To fulfill his promise as a top prospect, Amed Rosario has to improve his offense. And its in that vein that the Mets should resist every temptation they have to bat him eighth.
Buried in a wonderful piece by Lindsey Adler at The Athletic, which centered around the speed Rosario brings to the Mets lineup, is this little nugget about the team's plan for their batting order:
"Mets first base coach Ruben Amaro Jr. and first-year manager Mickey Callaway told The Athletic their primary focus in Rosario’s development is on his defense and his hitting," Adler wrote. "Which at this point in time will likely have him batting in the eight-spot if he makes the major-league roster to start the season."
It seems that the eight hitter, especially in the National League, is perceived as an afterthought. When fans assemble lineups, they customarily just stick the weakest hitter in the eight spot. Standard, run-of-the-mill operating procedure.
But batting eighth is exceedingly difficult, and Rosario doesn't have the plate discipline yet to be trusted in that spot.
"Plate discipline? Trust? For the eight hole," you are scoffing silently in your head head.
Trust me, I get your skepticism, but the eight hitter has a number of responsibilities. In the NL, it's commonplace for the eight hitter to be pitched around to get to the pitcher, especially with two outs and the bunt not a factor. A patient eight hitter can win a half inning, even when his team doesn't score, by getting on base and clearing that pitcher's spot. The opposing pitcher may be content to pitch around an eight hitter to get the easy out from the pitcher and end the half inning, but then the lineup flips over. And the more times MLB hitters see a starter, the more likely they are to get to that pitcher.
It makes sense then to have your eight hitter exhibit patience, but in the 46 games Rosario played with the Mets last season, it was his lack of patience that stood out.
Rosario chased a whopping 45.5 percent of pitchers he saw out of the strike zone. That meant pitchers were less inclined to throw him strikes, and it showed. Just 46.6 percent of pitches Rosario saw were thrown inside the strike zone. His contact rate was just 67.3 percent. Overall, it led to a 18.1 swinging strike percentage,with 43.6 percent of those swing-and-misses came on balls thrown outside the zone.
MLB pitchers can exploit an inpatient hitter very easily, but they can do it even more the eight spot. There is less of a reason to throw eight hitters strikes, so putting a young player who is learning the strike zone (one who presumably could grow tired of seeing fewer pitches to hit and be even more inclined to chase) in that slot in the order is like scattering fresh chum into the shark-infested waters.
If the Mets want to see Rosario flourish, they should start off the season (provided he is in fact healthy to play on Opening Day) with him batting seventh, and the catcher's spot hitting eighth. Kevin Plawecki, who is having a monster Spring Training, has a career 28.8 percent chase rate (27.6 last season). Travis d'Arnaud's is 27.6 percent (32.4, his worst of his career, in 2017).
By doing so, the Mets would station some pop and patience at the bottom of the order, and presumably allow Rosario to see a few more pitches to hit because of some run producing opportunities he'd see slotted in behind some combination of Todd Frazier, Adrian Gonzalez, and Asdrubal Cabrera.
It seems like a small lineup tweak, but it could make all the difference in putting Rosario in the best situation to succeed immediately. Then again, maybe Callaway is convinced that batting eight will instill a better command of the strike zone in Rosario. That would be a bold gamble, one that I don't think is worth taking. We'll see how Mickey decides to play it.