What Ever Happened To The Traditional Cleanup Hitter In Major League Baseball?
Josh Bell Is One Of Few Current Sluggers Who Fit The Traditional Concept of the Clean Up Hitter
The Once Revered Fourth Spot Is Now Filled By Rookies Or Virtually Unknown Players
Lou Gehrig and Johnny Bench, along with twenty percent of their brethren in the Baseball Hall of Fame, would shudder at a particular new trend in America's Pastime. It has to do with neither defensive shifts nor pitch counts nor pace nor velocity, because this change would seem much more personal to those historic sluggers.
For well over a hundred years since its inception, baseball has revered what became famously referred to as the Clean Up spot. The fourth hitter had always been assigned to the team's beat run producer, thereby carrying more status for those sluggers who have earned the right to hit in the middle of the order.
During the past few seasons, however, the concept of the traditional clean up hitter has all but vanished. Rarely does a club's best slugger ever bat as low in the order as fourth, and often that slot is given to a rookie or unproven player.
In a recent game between the Pittsburgh Pirates and Chicago Cubs, the television analyst made a remark which reinforces that the idea of the traditional clean up hitter has all but disappeared.
"Josh Bell is their clean up hitter, even though he is their best hitter," the Chicago announcer observed during the July 12 game at Wrigley Field. "(Manager) Clint Hurdle might want to think about moving him up in the lineup to get him more at bats."
Most baseball traditionalists, as well as many of our hallowed sluggers in Cooperstown, would shudder at such a remark. Nevertheless, the analyst's suggestion is based on the current trend of placing your star hitters in one of the first three tiers of the order, even though such a tactic has not been noticeably beneficial.
While there are still a few sluggers in addition to Bell who hit clean up, guys like J.D. Martinez of the Boston Red Sox and Cody Bellinger of the Los Angeles Dodgers, most teams have chosen to fill that spot with youngsters or virtually unknown players. Here are ten of those clean up hitters who have not yet earned the right to bat in the spot once reserved for the likes of Harmon Killebrew or Ralph Kiner or numerous others who were among the most feared hitters of their eras.
Cavan Biggio of the Toronto Blue Jays
His father Craig is in the Hall Of Fame, as well as a slugger who hit behind him in the fourth spot named Jeff Bagwell. Someday Cavan may join them, but right now he is only a rookie who should have to put in more time before getting to hit in this once revered spot.
Tyler O'Neill of the St. Louis Cardinals
A contending team should have proven hitters such as Matt Carpenter or Paul Goldschmidt etched into the fourth spot, but most of the time St. Louis has this youngster's name there.
Luis Arraez of the Minnesota Twins
Manager Rocco Baldelli's team is on pace to shatter the record for most homers by a team in one season, so one would expect to see a veteran slugger like Nelson Cruz or C.J. Cron or Eddie Rosario to hit number four instead of this rookie.
Christian Stewart of the Arizona Diamondbacks
Keel Marte or Eduardo Escobar both have better offensive numbers, so either one would offer more reverence to the traditional idea of a clean up hitter.
Luke Voit of the New York Yankees
With sluggers like Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge and Edwin Encarnacion on the roster, Yankee legend Reggie Jackson probably winces whenever he sees this name in the lineup spot he once owned.
Bobby Bradley of the Cleveland Indians
Manager Terry Francona had this rookie hitting in the fourth slot even before he had hit his first career home run.
Hunter Dozier of the Kansas City Royals
Brian's younger brother has certainly shown power in his brief career, but veterans like Alex Gordon and Charlie Cuthbert would better fit the old school definition of the clean up hitter.
Renalto Nunez of the Baltimore Orioles
When anyone considers the rebuilding Orioles as having a feared slugger, he automatically thinks of the veteran Trey Mancini long before this youngster ever comes to mind.
Franmil Reyes of the San Diego Padres
In the past two years the Padres have signed to huge contracts veteran stars Eric Hosmer and Manny Machado, so one of those two would be hitting in the fourth spot in the previous incarnation of the sport.
Yasmani Grandal of the Milwaukee Brewers
For a few weeks the All-Star catcher had replaced Lorenzo Cain in the leadoff spot, which is even less unlikely than hitting clean up on a team boasting sluggers such as Cristian Yelich, Ryan Braun and Mike Moustakas.
Yorman Alvarez of the Houston Astros
A formidable lineup featuring sluggers such as Alex Bregman and Michael Brantley and George Springer should not have this rookie manning such a traditionally significant spot in the batting order.