The 10 worst cleanup hitters since 1957

So far in this series, we’ve examined leadoff hitters, second-slot hitters and No. 3 men. Now it’s time to focus on the very worst No. 4 hitters of the past half-century (defined as starting at least one-half of their team’s games in that lineup slot).

The stat we’re using to rank these stinkers is OPS+. Certainly, OPS+ isn’t the be-all and end-all of offensive measurement, but, hey: This isn’t a serious “study.” It’s just for fun. One might quibble with the exact ordering of these guys, but even the blunt instrument of OPS+ has properly identified them all as hitters leaving something to be desired, particularly in the cleanup spot.

What about “cleanup” is there not to understand?

Last time, we discussed the fact that the third-place hitter’s job isn’t all that complicated: He’s just supposed to be darn good, effective at both getting on base and driving runners in. The fourth-slot guy’s job is, if anything, even simpler than that. The role has been called “cleanup” since forever for a reason: See the runners soiling the pristine white bases out there? This guy’s job is to clean them bases up, get them runners home.

Obviously it’s great if a cleanup hitter hits for a high average and/or draws a lot of walks, but if he’s doing either or both of those things without hitting for power, he isn’t properly performing the cleanup function. Setting the table is a means to an end, not an end in itself; the purpose of getting on base is to come around and score. The cleanup hitter is there to convert baserunners into runs, to finish what the others have started. And that means hitting for power, and plenty of it.

(Dis)honorable mentions

Here are this week’s guys who just missed the cut:

                                                                Team
  Rank    OPS+  Player             Pos     Year    Team   Lg    OPS+
  23T      92   Bill Robinson       LF     1978    PIT    NL      99
  23T      92   Rico Carty          DH     1979    TOR    AL      82
  23T      92   Dave Parker         RF     1987    CIN    NL     102
  23T      92   Andre Dawson        DH     1993    BOS    AL      90
  23T      92   Orestes Destrade    1B     1993    FLA    NL      80
  20T      91   Andre Thornton      DH     1981    CLE    AL      96
  20T      91   Steve Garvey        1B     1986    SDP    NL     103
  20T      91   Cal Ripken          SS     1995    BAL    AL      98
  18T      90   Ken Boyer           3B     1965    STL    NL      92
  18T      90   Keith Moreland      RF     1986    CHC    NL      97
   17      89   Greg Luzinski       DH     1984    CHW    AL      92
  13T      88   Dick Billings      C-LF    1972    TEX    AL      82
  13T      88   Dale Murphy       CF-RF    1989    ATL    NL      89
  13T      88   Joe Carter          LF     1995    TOR    AL      92
  13T      88   Andruw Jones        CF     2007    ATL    NL     107
   12      87   Deron Johnson       DH     1975    CHW    AL      94

Predictably, most of these are veteran sluggers in decline; whether understandably or foolishly, their deployment just hadn’t yet caught up with their rate of production. A different sort of case is that of Orestes Destrade: He wasn’t much good, but the Marlins were a first-year expansion team who can’t be much faulted.

Much more interesting is the case of Dick Billings and the 1972 Rangers: They weren’t a first-year expansion team, but you sure couldn’t tell that by looking at their roster. That their manager was none other than Ted Williams simply added to the pathos. Sure, Billings was marginal and overmatched, but so was nearly everyone else poor Teddy Ballgame had to work with. What a mess.

As for Keith Moreland … I don’t know. They were the Cubs. What can you say?

And as though we needed more evidence that the once-formidable Andruw Jones fell off a cliff last year … how’s that big Dodger contract looking so far?

And as for Joe Carter … well, we’ll be encountering him below. So why don’t we proceed?

Tied for ninth-worst cleanup hitter since 1957

OPS+: 85

Tony Armas, center fielder, 1983 Boston Red Sox (team OPS+: 99)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  142  613   77   61  107   29    0  131    2    0    8   31    0    1 .218 .254 .453 .707

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  141  606   77   61  106   28    0  131    2    0    8   31    0    1 .218 .254 .456 .710

Jim Presley, third baseman, 1990 Atlanta Braves (team OPS+: 95)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  137  577   59   54   72   29    0  130    3    0    4   10    1    1 .242 .282 .414 .696

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  106  451   50   48   63   26    0  105    3    0    4    6    0    1 .244 .290 .447 .737

Joe Carter, center fielder-left fielder, 1990 San Diego Padres (team OPS+: 97)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  161  697   79   52  115   48   18   93    7    0    8   12   22    6 .232 .290 .391 .681

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   84  368   43   27   59   23   13   59    5    0    3    4   12    4 .220 .277 .386 .663

Armas was, of course, among the most one-dimensional hitters in the history of the game. Thus, while as we said above that delivering the power is a cleanup hitter’s No. 1 priority, completely eschewing everything else, as Armas did, is really going too far. Armas was making an out three times out of every four trips to the plate, for crying out loud, yet manager Ralph Houk, who as we’ve seen before had some odd notions about batting orders, and moreover was extremely reluctant to modify a set lineup, had decided that Armas was going to be his cleanup man and, by golly, that’s just how it was going to be.

And, yes, you’re reading that correctly: Armas grounded into a double play more frequently than he drew a walk.

Speaking of free-swinging, undisciplined one-dimensional sluggers … my favorite Jim Presley story is one my brother-in-law Ross loves to tell. Ross has lived most of his adult life in the Pacific Northwest, and has been a faithful (which means generally long-suffering) Mariners fan for decades.

Now, Ross tells this story far better than I can write it. Ross is a keenly insightful “baseball guy”: an outstanding player in his day, and an accomplished youth and high school coach for decades since. What’s more, he’s a brilliant and deeply learned man, and oh hell but I hate him so, a gifted storyteller, as well.

All I can offer is this: Try to imagine yourself on a lazy late afternoon, comfortably nestled in a scruggly old patio chair, about half-way through your second (oh, why not, your third) oh-so-cold-and-satisfying Full Sail Ale, while far overhead, birds flutter and chirp among gently swaying Pacific Northwest treetops …

When Dick Williams took over as Seattle manager in mid-1986, he was nearly 60, and was taking on his sixth major league manager’s job. It was safe to say he’d learned a thing or two.

After observing his young third baseman for a while, Williams took Presley aside.

“Jim,” Williams said, “I’ve got a question for you.”

“Fire away!” Presley said with a grin.

“Okay, then,” Williams continued, “Have you ever heard the expression, ‘Don’t get cheated up there’?”

“Oh, absolutely, Dick,” Presley answered, nodding intently. “That’s my whole philosophy. I don’t want that pitcher to get me out with the bat on my shoulder, or on a check-swing. If I’m goin’ down, I’m goin’ down hard!”

“Uh-huh,” said Williams. “Well, you know what, Jim?”

“What?” Presley asked.

“The next time you find yourself in a two-strike situation,” Williams said, “There’s something I want you to do.”

“What’s that, skip?”

“Get cheated.”

And as for Joe Carter, well … we’ll be encountering him below. Again.

The eighth-worst cleanup hitter since 1957

OPS+: 84

Jeffrey Leonard, left fielder-designated hitter, 1990 Seattle Mariners (team OPS+: 97)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  121  525   39   30   75   37    6   97    3    0    7   20    4    2 .251 .305 .356 .661

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   98  420   35   23   66   24    4   74    3    0    7   17    4    2 .256 .300 .368 .668

That Leonard’s nickname was “Hackman” tells you all you need to know about his offensive approach. He was an impressive athlete and a talented player, but Leonard was one of those guys whose reputation was generally a stride or three ahead of his performance. He batted cleanup more than twice as often as he batted in any other spot in the order, even though Leonard was never a serious power generator.

And if he’d been a questionable choice as a cleanup man in his prime, by this point the 34-year-old Hackman was a ludicrous choice as a cleanup man. That he was deployed in the role for back-to-back seasons by the Mariners tells you all you need to know about the managerial brilliance of Jim Lefebvre.

The seventh-worst cleanup hitter since 1957

OPS+: 83

Don Baylor, left fielder-designated hitter, 1980 California Angels (team OPS+: 98)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   90  380   39   19   51   24    4   32   11    0    5    9    6    6 .250 .316 .341 .657

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   85  361   38   17   47   24    4   28   11    0    5    9    6    6 .246 .316 .330 .646

His selection as AL MVP in 1979 was pretty silly, but Baylor had delivered an outstanding season as the Angels’ cleanup hitter. So it was completely reasonable for manager Jim Fregosi to start out 1980 with Baylor in the role.

What wasn’t so reasonable was that Fregosi stuck with Baylor even as it became abundantly obvious that the wrist injury that was plaguing Baylor that season had thoroughly drained his power. Baylor’s utter lack of production in the heart of the Angels’ lineup was a key reason for their collapse from a division-winner in ’79 to a 65-95, sixth-place disaster in 1980.

Tied for fifth-worst cleanup hitter since 1957

OPS+: 81

Dick Stuart, first baseman, 1962 Pittsburgh Pirates (team OPS+: 96)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  100  433   52   31   64   32    1   94    2    0    5    9    0    1 .228 .286 .398 .684

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   96  403   51   28   57   28    1   86    2    0    5    9    0    1 .226 .280 .399 .679

Ron Coomer, first baseman, 2000 Minnesota Twins (team OPS+: 85)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  135  589   64   46   82   36    2   50    4    0    5   25    2    0 .270 .317 .415 .732

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  120  518   52   38   63   31    2   44    3    0    5   22    2    0 .267 .313 .395 .708

Stuart’s dismal 1962 performance has always slightly puzzled me. He was a famously dreadful fielder, and a frightfully slow baserunner, but one thing Stuart could be counted upon to do was deliver with his booming bat. I’ve never heard about any injury issue Stuart was facing that year.

Manager Danny Murtaugh can’t be faulted for giving Stuart the generous opportunity he did to break out of the slump, especially since it apparently was just a slump, though a real humdinger. Indeed, Murtaugh can be credited for handling the situation quite wisely, giving Stuart his due chance, then decisively turning the late-season first base starts over to the talented rookie Donn Clendenon, who performed well.

Okay, a great Dick Stuart story I recently heard, told by Larry Gerlach at this year’s Nine conference. Larry was a teenager in 1956 in Lincoln, Neb., taking a job as a scorecard-seller at the Lincoln Chiefs’ ballpark just to get a chance to hang around and watch the games.

Larry’s at that ballpark on the season’s opening day, an hour or two before gametime. Suddenly, instead of the usual dusty, dented pickup truck or station wagon, a glistening two-tone, lavishly finned Cadillac convertible comes hurtling off the highway into the stadium’s gravel parking area, brodying to a jauntily angled halt.

Startling as this set of wheels and its entrance is, its occupant is even more so. Coolly easing himself out of the car is a handsomely tall, rippling-muscled, bronzely-tanned wonder, sporting an exquisitely greased dark-brown pompadour and ducktail.

And that’s not all. This specimen is decked out in oh-so-sharp sunglasses, a lime-green (yes, lime-green) skin-tight short-sleeved polo shirt, creamy-white crotch-bulging pegged pants, Italian loafers, and—Larry is keen to add—no socks.

“This,” Larry says, still awestruck more than half a century later, “was Dick Stuart.”

Stuart would wallop 66 home runs for Lincoln that season.

So, how can Ron Coomer possibly hope to follow that act?

Well, he can’t. As extravagantly memorable as Stuart was even in his failures, Coomer was blandly forgettable.

Coomer was a blandly forgettable player on a blandly forgettable team who appears on this list only because his—well, maybe not blandly forgettable, but something less than colorfully memorable—manager (Tom Kelly) chose to bat him cleanup. It was a poor choice, but one little noted at the time, and even less remembered.

Tied for third-worst cleanup hitter since 1957

OPS+: 77

Tim Wallach, third baseman, 1991 Montreal Expos (team OPS+: 95)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  150  637   60   36   73   50    8  100    6    0    4   12    2    4 .225 .292 .334 .626

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  127  542   51   31   66   40    7   85    6    0    4   11    1    4 .236 .299 .343 .642

Joe Carter, designated hitter-first baseman-left fielder, 1997 Toronto Blue Jays (team OPS+: 83)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  157  668   76   55  102   40    5  105    7    0    9   12    8    2 .234 .284 .399 .683

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   89  381   47   35   47   20    4   64    7    0    5    8    5    2 .244 .294 .413 .707

Wallach wasn’t a great hitter, but he was a good one. He really wasn’t the sort of guy you want batting cleanup, and usually he didn’t: Over his career he had twice as many starts in the fifth or sixth slot as he did batting fourth. But most of the time he wouldn’t embarrass you batting fourth, as he did here; this just happened to be the season in which he suddenly hit the wall. Thus he’s in the same boat as a lot of the veterans in the honorable mentions list above.

Now, as for Joe Carter … well.

The whole Joe Carter mystique baffled me at the time, and still does. Yes, he was remarkably durable, yes, he was a “gamer,” yes, he ran the bases quite well for a big man. All told he was a good ballplayer, a fine guy to have on your team.

But he wasn’t anything more than a pretty good hitter. He certainly wasn’t a star hitter, and most definitely he wasn’t the sort of hitter you want in the heart of your order. Yet Carter was nearly universally perceived as a terrific hitter, a big star hitter, and he was deployed in the third or fourth slot in his team’s order more than 1,700 times—that is, nearly his entire career. He was named to the All-Star team five times, was voted the Silver Slugger Award twice, and received MVP votes in eight separate seasons, including two top-five finishes.

All of this huzzah was completely, utterly unwarranted. It isn’t that he wasn’t quite that good; it’s that he wasn’t anywhere close to that good. But everyone, not just the mainstream media, but his management as well, was merrily drinking the Joe Carter Kool-Aid.

I don’t intend this as any sort of knock on Carter himself. He was obviously a hard-working player who kept himself in top shape, and did the very best he could. By all accounts he was (and presumably still is) a wonderful guy.

But he just, well, wasn’t anywhere flipping anything close to that good. Indeed he was, as indicated here, repeatedly performing as one of the very worst cleanup hitters in the second half of the 20th century.

The next time someone tells you that the RBI statistic isn’t really all that overrated, and hasn’t really served to cause people to misperceive the actual value of ballplayers, just answer with these two words: Joe Carter.

The second-worst cleanup hitter since 1957

OPS+: 75

Willie Kirkland, right fielder, 1962 Cleveland Indians (team OPS+: 96)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  109  470   56   31   72   43    3   63    0    3    5   10    9    1 .200 .272 .377 .649

When batting f\Fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   85  367   47   28   61   36    3   43    0    2    5    6    9    1 .219 .293 .426 .719

Kirkland’s major league career consisted of not just one, but two distinct phases of disappointment. He was a tremendous five-tool athlete, and he destroyed the minors, leading this league or that in runs scored, triples, homers, RBIs and batting average.

Thus when he arrived in the majors, the Giants anticipated stardom, but instead what they got was good-but-nothing-special performance. After three uninspiring seasons, they gave up and traded Kirkland to Cleveland. The Indians, figuring the change of scenery would trigger Kirkland’s blossoming, instead got yet another nice-but-hardly-great year from him in 1961.

That was disappointment phase No. 1. Then came 1962.

As we see, Kirkland simply didn’t hit a lick. His batting average last saw the heights of .250 nine games into the season, and he spent the bulk of the year wrestling the .200 mark to a draw. Forget stardom, forget even cleanup-hitter status; the 28-year-old Kirkland was now struggling to justify deployment in the starting lineup altogether.

And he’d never recover. He’d spend the next four years producing in this sluggish manner, steadily receding into part-time status. Finally he’d wind up in Japan, in those days the boneyard for American has-beens.

The worst cleanup hitter since 1957

OPS+: 72

Aramis Ramirez, third baseman, 2002 Pittsburgh Pirates (team OPS+: 88)

Overall:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
  133  570   51   44   71   29    3   95    8    0   11   17    2    0 .234 .279 .387 .666

When batting fourth:
   GS   PA    R  XBH  RBI   BB  IBB   SO  HBP   SH   SF  GDP   SB   CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
   99  411   38   34   54   22    3   69    5    0    7   10    2    0 .241 .287 .390 .677

So Ramirez had broken out with a big year as a 23-year-old in 2001, and so it made complete sense for Pirates manager Lloyd McClendon to have him in the cleanup spot at the outset of ’02. So far, so good. And over the first couple of weeks of the season, Ramirez was delivering at a .348/.407/.500 clip. So far, so good.

Then in a bench-clearing brawl on April 17, Ramirez severely twisted an ankle. Hey, these things happen.

But rather than give Ramirez a sufficient DL stint to fully heal, the nobody’s-idea-of-a-serious-contender Pirates had him back in action within two-and-a-half weeks, and in the starting lineup, batting cleanup, within three-and-a-half.

And stinking on ice.

Ramirez wasn’t close to fully healed. He was hobbling, hampered by the bad ankle in the field, on the bases, and at the plate. He hit .160/.185/.307 in May—but McClendon left him in the lineup, and in the cleanup spot.

He hit .217/.272/.265 in June—but McClendon left him in the lineup, and in the cleanup spot. He hit .198/.224/.342 in July—but McClendon left him in the lineup, and in the cleanup spot.

All told, Ramirez would hit .223/.265/.376 after returning from his injury—but McClendon left him in the lineup, and in the cleanup spot all the way into mid-September. Ramirez would finally get his rest, and heal—in the offseason.

Give Ramirez his props for playing hurt. But give McClendon and the Pirates a weapons-grade raspberry for failing to get any kind of a clue that maybe this “let him play through it” thing wasn’t working out so hot.

Next installment

Flailing failures at fifth.

Print Friendly
 Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on Twitter1Share on Google+0Share on Reddit0Email this to someone
« Previous: Bucky Walters: A forgotten legacy
Next: TUCK! sez: Sure, but what about Sosa and/or Piazza? »

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Current ye@r *