The Case for Jose Lopez as the Seattle Mariners' Cleanup Hitter

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The Case for Jose Lopez as the Seattle Mariners' Cleanup Hitter
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

As I wrote last week , Milton Bradley's appointment as the Seattle Mariners' cleanup hitter highlighted a bitter truth about the Mariners' lineup; it is (nearly) completely devoid of power. 

If Seattle's first game against Oakland proved anything, it's that skipper Don Wakamatsu made the right decisions at the top of his lineup. The top two hitters, Ichiro Suzuki and Chone Figgins, both reached base four out of 10 plate appearances and combined for three runs scored and three stolen bases. Three-hitter Casey Kotchman took advantage of his speedy predecessors, going 2-4 (3-4 if you count the botched call that robbed him of a leadoff single in the eighth) and driving in four of Seattle's five runs.

If Ichiro and Figgins can maintain their career on-base-percentages, Kotchman should have plenty of opportunities to hit with runners in scoring position. Who hits behind him, however, could be the bane or boon of the Seattle Mariners' chances for success.

My premise is this; neither Milton Bradley nor Jose Lopez is an ideal cleanup hitter, but considering past performance, skill set, and team commitment, Jose Lopez should be batting cleanup in the Seattle Mariners' lineup. 

 

Milton Bradley as a Cleanup Hitter

As previously discussed in the article linked above, Milton Bradley is not a prototypical cleanup hitter. He lacks the power, otherwise known as the ability to "clean the bases," that is desirous in a cleanup role. 

Coming off a miserable season with the Chicago Cubs, in which he posted a mediocre .770 OPS, Bradley does not seem to make much sense in the cleanup role. He has rarely hit for power in his career, even when he was able to stay healthy.

Bradley's most productive power stint may have been in 2007 with San Diego, when he belted 11 home runs in only 42 games, a pace of over 42 home runs per 162 games played. 

At age 32, his best days may be behind him. In his most recent season, with the Chicago Cubs in 2009, Bradley managed only 12 home runs in 124 games played; a pace of less than 16 home runs per 162 games played.

 

Jose Lopez as a Cleanup Hitter

Unlike Milton Bradley, whose career numbers seem to be declining, Jose Lopez has seen tremendous growth over his past three seasons. 

At age 26, Lopez enters the 2010 season having increased each of the past three seasons in the following statistics: home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and OPS. 

Lopez has several weaknesses; namely, his ability to draw walks and, subsequently, his subpar on-base-percentage. When evaluating a cleanup hitter, however, these numbers carry less weight than power statistics.

 

Comparing the Two

If this were a debate about who should bat second, Milton Bradley's skill set (namely the ability to take pitches and draw walks) would clearly trump Lopez's, but it's not. Instead, this is a debate about which hitter fits better as a cleanup hitter

Bradley clearly has Lopez outmatched in plate discipline, the ability to draw walks, and, most likely, on-base-percentage. These numbers, however, don't equate to Bradley being more acclimated to the cleanup spot. 

A prototypical cleanup hitter is the best power hitter on the team; someone who will proverbially clean the bases any time the top three hitters get on base. Lopez has proven that he can hit for power, as he was one of only two Mariners to hit 25 or more home runs in 2009, and he has shown a knack for driving in runs when they are on base (career .284 batting average with runners in scoring position).

 

The opening game showed that when Ichiro and Figgins reach base, runners will most likely end up in scoring position. For the Mariners, who averaged 3.9 runs per game last season (good for 30th in the Major Leagues), the offense will need to capitalize on Ichiro and Figgins' presence on the mound.

An astonishing 66.2 percent of readers voted last week that they believe Milton Bradley will succeed in the cleanup role this year, but I propose the question: Can the Mariners afford to gamble on his success in this role?

For all I know, Bradley could go 4-4 tonight with two home runs and four runs batted in, cementing himself as the Mariners' cleanup hitter and quieting any doubts about his power. However, there is also a possibility that Bradley could stumble out the gate and waste some of the precious few scoring opportunities the Mariners will have this year. 

The Milton Bradley experiment could work, but I don't believe that it should have begun in the first place. Instead of looking to Bradley as a cleanup hitter, whose strengths are reaching base and batting for average, the Mariners should have given the nod to Lopez, who has consistently shown the ability to hit for power. 

The season has 161 games to prove me wrong, but I believe that in time, Bradley will be moved out of the cleanup spot. Who replaces him is up to Wakamatsu, but I believe that Jose Lopez is a great candidate to do so.

Who do you think would make a better cleanup hitter? Sound off in the comments below!

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