Ruben Tejada could be Terry Collins' guinea pig in batting a position player ninth

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Ruben Tejada during spring training practice at Port Ruben Tejada during spring training practice at Port St. Lucie on Sunday, Feb. 23, 2014. Photo Credit: Newsday / Alejandra Villa

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Anthony Rieber Newsday columnist Anthony Rieber

Anthony Rieber has been at Newsday since Aug. 31, 1998 and in his current position since 2004.

PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Terry Collins all but assured Ruben Tejada of being in the Opening Day lineup for the Mets when he told him this past week, "You're the shortstop here."

What the manager didn't tell Tejada -- but what Tejada has heard through the baseball clubhouse grapevine -- is that he might be the No. 9 hitter in that lineup.

Behind the pitcher.

Collins is considering using that unconventional strategy when Mets pitchers start batting in exhibition play later this week. If he likes the fit, Collins just might roll it out when play starts for real on March 31.

The reasoning? A non-pitcher is more likely to get on base in the No. 9 spot than a pitcher and will be on base more often when the top of the order comes to bat.

Voilà! Increased run production. Though how much is up for debate.

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It's a strategy that was used by Tony La Russa in 1998 when he wanted more men on base for Mark McGwire with St. Louis, and in later years for the same reason with Albert Pujols on the Cardinals.

Collins said he has spoken with La Russa about the idea, though not recently. Collins thinks it could work if Tejada gets back to the player he was in 2011-12, when he had on-base percentages of .360 and .333.

"The only time you are a leadoff hitter is the start of a game," Collins said. "The only time you're the third hitter is the first inning. So we have a third hitter who is one of our top RBI guys. We have a fourth hitter who is an RBI guy. Why should we not have as many guys on ahead of those guys as we can?

"If Ruben Tejada is the same player he was two years ago, he was on base all the time. Why shouldn't you hit him ninth? Then here comes the front part of your lineup, which is the strongest part of your team."

It's been done before, and not just by La Russa. Joe Girardi of the Yankees and Joe Maddon of the Rays each did it once last season in interleague play. Girardi hit David Phelps ahead of Austin Romine in Colorado and Maddon put Jeremy Hellickson in front of Jason Bourgeois against the Dodgers.

In the mid-1950s, Casey Stengel batted Don Larsen and Tommy Byrne ahead of Phil Rizzuto and Bobby Richardson with the Yankees. Rizzuto never got over it and used to "holy cow" about it on Yankees broadcasts on WPIX.

The stigma that would attach to the position player batting ninth is one reason managers don't do it more often. Tejada, who has had enough to worry about in an error-filled spring training, smiled when asked how he would feel about batting behind a pitcher.

"If they make that decision, I've got to hit ninth," Tejada said. "It's a little bit different."

Said Collins: "I think you've got to approach it the right way: 'Hey, this is what's best for the team. Don't be afraid to hit ninth because if you were in the American League, you'd be hitting ninth.' If you approach it right to a guy like Ruben, you say, 'You're the second leadoff hitter, big boy, and guess what? If you get on like you can get on, you're going to score 100 runs, which means you're going to make a lot of money.' "

But is all the fuss worth it? According to the Society for American Baseball Research's Jacob Pomrenke, most studies have shown that, in theory, deploying this strategy would earn a team an increase of 0.5 to 1.5 runs per season.

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It's accepted that 10 runs equals one win, which means a team wouldn't even get close to creating a single win by batting the pitcher eighth. But no one has done it often enough to make the data conclusive.

Will Collins actually do it during the season?

"I have no idea yet."

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