What could possibly be more exciting than hitters in the 8th spot, in the National League nonetheless? Lots quite frankly, but the 8th spot in the batting order is something that managers have to deal with, hiding away the guys who aren't so good with the bat, hoping that they can do just enough not to create an offensive vacuum in the bottom of the order. Fans just have to watch - or go get beer - while the 8th hitter takes his cuts at plate.
Production in that spot is minimal and a hitter's role there isn't as obvious as it is for the sexier spots in the order. In fact, with pinch hitters, defensive substitutions, and all that jazz, a player hitting 8th doesn't often get a full season worth of plate appearances in that magic spot. Start hitting the ball well, and they buy their way up in the order. Too poorly, and your on the bench, unless of course you're one of those guys whose skill with the leather rivals the country's best Doms, making them indispensible to the lineup.
To see who in the NL was a valuable contributor hitting 8th, I limited it to hitters with a minimum of 200 PAs at that spot. That way, I could see which individual players were able to contribute something while hitting 8th on a fairly regular basis. For the NL, that was just 10 players. Ranking them by RC/27, only five had marks higher than 4 RC/27. Those guys were:
Russell Martin - 5.26
Aaron Miles - 5.06
Ronny Paulino - 4.94
Josh Barfield - 4.68
Eliezer Alfonzo - 4.55
Russ Martin was the best of the lot, hitting .285/.357/.436 through 337 PAs. His line looked good enough to move him up in the order, and I suspect that's exactly what will happen this season. (Is that right Dodger fans?) Going by what we consider desirable qualities for the 8th hitter, Martin put the ball in play and hit for extra bases, .151 ISO.
Miles had the top OBP of the group with a .363 mark; although Paulino was right behind at .360 followed by Martin. Miles didn't do much more than get on base in his .225 PAs as the 8th hitter. That's not a bad thing, but with the pitcher coming up to bat, in most cases, after you, getting on base isn't always enough unless you can stay there in hopes that the batting order turns over again.
Alfonzo led the group in ISO, with a .176 mark. His 9 HRs in 279 PAs also led this little group of under recognized hitters. Unfortunately for Giants fans, the 34 runs Alfonzo created batting 8th weren't enough to push his team into the playoffs.
Josh Barfield, with the Padres last season, was the tops in terms of runs created, making 50 of them as the Pad's 8th place hitter. He led the field with 410 PAs in that spot. Barfield had a .129 ISO, and 32 of his 106 hits from 8th spot went for extra bases - 8 were home runs. Those 50 runs were worth, roughly 10 wins for the Friars, helping to give them the coveted NL West crown and put them in the playoffs.
Martin gets the 8th spot MVP award based on the 45 runs created in just 337 PAs. BY giving his team the additional 4+ wins, the Dodgers were able to duke it out with the Padres until the final moments of the season, before settling for the NL Wild Card.