Monday, March 10, 2008

One of the most talked about stories in this young Spring Training season lies within what has become known as the least significant spot in the batting order. I trust most every dedicated Brewer fan is aware that Ned Yost reportedly intends on batting veteran catcher Jason Kendall in the nine hole to begin the season.

An unorthodox method? Yes. Unorthodox enough to work? Again, yes.

Call me new wave, but this is something I can get behind. It's rarely been attempted and has pretty much never worked, but parts of Yost's argument for why the Brewers should do this make sense.

Kendall is a ground ball hitter who lacks in power, is losing speed by the day and has virtually no potential for a respectable batting average. In short, once a top five catcher, Kendall is now a purely defensive catcher and a good one at that. The Brewers aren't paying him to hit, and he will undoubtedly do his part - by not hitting. However, he is better than any pitcher on the Brewers staff, but not by much. I predict Kendall to match the home run total of the three-headed monster that is Chris Capuano, Yovanni Gallardo and... Brooks Keshnick.

Long story short, there's little difference (to me) whether Kendall or "pitcher X" hits in the eight hole, if anything many starters are more apt than Kendall to spare a double play by at least popping out. In brief, both options embody outs virtually every time.

The selling point to me rests in whom the eight hitter is following. The seven hole looks to be primarily stuffed with Bill Hall, who is just two seasons removed from a 35 HR campaign in 2006. Should Hall reach base late in a close game (I know, very situational - somewhat like double plays) and a pinch hitter is warranted, I'd personally prefer any (non-Craig Counsell) bat off the bench to a rally-extinguishing AB. Plus, how many times do you hear Brewers fans and announcers just glad to have to pitcher's spot out of the way before a new inning starts (avoiding what often seems to be a two-out inning)? With the proposed scenario in play, the pitcher spot gets out of the way earlier and Kendall (slightly less than a free out, but close) is a much more preferable way to cycle back to Weeks.

I'll admit, my points aren't great... but the sample size to this concept's effectiveness is very small, so nobody truly knows the good or bad ramifications to doing this long term. I can say I agree with Yost saying Kendall is a fitting candidate to be involved in this. Plus, Kendall himself seems down to do anything that can help the team.

But can it help the team? I'm excited to find out. Baseball is a game of checkers where most of the moves are scripted in fairly predictable fashion. I applaud Yost for trying to shake things up by doing the taboo if it could mean more runs. Until it's proven an utter failure, count me with those who wouldn't mind hearing "And batting ninth... Jason Kendall!"


Blogger Jared said...

Calling Kendall "slightly less than a free out" is over the top...

The guy has a career on-base percentage of .375. Sure, he had a down year last year, but he had a .362 OBP on the Cubs after he was traded and a .367 OBP in 2006. That's a solid player. Just because he doesn't hit for power doesn't make him worthless as a hitter.

His OBP combined with his groundball tendencies is why he works in the ninth spot. He will get on base to give an extra runner to Weeks, Cameron, Fielder, Braun and Hart. And he will hit into less double-plays since there won't be many runners on first after the pitcher bats.

I think Kendall will contribute more to the offense than you give him credit for.

March 10, 2008 11:05 PM  
Blogger Jared said...

For reference, only Prince Fielder and Joe Dillon had an OPS of more than .375 last year.

March 10, 2008 11:07 PM  
Blogger Tyler said...

I'll give you he's better than I explained. In all, I'm valuing Kendall not on what he's done in his career...because he's assembled a career (both behind and at the plate) that is admirable. I'm more judging him on the hitter he presently is... which is to say not great. A lot of those All-Star seasons with the Pirates are suspending that OPS you reference.

I will you give you, he's not a terrible hitter...even presently, and he is a better hitter than any pitcher on the roster. If he were anywhere as bad a hitter as most pitchers, I'd see no reason to hit him 9th. His ability to hit and tendencies in hitting epitimize the reasons I DO want him to bat nine.

Dig the Photoshop. It was my best work ever (out of two tries).

Stay in school, kids.

March 11, 2008 1:15 AM  

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