Recall the disappointing feeling that came over you when "Revolution No. 9" filled your ears the first time you listened to The Beatles' White Album. It wasn't that Lennon's song, created with a heavy dose of Yoko influence, detracted from the album's overall greatness. Not at all, in fact, it fit perfectly into the Fab Four's double album marked by their individual explorations of creativity, but it still remained your least favorite song on the epic.
Welcome to the world of National League fandom, where you get the "Revolution No. 9" experience every time the batting order cycles through to the last spot. Watching the pitcher - or even a pinch hitter - bat lacks the same excitement of watching the middle of the lineup. However, every plate appearance counts when you only get 27 outs to score more runs than your competition, and with a tight race for three of the four NL playoffs spots nothing could be taken for granted, not even the 9th spot in the batting order.
Using extrapolated runs (XR), the following chart (or, more accurately, chart -type thing) gives us a look at the production level out of the No. 9 spot for each of the 16 NL teams. (These numbers include pinch hitters, etc. in addition to the pitchers' output at the plate.)
For the NL, the league average XR for the ninth spot is 32.616, over the course of the season.
For the Mets, the lower level of production at the ninth spot was easily overcome given the levels of production at the top, and the middle, and when Jose Valentin was hot, the bottom of their order. They didn't need the wins the extra runs would have provided either after securing the NL East title early on.
But those are the Mets, and looking at a few of the other teams near the top and bottom of the list playoffs hopes were either realized or dashed thanks, in part, to that easily overlooked ninth spot. Because it's near and dear to my heart, let's start with the NL Central. Houston, as has been well documented, almost climbed into the division lead as the Cards played out a forgettable September. Had the Astros' ninth hitter been able to produce just 5 more runs, bringing their total runs scored to 740, they could have picked up an additional win (according to the Pythagorean formula), tying them with the Cardinals, forcing the Cards and Giants to play their make-up game, and with the division title on the line.
Marc mentioned the Phillies black hole at the ninth spot back in July, and it remained one of many factors keeping them just short of a Wild Card. While allowing 812 runs, pitching was, obviously, the biggest factor in the Phillies' coming close but not close enough to capturing the NL Wild Card. Still, with 12 more runs to bring their ninth spot XR up to league average, the Phills winning percentage changes to .538, making their Pythagorean win total 87.2. It wouldn't have been enough to give them the Wild Card edge over the 88-win Dodgers, but it would have been damn close. A few runs above average, and it was theirs.
For teams that did get good production out of their ninth spot, the reverse is true; had their ninth hitters failed them, their seasonal fate could have been far different. For San Diego, the 48 runs from the ninth spot made a substantial difference. Had the Padres only received league average production out of that spot in the batting order, a difference of 16 runs, their win percentage drops from .543 to .526, giving the 85 wins, giving the Dodgers the NL West, and tying them with the Phillies for the Wild Card. Of course, having Mike Piazza or Josh Bard - whoever's not catching that day - able to pinch hit for you is quite a luxury.
With the White Album now available digitally, you can just hit skip when "Revolution No. 9" starts ringing through your headphones. The AL developed a version of the skip forward button for baseball's "Revolution No. 9" long before Apple Records started pressing CDs. Over in the senior circuit, however, no such option exists. NL mangers have to manage the ninth spot and seek value out of their albums' least interesting track.