The Pittsburgh Pirates, authors of 17 consecutive losing seasons, are employing a different approach to to their batting order to help them break out of their nearly two-decade-long slump. The Pirates don't exactly have the most talent-laden roster in the National League, but they're doing everything they can to squeeze out every last run from their lineup this season.
On Opening Day 2010, manager
According to Russell, the move gets more runners on base for the top of the Pirates' order, consisting of
It's not surprising then, that the numbers back up the unusual lineup construction. In the great book on baseball strategy, fittingly titled
But the Pirates' unorthodox moves don't stop there. Batting leadoff is the un-leadoffish Akinori Iwamura. The second baseman doesn't fit the prototype for a leadoff man, considering that he has never stolen more than 12 bases in a season. The move is even more curious when you consider that McCutchen, Jones and
Moving to the heart of the order, Russell also insisted on putting McCutchen, expected to be the Bucs' best offensive force, in the No. 2 hole rather than the No. 3 spot. With his combination of power, speed and run-producing ability (especially relative to the rest of the Pirates' lineup), he certainly doesn't fit the mold of a typical No. 2 hitter. But in fact, statistical simulations show that the No. 2 hole is the ideal spot for a team's best overall hitter, not a punch-and-judy bat-control player, as conventional wisdom says. This was explained as long ago as
Granted, Andrew McCutchen isn't Albert Pujols or
Regardless of how the Pirates fare this season, their unorthodox lineup is a boon for the future of the franchise. Small-market teams must maximize their advantages where they can, and picking up a win here or there by employing clever, evidence-based strategies is a sign that they are on the right track. Moves like batting the pitcher eighth won't win any pennants on their own, but the ability to make smart decisions regardless of conventional wisdom surely can. With more decisions like these, it won't be long before Pittsburgh emerges from its long spell of misery and brings home a winner.