages. It also make a bit more sense in home games because the pitcher already got the top of the inning in before being lifted. Other factors include the kind of hitters at the bottom of the order. Sometimes it makes sense to put speedy/low on-base guys down there and they can perform well in bunting situations with the pitcher up. Sluggers, not so much, so a pinch hitter makes sense. With two outs, if that speedy guy steals second with the pitcher, it might make sense to lift the bunting pitcher for pinch-hitter with the superior RBI chance (although this rarely happens).
Interesting analysis. I wonder how much the effect would change if a team had above average sluggers at the top of the lineup.
jlapham, Talented pinch hitters and a good bullpen also help make it work.
I suspect that "that choice" is over-agonized about. I haven't done the gory math, but I would guess that in most cases the starting pitcher is about to face a lineup for the third time at that point in the game and his success from there on out starts to deteriorate anyway. So the question of whether getting a pinch hitter into a two out rally is worth giving up your starting pitcher in the sixth inning when things are about to get much more difficult for that starting pitcher ought to be an easy one. That attitude may tax your bullpen a little more than usual, but over the long haul I think you'd be better of pinch hitting every time in that situation.

It seems like (anecdotal evidence warning) every time I see this situation play out the pitcher ends up getting replaced in the next inning anyway. This just happened yesterday with Adam Wainwright. He made the last out in the sixth with men on base and then promptly gave up a baserunning in the seventh and got pulled.
Good timing on this article; the Tigers are in Pittsburgh for a series. I'd like to see Ausmus put the pitcher batting 8th, as the #9 hitter has been Iglesias who's been hitting .500 so far. Putting him #9 would mean he could be on base when Gose, Kinsler and Miggy comes up at the top of the order.
After I posted my rant on the Effectively Wild FB page, I was hoping you would make this analysis. Thanks, Russell! This has been very enlightening and does make sense from a run producing point-of-view.
Warning! Gory abject speculation ahead!

Another possible factor is that batting, especially if you have to heaven forbid run the bases, takes energy. Most teams would prefer not to wear out their SP on the base paths if, heaven forbid, they actually reach base on a FC or error or some other happenstance. This may explain the Ruth hitting 9th on 5/15/1918 (especially if he had been active in off field activities the night before), and is awfully hard to count for. There is also the possibility that making the pitcher bat 8th may get him to take his batting more seriously which may get him a higher OBP. Maybe.
So, if Bartolo Colon is worn out from off-field activities the night before (the buffet table), he'll only make it 20 feet towards first instead of the customary 45?

Ah, what am I saying? He's already had as many hits as Alex Gordon, Curtis Granderson, Russell Martin, Evan Gattis...
Assuming pitchers are fairly good bunters would it be likely they might try bunting more often for hits in the 8th spot? Seems like I would have them taking more pitches and trying to do what they have been trained to do if I was to put them in that spot.
They're trained to be functional bunters, and they get a lot of chances to show that particular skill, but that's not the same as being a good bunter. The point of a sac bunt is that you want to get it far enough away from the catcher that he can't pick it up and throw to second to get the lead runner and not hard enough that it's not basically a GB to third or the pitcher where he can spin around and throw to second. If you can do this and keep it fair, it's not an automatic play at first, but the reasonably adequate 3B can make that charge play and throw to first. It doesn't matter if it was an easy or hard play at first, just that you took away the option of second. There's some room for error there.

Bunting for a hit is another story. To take away the play at first you need to either be really fast (most pitchers aren't) to cut down just on sheer time that the defense has to react or you have to put the ball perfectly to where no one can get there in time, either by dragging it and using the foul line as your friend or a more standard bunt that's placed perfectly in the proverbial Bermuda Triangle between P, C, and 3B. Much harder to do.
If I were a NL GM or manager, I wouldn't worry about whether or not the MLB pitcher was hitting 8th or 8th, but I would insist that my minor league affiliates bat the starting pitcher even in leagues that have the DH, and they should be working on their hitting on their off days. It would seem to me that having all of your starters be able to put up even a 200/225/225 triple slash line would result in a lot more runs than futzing around with the batting order. It also makes the agonizing decisions somewhat less agonizing.
One of the usual arguments against pitchers hitting, especially in the minors, is the chance of injury. But has anyone really looked at the rate of pitcher injury while batting? And just to make it even more complicated, what if having a pitcher miss a couple of starts during a x-year period reduced the chance of arm injury?
Thanks for the math on that :)
I've long wondered about lineup construction -- would a team with, say, Rickey Henderson first, Tony Gwynn second, Barry Bonds third and Hank Aaron fourth score more or fewer runs than a team with Bonds, Bonds, Bonds and Bonds?

Even if a GM constructing a lineup is overrated, it still makes a lot of sense for the manager to simply bat the two highest OBP guys in front of the two highest SLG guys. I wonder if Rouane (and Carleton) miss something by using aggregate players instead of individual players? Looking at Rouane's players, the two highest OBP guys (3rd and 4th) *are* the two highest SLG guys. On a team where that wasn't the case, might lineup matter more?
Along these lines, what if you had a David Ortiz or other stud type that you only used as a pinch hitter for whomever whatsoever at the most critical junctures of the game? Bases loaded, here comes Ortiz. Need a run? Here comes Ortiz.
Because even the best players in baseball only avoid making an out 40 percent of the time. Because if you have someone who is honestly that good, he's worth more to you coming up 4 or 5 times in a game, even if you don't get to pick his spots, than he does in one leveraged spot. Because if he's that good, he'll probably be walked as soon as you PH him.
Where did the data for the 5th/6th/7th comparison of how often a slot bats come from? The actual rate of batting has to be over 100% for the 8th spot since we are guaranteed at least one plate appearance in any three consecutive innings. The pitcher batting would be less than the 8th spot, but the pitcher's spot will also come up at least once in any three consecutive innings. The chart makes no sense to me. What am I missing?
That's how often does the 8th spot come up in a situation where a team is trailing, but it's close (I used within 2 runs). The 8-spot will come up at some point in either the 5th, 6th, or 7th, but there's no guarantee that it'll be a close game.
I have a hard time believing that the modern baseball player will not feel "disrespected" when told that he's hitting 9th and the pitcher is batting ahead of him. If that is true, then perhaps it's not worth the small benefit the team gains.
I've heard AL managers explain how they want a "table setter" batting 9th. How much different is it to say, "I want you setting the table for the top of the order, your job will be just like hitting in the one hole. Get on base and score." I think a manager with good player relationships would have no problem from the players.
Joe Maddon has echoed the "second leadoff hitter" thread. I suppose it's all in how you frame it.
My real problem with batting the pitcher 8th is that it takes the bat out of the 7 hitter's hands. I don't think we can assume the league average 7 hitter stats remain steady if the pitcher is batting behind them. Although maybe the benefit to the 9th hitter having the leadoff man behind him negates that effect.

Once we start talking about taki
It's an interesting inefficiency argument here. I did find that 8th hitters aren't IBBed as much as we think. Maybe that has something to do with the fact that the other team thinks "Well, it's just the #8 guy." As we saw, the average #8 hitter has an OBP twice that of the pitcher, so in a critical situation where the IBB is "available" it would make a lot of sense to see more IBBs than we do now. Perhaps managers are responding to the cultural meanings that we attach to being a #8 hitter rather than a cold look at the probability. If the pitcher is hitting 8th, the other team has to look at the option of IBB for the 7th hitter. The further you move the pitcher up the lineup, the more of a contrast there is between the pitcher and the hitter before him (if the pitcher hits 5th, the team would likely walk the cleanup hitter almost every time!)
Glad you came up with a coin toss, because that is what I have been saying for years: It makes absolutely no difference whether the pitcher bats 8th or 9th, as far as we know, and probably entirely depends on the exact composition of the lineup.

Maddon does this to show, with no evidence, that he is smarter than other managers. Whether he is or is not, I don't know (probably is smarter than most), but I don't think he is very smart at all compared to the "perfect strategist."

BTW, when you came up with .5 runs per year better, THAT is a coin toss as .5 runs a year is exactly the same as zero given the noise in your methodology and the sample size.

I also agree with the person above that, "Is .5 runs a year (and we have no idea what it is really, other than around zero) worth it, considering the shaming of the #9 hitter?"

Surely that could hurt his confidence, motivation, and psyche to the tune of more than .5 runs a year, no?
Two things:

1) You state that Maddon "does this to show...that he is smarter than other managers" with no evidence. How do you know that Maddon does it for this reason and not because he genuinely believes he may be able to get some advantage from it?

2) The shaming of the #9 hitter. Assuming he would otherwise be batting 8th, how much shaming is there really to be done? It's not like he's getting bumped from the third spot in the order. I'm sure a tactful manager would explain to his batter that he's hitting him 8th because he feels it gives the team a better chance to win. That's a positive thing, not a personal slight. Again, we're talking about a guy that would be normally hitting 8th anyway, so how much better or worse is that bitter going to get?
1) I am pretty sure that he thinks he is gaining an edge. Most managers do whether their strategies are correct or not. My comment was hyperbole to illustrate what I think is his personality style (egocentric). Any evidence I have is that he makes many unconventional decisions that I believe are incorrect or marginal at best, this being among them. I have written about some of them if you want to do a Google search.

2) IF there is any negative effect at all, and I don't know that there is, then it makes a break even situation into a negative one, so I think it is worth mentioning. By itself, the effect is probably de minimus.
There's a positive way to look at "Maddon does this to show, with no evidence, that he is smarter than other managers." Maybe he and the Chicago front office know that it's essentially a coin toss, but figure that if they make this very visible change, it will signal to their players and the media that they are using research and not just following tradition, which could make it easier for thme to use other unconventional techniques without it being a big controversy. They're sort of breaking everybody in. Then when their best hitter hits 2nd and their best reliever comes in in the 8th against the heart of the lineup, players and media will more readily accept it?
Possible but very unlikely. I don't think any managers or teams engage in this kind of "meta game" thinking or action.
Yeah, .5 runs over a season is a rounding error. You can make that up by turning one walk into a strikeout. If there's something to be said, the effect of the rage that Tommy LaStella feels for being put at the bottom of the lineup probably isn't huge either, so maybe we're talking about a rounding error in the other direction, but yeah, this is pretty much a coin flip.
Great article. Thanks for the analysis.
I'm wondering too if other slots in the order might be better and whether hitting the pitcher 6th or 7th instead of 9th might be in some way effected depending on whether you expect to have the pitcher going 5, 6, or 7 innings and whether you're at home or on the road. Different pitchers would average a different amount of innings and that should go into an optimal choice about where to bat them - you'd prefer them to be coming to the plate right before you'd be removing them anyways.
Good analysis. How would the results change if you had an above average hiiter with very good wheels batting 9th? It would probably get better I'd think. Maybe 2 whole runs a year!