The Seattle Mariners announced on Sunday that recently-acquired outfielder Milton Bradley will serve as the team’s cleanup hitter to start the season. Bradley, who endured a miserable 2009 campaign with the Chicago Cubs, sports a career line of .277/.371/.450 (AVG/OBP/SLG).
In some respects, the appointment of Milton Bradley as Seattle’s cleanup hitter highlights Seattle’s largest potential problem entering 2010: a severe lack of run production and power hitting.
Milton Bradley’s career statistics leave much to be desired. Through 10 seasons, Bradley has played in over 100 games only four times. His career highs in runs (78), home runs (22), and runs batted in (77) are mediocre. Additionally, even if a full season were assumed, his 162-game averages in runs (86), home runs (20), and runs batted in (76) remain rather ordinary.
There are bright spots to Bradley’s career, however, as he posts a career on base percentage of .371, as well as a career OPS of .821. His career .277 batting average is respectable, and he has consistently been able to draw walks (78 walks per 162 games played) to reach base.
The problem with Milton Bradley isn’t necessarily his skill set, but his skill set as a cleanup hitter.
The Ideal Cleanup Hitter
The prototypical cleanup hitter is the best power hitter on any given team. In an ideal baseball lineup, the first and second hitters are high on base percentage guys, the third hitter is the best contact hitter on the team, and the fourth hitter is the guy you can count on to clean the bases when they are full.
The Seattle Mariners do not feature a player who fits the prototypical cleanup hitter mold. In 2009, only two Mariners hit for 25 or more home runs (2B Jose Lopez and 1B Russell Branyan), and the Mariners finished in the lower half of baseball in home runs and runs scored.
Much to the Seattle Mariners’ chagrin, the best teams in baseball typically feature an impact power hitter at cleanup. For example, take a look at the playoff teams from 2009:
Listed below are cleanup hitters from the 2009 playoff teams, along with their 162-game-average home run totals from last year
Boston – Kevin Youkilis (32.16)
Colorado – Troy Tulowitzki (34.33)
LA Angels – Torii Hunter (29.94)
LA Dodgers – Manny Ramirez (29.59)
Minnesota – Justin Morneau (36)
NY Yankees – Alex Rodriguez (39.19)
Philadelphia – Ryan Howard (45.56)
St. Louis – Matt Holliday (33.42)
As this list shows, nearly every successful team in the Major Leagues features a power hitter (or two) in the middle of their lineup. Additionally, most playoff teams feature more than one, such as the New York Yankees (Alex Rodriguez and Mark Teixeira), Philadelphia Phillies (Ryan Howard and Chase Utley), St. Louis Cardinals (Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols), and Minnesota Twins (Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer).
Unfortunately for the Seattle Mariners, their lineup doesn’t feature many power threats.
The Seattle Mariners’ Cleanup Hitter
Following Sunday’s announcement, Milton Bradley assumes a cleanup spot previously occupied by 3B Adrian Beltre. The good news for Bradley is that Beltre, compared to his career statistics, grossly underperformed in that role. Therefore, Bradley may not have the highest standards to live up to.
Milton Bradley’s numbers pale in comparison to the prominent cleanup hitters listed above. His 162 game average last year was 15.67, and his previously mentioned career highs in home runs (22) and runs batted in (77) are painfully weak for a lineup slot that demands power.
Despite a seeming inconsistency with the cleanup role, Bradley may be the most suitable for the Seattle Mariners’ cleanup spot in 2010.
Quite simply, the Seattle Mariners are lacking a dominant power hitter to assume the role of cleanup hitter. In 2009, the Seattle Mariners finished 24th in baseball in team batting average (.258), 28th in runs scored (640), and 17th in home runs (160). Additionally, the only Seattle Mariner to hit over thirty home runs in 2009 (and one of only two Mariners to hit twenty-five or more), Russell Branyan, departed via free agency.
Those statistics confirm what was stated earlier: The Seattle Mariners have a severe power shortage. Not to say that the Seattle Mariners can’t win without power. In fact, the 2009 team showed that winning was possible without scoring an impressive amount of runs. However, having a powerful cleanup hitter would help the fans sleep easier.
Could It Work?
Bradley could prove to be a competent cleanup hitter, but it would not be in the prototypical cleanup hitter sense of the batting spot. At several points in his career, Bradley has posted an adequate batting average (e.g. .321 batting average in both 2003 and 2008) and on base percentage (e.g. .421 on base percentage in 2003; .436 on base percentage in 2008).
With Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins batting first and second, and Casey Kotchman in the third spot of the lineup, Bradley should have a number of batters on base when he comes to the plate. If he can bat for average, and show a decent amount of home run pop, he could easily surpass his career high in runs batted in, and provide a consistent run-producer in the heart of a lineup that desperately needs one.
The good news for the Mariners is that most of Milton Bradley's offensive success has come as a cleanup hitter. As previously mentioned, his two most successful offensive campaigns have been in 2003 with Cleveland and 2008 with Texas. In both of those years, Bradley spent a substantial amount of time in the cleanup spot. If he can revert to his 2003/2008 form, this move could pay dividends for the Mariners.
Then again, things could take a turn for the worse. Bradley could follow a number of paths that lead to destruction. First, he could fail to hit for power (Chicago Cubs – 2009), and fail to provide the spark needed from the cleanup role. Second, he could get injured (San Diego Padres – 2007), thereby not contributing to the Mariners’ offense at all. Third, he could go postal (Texas Rangers Broadcaster Incident – 2008), and create a major disruption for a ballclub that is built on team chemistry.
Milton Bradley’s appointment as the cleanup hitter could be successful, disastrous, long, brief, and anything in between. The Seattle Mariners hope that Bradley regains his 2008 form and contributes a high batting average, high on base percentage, and satisfactory power numbers.
Sound off in the comments section with how you think Milton Bradley will perform as the Seattle Mariners cleanup hitter.