Jeff Mathis and Mike Napoli

Why do Angel catchers always hit 8th?

During Mike Scioscia's tenure, catchers have always been held to a different standard. His motto has always been that the 100-150 pitches that they handle are more important than the five at-bats they receive in a game. As a result, Angel catchers have established a permanent residence in the 8th spot of the batting order. This has been especially apparent since the departure of Bengie Molina and the Angel's starting catchers struggled to stay above the Mendoza line. (Although comparing the hitting ability of Jeff Mathis and Bobby Wilson to Mario Mendoza would actually be an insult to Mr. Mendoza, so I will refrain from tarnishing what is left of his good name) The question is, why has Scioscia been so adamant about having them hit eight and more importantly, what is the overall effect on the Angels lineup?

Those who are big on using analytics will explain that the 8th spot in the lineup is where a team should bury its worst hitter. This is why a couple years ago a few of the National League teams started having their pitchers hit in the 8th spot. Simulations showed that having the pitcher hit 8th instead of 9th would result in about 5 more runs scored over the entire season. However, Scioscia has never been a manager who integrates statistical analysis into his optimal lineup. My personal theory is that since the 9th spot has always been an integral spot in a Scioscia lineup as it is the bridge to the top of the order, he is putting his worst hitter in the "last" spot in his lineup by having the catcher hit 8th. This is supported by John Hester's stat line of .212/.287/.329, Bobby Wilson's stat line of .208/.272/.321, and Jeff Mathis's stat line of .198/.256/.314. Each one more pathetic and sad than the last. Not a one amongst them fit to hit in the middle of the order, let alone be an everyday catcher.

Yet, Scioscia broke his tendency of having his catcher hit 8th when he had quality hitting catchers. Bengie Molina was a staple in the middle of the order bat until he left for Texas. Mike Napoli hit as high as 4th in the line-up serving as protection for Vladimir Guerrero. These two catchers originally hit 8th in the line-up. Once they demonstrated their ability to swing the bat, Scioscia responded by moving them up in the batting order. For Bengie Molina, he managed to be the lock down the starting catchers spot with his exceptional defensive skills. He won a gold glove in 2002 and 2003. Mike Napoli is a different story. Despite his strong hitting abilities, Mike Napoli never really was able to usurp the starting catcher's job from Jeff Mathis. Part of this was his inability to stay healthy, but it was mostly due to the fact that Mike Napoli lacked Jeff Mathis's defensive skills and was always Scioscia's dog house. So this seems to show more that Scioscia has an affinity for light-hitting catchers with strong defensive skills over catcher's who can mash the ball.

So in the spirit of #PMA, how can this benefit the 2013 Angels? Currently, the Angel's two catchers are Chris Iannetta and Hank Conger: two catchers who can swing the bat, but are lacking defensively. So far in the 2013 season, Scioscia has had Conger and Iannetta bat in the 8th hole every game. It is understandable why Scioscia has pursued this course so far. In 2012, Iannetta hit .240/.332/.398. Not a terrible stat line, but certainly not a middle of the order bat. Conger is yet to demonstrate his ability to handle the bat in the Major Leagues. However, Iannetta is currently off to a red-hot start batting .417/.462/.917. Given the Angels hitting woes to start the season, hopefully Iannetta can continue his hot start, earn Scioscia's trust in his hiting ability and be rewarded with a move up in the batting order. Scioscia is one of the best and most intelligent managers in baseball, so there is no reason to believe he the promotion isn't on the horizon. If Erick Aybar keeps struggling, we could see Iannetta hitting 2nd in the line-up working counts, giving Mike Trout the ability to steal bases, and driving the ball with authority. We Angel fans have waited a long time for the second coming of Bengie Molina, and Chris Iannetta just might be that catcher.