Top 10 Clean-Up Hitters in Baseball
What kind of baseball player makes a good clean-up hitter?
Let's ask someone who batted clean-up in 1,174 of his 2,820 career games—more than any other spot in the batting order:
God do I love to hit that little round son-of-a-bitch out of the park and make 'em say 'Wow!'
Thank you, Reggie Jackson, for enlightening us.
Clean-up hitters like Mr. October aren't worried about nerdy, new-school statistics like OBP, BABIP and WAR.
Clean-up hitters are only concerned with manly, old-school stats like HR, RBI and SLG.
With that in mind, let's take a look at the top 10 clean-up hitters in baseball, with three Honorable Mentions for good measure.
Note: All statistics updated through April 22 courtesy of ESPN.com, unless noted otherwise.
Evan Gattis C Atlanta Braves:
Evan Gattis has a very interesting tale to tell while playing for the Atlanta Braves this season. Jordan Hill of iSports.web wrote on April 19 that "even if you have already heard the story of Evan Gattis, it is one that definitely does not get old."
I won't tell his entire story here. But I will tell how Gattis has filled in for injured All-Star catcher Brian McCann and totaled three doubles, three home runs, nine RBI and a .486 slugging percentage in 43 at-bats as the Braves' clean-up hitter.
But the 26-year-old is hitting a mere .186 in the fourth spot, so he only gets an honorable mention on this top-10 list. His decision to not wear batting gloves also earns him an honorable mention. I wonder if Evan Gattis prepares for an at-bat by employing the same method used by Moises Alou. Personally, I would be upset if I tried that method and it didn't actually work.
Mike Napoli 1B & David Ortiz DH Boston Red Sox:
Signed as a free agent in the offseason, the 31-year-old Napoli has filled in for the injured David Ortiz as the Boston Red Sox's clean-up hitter. In those 70 plate appearances, Napoli hit eight doubles and three home runs to rack up 19 RBI, second-most among American League clean-up hitters. And his .557 slugging percentage is also second in the AL among qualified clean-up batters.
But Napoli is an honorable mention because Ortiz is back, and Napoli will no longer bat clean-up on a regular basis. And Ortiz is an honorable mention with his teammate because Big Papi is respected enough as a clean-up hitter to displace a hitter like Napoli, who has done so well this season in the four-hole.
Ortiz has earned his reputation. Just last season, he hit 26 doubles and 23 home runs to rack up 60 RBI in 90 games, batting .318 and slugging .611. Ortiz has made a good living as a clean-up hitter, although he should really clean up his language.
10. Adam Jones, CF: Baltimore Orioles
Adam Jones has finally developed into the complete, five-tool player that the Baltimore Orioles envisioned when they traded for him before the 2008 season.
So far this season, the 27-year-old has done much of the same. In 55 at-bats as the O's clean-up hitter, Jones is hitting .415 with five doubles, two home runs, 11 RBI and a .623 slugging percentage.
Yes, Jones has yet to really find his power stroke. But his slugging percentage is impressive, and his RBI numbers show that he's still achieving the primary purpose of a clean-up hitter: drive in runs.
9. Travis Hafner, DH: New York Yankees
New York Yankees fans only wish that all their free-agent signings would have a career revival like Travis Hafner has experienced so far this season.
The 35-year-old DH saw his power wane at the plate in recent seasons. After hitting 141 home runs in his first five seasons with the Cleveland Indians, Hafner totaled only 59 homers in his last five with The Tribe.
Signed by the Bronx Bombers in the offseason, Hafner has got his groove back. In 40 at-bats as a clean-up hitter, Hafner has three doubles, three home runs and eight RBI with a .300 batting average and a .600 slugging percentage.
Unfortunately, playing primarily as a DH with the new interleague rules has so far prevented Hafner from qualifying for the league leaders in any statistical categories, most notably slugging percentage.
8. Jed Lowrie, SS: Oakland Athletics
Oakland's budding superstar Yoenis Cespedes is on the 15-day DL, but he was struggling as the clean-up hitter anyway.
In stepped Jed Lowrie, who would normally hit second in the batting order. But in 26 at-bats as the A's clean-up hitter, Lowrie has a .654 slugging percentage, with two doubles, one home run and eight RBI while batting .462.
If Lowrie can sustain numbers like those, Cespedes may have to find another spot in the batting order when he returns.
7. Evan Longoria, 3B: Tampa Bay Rays
Evan Longoria is in his sixth year in the major leagues, all with the Tampa Bay Rays. For his 162-game average, Longoria has hit 40 doubles and 33 home runs with 115 RBI, a .276 batting average and a .516 slugging percentage. And he has hit fourth in the batting order for 226 of his 655 games played, second most of any spot in the order. (Baseball Reference)
During the 2013 MLB season, the 27-year-old has proven to be one of the best clean-up hitters in baseball.
The Rays' third baseman is currently batting .314 and slugging .529 in 51 at-bats in the clean-up spot. Longoria has hit two doubles and three home runs to compile 27 total bases and seven RBI. (Baseball Reference)
6. Chris Carter, LF: Houston Astros
Chris Carter would be surprising a lot more people this season if his Houston Astros had stayed in the National League. But the Astros moved to the AL in the offseason, and the Junior Circuit is already familiar with the 26-year-old California native.
Carter played in 67 games for the Oakland Athletics last season. In only 218 at-bats, Carter hit 12 doubles and 16 home runs to go with 39 RBI and a .514 slugging percentage.
Now Carter has a chance to play everyday with the Astros, and he has not let them down. Look where Carter currently stands among qualified AL clean-up hitters:
If Carter keeps swinging the bat like this, baseball fans will learn his name in no time.
5. Michael Morse, LF: Seattle Mariners
The Seattle Mariners wanted a powerful bat in the middle of their lineup, so they engineered a three-team trade with the Washington Nationals and Oakland Athletics to acquire Michael Morse. Now they have one.
While Morse has made the Mariners justify that blockbuster trade, he has made the Washington Nationals regret it. On April 3 James Wagner of The Washington Post wrote that "the Nationals will miss Morse’s bat and they may not find a replacement for a full season of his production." In the meantime, the Nationals could always have Bryce Harper bat clean-up. Just a thought.
4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: Los Angeles Dodgers
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez is doing his best to help the Los Angeles Dodgers live up to the hype this season.
The 30-year-old from San Diego has four doubles, two home runs, 33 total bases and 13 RBI in 61 at-bats while batting clean-up. (Baseball Reference)
Overall, Gonzalez's .385 batting average is fourth-best among all qualified MLB hitters.
3. Brandon Phillips, 2B: Cincinnati Reds
When Cincinnati Reds left fielder Ryan Ludwick was lost on Opening Day with a significant shoulder injury, Reds manager Dusty Baker was forced to consider his options, as he told Mark Sheldon of MLB.com at the time:
I have to think about what's the best lineup for us. There are quite a few things that go into the equation. We'll see.
Baker chose second baseman Brandon Phillips, who normally hits second in the batting order.
Right now, Baker looks like a genius. In 67 plate appearances as the Reds' clean-up hitter, Phillips has five doubles, four home runs, 38 total bases, 20 RBI and a .582 slugging percentage while batting .328. (Baseball Reference)
To be fair, Baker knew all along that Phillips had the experience to fill Ludwick's void: Phillips has more career plate appearances while batting fourth in the order than in any other spot. (Baseball Reference)
2. Prince Fielder, 1B: Detroit Tigers
Prince Fielder reigns as the best clean-up hitter in the American League.
He has taken all of his 64 at-bats this season as the Tigers' clean-up hitter. He currently has 21 hits, six doubles, four home runs and 19 RBI while hitting .328 and slugging .609.
The nine-year veteran leads the Junior Circuit in RBI, batting average and slugging percentage among qualified clean-up hitters, and is tied for second in home runs. Plus, Fielder is tied for second in RBI among all MLB hitters.
Fielder has been impressive this year, and was so in his first season with the Tigers. In 2012, he hit 30 home runs with 108 RBI while hitting .313 with a .528 slugging percentage.
Despite his performance—both past and present—Prince Fielder is not the best clean-up hitter in baseball right now.
1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS: Colorado Rockies
Tulo is back!
After an injury-shortened 2012 season, Troy Tulowitzki is healthy again and batting fourth for the Colorado Rockies. As the Rockies' clean-up hitter, Tulowitzki has five home runs, 34 total bases, 16 RBI and a .708 slugging percentage while batting .315.
Tulowitzki's five home runs are second in MLB among clean-up hitters, while his 16 RBI are fourth. And Tulo's .686 slugging percentage is the best of all qualified players who hit fourth in the batting order.
These statistics have earned Tulowitzki the title of best clean-up hitter in baseball, while the shortstop has helped the Colorado Rockies achieve the best record in the MLB standings.
In fact, Chris Schmaedeke of RantSports.com says that Troy Tulowitzki might earn himself another title this season:
As he piles up big numbers and if the Rockies keep winning, the star shortstop may be in the MVP talk by the end of the year again.