John Van Benschoten Likely to Start Tomorrow

What an odd bit of speculation this is:

The fact that pitcher Paul Maholm batted eighth in the Pirates' lineup last night could be an indication that John Van Benschoten will be the Pirates' starting pitcher tomorrow night.

You'll recall that Van Benschoten was an outstanding hitter in college at Kent State.

As a professional, he's a .213 hitter with two home runs and 16 RBIs.

Perhaps manager John Russell will want Van Benschoten to bat higher in the lineup than ninth.

So maybe last night's strategy was employed so that Van Benschoten batting eighth tomorrow night won't be a shock.

What? Russell batted a pitcher eighth so that batting a pitcher eighth wouldn't be a shock? None of this has anything to do with Van Benschoten's hitting. He has a .601 lifetime minor league OPS and he hasn't done a thing with the bat since 2004. Jack Wilson batted ninth last night, and Van Benschoten isn't a tenth the hitter Jack Wilson is. (There's a phrase I never imagined writing.) He isn't even half the hitter Luis Rivas is. There's just nothing to this.

In fact, the pitcher-batting-eighth thing is becoming increasingly common, particularly in the NL Central. The Brewers often do it, and the Cardinals also sometimes do it. And there's some research out there that suggests they're doing the right thing--this Hardball Times article contains some information and links to some more.

Here, John Russell suggests that one part of the issue is that batting the pitcher after Doug Mientkiewicz creates more opportunities. It looks like somebody in the Pirates organization read this article, also from the Hardball Times. Mientkiewicz is a fairly patient hitter who won't swing at a lot of bad pitches. As a hitter, that's really all he's got, and batting in front of the pitcher allows him to get the most out of that skill. The Hardball Times shows that batters actually hit for a much higher average in front of the pitcher, and suggests that one reason why is that they get into hitters' counts a lot. If that's the case, Mientkiewicz would seem to be ideally positioned to reap the benefits, since he doesn't swing at junk very much.

On a theoretical level, this makes a lot of sense. Of course, the same article shows that Wilson was really, really good hitting before the pitcher last year.

Anyway, the Post-Gazette's broader point that Van Benschoten will start tomorrow is probably accurate. Ty Taubenheim started on the 28th, so he probably can't go tomorrow, we may already have seen enough of Jimmy Barthmaier for now, and no one else at Indianapolis has really earned a shot.

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