In baseball, a cleanup hitter is the fourth hitter in the lineup. They are the ones with the most power in the team and their most important job is to bring runs in, the cleanup hitter “cleans up the bases” meaning that if there are runners on the bases the cleanup hitter scores them in ergo the name. There is a whole theory on how a coach sets up his lineup card before the game so he gets the best outcome of his players during the game.
The theory behind the use of the cleanup hitter is that at least one of the batters before him should reach a base in a way possible, usually being a walk or a base hit. The batters in the beginning of the lineup have a variety of different traits but traditionally the lead off hitter which sits at the number one spot has speed, plate discipline, and high on-base percentage. The second batter is usually a contact hitter, means they are able to consistently make contact with the ball and put it in play by any means possible to move the runner up and into scoring position. It is a possibility for the first or second batter to bunt their way on base because they both should have good speed. The third batter is usually the best all-around batter that tends to have the highest batting average and has the role of scoring runs himself, but ultimately the job comes down to getting on base for the cleanup hitter to have a turn to bat in the same inning. Now with cleanup hitter coming up to hit if he has runners on base he has a chance to produce runs by getting a hit or by using their power they can hit a home run or an extra base hit. It is often found that the 3rd and 4th batter can switch roles in a game because of the ability of the 3rd batter to also produce runs. The 5th batter in the lineup also has a small responsibility of pushing in runs so he acts like a backup for the cleanup hitter in case he doesn’t get the job done. He shares multiple traits with the cleanup hitter therefore can also compete for the spot on the lineup to become a cleanup hitter. After that batters from 6 to 9 descend by their skill level meaning the 9th batter has a tendency of being the worst batter.
There are reoccurring trends each specific batter has, which is what gives them the position in the lineup card. A cleanup hitter has trends in his statistics, which is how cleanup hitters are determined from the rest of the team or even how good of a cleanup hitter they are. A cleanup player tends to hit a lot of home runs and extra base hits, has lower on base percentage (OBP), high number of runs batted in, have high slugging percentages, and can also tend to be the player with the most strikeouts. Since the cleanup hitter is more of a power hitter than a contact hitter so there are a good number of strikeouts, which also explains the low (OBP). Cleanup hitters also commonly attend home run derbies because they lead in home runs. Even though it is just an event the home run derby is where they get the chance to show case their power without the pressure of being in a game. Although there are athletes that break or don’t fit into these trends, either because they are missing a couple of the traits or is an all-round player that can’t be categorized to just the cleanup spot. An all-around player is good at most if not all aspects of the game and lead the leader boards in statistics.
American League vs. National League
There are two leagues in North American Major League Baseball, the American league and the National League. A key difference between the two is that the American League has a designated hitter (DH). The DH is a batter that hits for the pitcher and never plays defense. Meanwhile, the National League demands that the pitcher hit in the lineup unless another player pinch hits for the pitcher, in which case the pitcher must leave the game and must be replaced for the team's next defensive half-inning. The DH is important in the American league because it is usually one of the better hitters. It is a trend that the DH is either in the 3rd, 4th, or 5th spot in the lineup. This is taken away when there are interleague games when the National League is the home team, so the American League team does not use a DH, and their pitchers take their turn at bat.
There are many examples of batters that have excelled in the cleanup spot of the lineup. These batters have left a mark on contemporary baseball and helped it evolve into the game it is now. One example of a cleanup hitter is Albert Pujols. He is considered as a candidate for baseball’s hall of fame due to his immense contributions to his team as a cleanup hitter. Albert is also known as “The Machine” which originated due to his power and runs batted in (RBI) statistics. He has bounced around between the three spot and the four spot as a hitter in his career. He currently plays for the Los Angeles Angels and was recently demoted to DH in the cleanup spot.
Clean Up Batter Examples
Here is a small list of more Cleanup Batters that have made a name for themselves due to their role as a clean up hitter and strong offensive force for their team:
- Kalkman, Sky (2009-03-17). "Optimizing Your Lineup By The Book". beyondtheboxscore.com.
- Tango Dolphin Lichtman, Tom M Andrew E Mitchel G (2014). The Book: Playing the Percentages in Baseball (Playing the Percentages in Baseball). Createspace Independent. pp. 398 pages. ISBN 9781494260170.
- Keri Click, Jonah, James (2006). Baseball Between the Numbers: Why Everything You Know About the Game Is Wrong. Basic Books. pp. 1–57. ISBN 9780465005963.
- Brinson, Linda (2012-08-26). "Whats The Difference between the american and national leagues?".
- "Albert Pujols". Biography.com.
- Wood, Robert. "Top 10 Clean-Up Hitters In Baseball". BleacherReport.com.
- Whitehead, Bill. "Mets Cleanup Hitter Cespedes Clears It Up: He Wants the Ring". USNews.