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More baseball coaches begin to put their better batters ninth

June 26,2017
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In baseball, where nine batters enter the batter’s box according to the lineup, the ninth batter is normally given the least number of chances to bat in a game. Most managers therefore tend to assign the weakest batters ninth.

In the Major League Baseball’s (MLB) national league, where they are not allowed to have designated hitters, pitchers are usually the ninth batter.

The National League’s ninth batter’s batting average is significantly lower than the Korea Baseball Organization (KBO) or the American League’s batting average for ninth batters.

Even when the pitchers aren’t the team’s ninth batter, it is normal for them to have the lowest batting average. Last year in the KBO, the average batting of the ninth batters were at 0.253, way below average, at 0.290, and a lot lower than eighth batters, at 0.266.

But this year, ninth batters are no longer the weakest batters in the lineup. According to Statiz, a baseball statistic website, their batting average was at 0.267 as of Saturday, which is significantly better than the eighth batters and almost the same as fifth or seventh batters.

And of all the ninth batters in the KBO, Kim Sun-bin of the Kia Tigers stands out, ranking first in the KBO’s batting average at 0.371 as of Saturday. So far this season, Kim has recorded the highest batting average when played as the Tigers’ ninth batter, at 0.383.

Also, Lee Jung-hoo of the Nexen Heroes, a super rookie in the KBO, started the season mostly as a ninth batter.

“He was assigned to that position to give him less pressure,” said Jang Jeong-seok, manager of the Heroes. “And it was done because we expected him to play the connecting role between upper and lower batters in the lineup.”

After recording a batting average of 0.453 as the ninth batter, on June 6, Lee appeared as the Heroes’ first batter in the lineup.

It’s not just the KBO where the managers are giving changes to ninth batters, either. Joe Maddon, manager of the Chicago Cubs, the 2016 World Series Champion, assigned his pitcher as eighth batter most of the time this season. Alex Ramirez, manager of the Yokohama DeNa BayStars of Nippon Professional Baseball (NPB), also assigns his pitcher as eight.

In the United States, they explained the assignment of ninth batter with “the second lead-off hitter theory,” according to which they consider ninth batters as important as first batters. Though not everyone agrees, many are starting to.

While Tony LaRussa managed the St. Louis Cardinals from 1996 to 2011, during the 2008 season, he assigned his pitchers as the Cardinals’ eight batter a total of 153 times.

At the time, he assigned the team’s best batter, Albert Pujols, third rather than fourth.

“If we start the inning with the ninth batter,” LaRussa said, “then the third batters get more chances.”

Recently, baseball analysts have begun saying that if pitchers are assigned to a lineup other than ninth, it may allow the team to score at least two to three runs in a season.

BY KIM WON [kang.yoorim@joongang.co.kr]