The fourth spot in the batting line-up in baseball is typically the showcase for a power hitter.
As in, “go big, or go home.”
A guy like retired Boston Red Sox superstar David Ortiz was the prototypical clean-up hitter: big and strong with a keen batting eye and a swing that produced a ton of homers. With runners in scoring position, Big Papi strode to the plate with a look in his eye that said “I got this.”
In his 20-year big league career, Ortiz appeared at the plate 10,091 times, hitting 541 homers, 632 doubles and driving in 1,768 runs. He added another 17 homers — a couple that go down in history — and 61 RBI in 85 playoff games.
In some cases, the clean-up hitter might not be a giant like Ortiz, but rather an adept hitter who makes great contact in key situations, with just enough pop in his bat to make opposing pitchers wary.
There are 10 usual fourth-hole batters we think have all the tools to drive in runs, or make the opposition walk them intentionally. Here they are, five from the NL and five from the AL, in no particular order.
10. Adrian Beltre – Texas Rangers
Those looking at Dominican veteran Adrian Beltre’s 2017 spring training stat line ought to forget it. The respected superstar doesn’t have a hit in 12 Cactus League at bats, but as they say, championships aren’t won in March. For the majority of his 19-year major league career spent with four teams, Beltre has been a middle-of-the-order threat who has learned to strike out less, walk more and hit doubles and homers like he was still in his prime. Now 37, “The Captain” launched 31 doubles, a triple, 32 homers and drove in 104 runs while hitting .300 last season. The four time Silver Slugger award winner also walked 48 times against just 66 strikeouts, posting a .358 OBP and .521 slugging percentage. Beltre, who will be 38 just after the season starts, has showed no signs of slowing down and should be a fixture at third base and in the clean-up spot for Texas this season.
9. Jake Lamb – Arizona Diamondbacks
Most good clean-up hitters have an important three spot man who “protects” their bat in the line-up by being as effective (or more so) than the guy hitting fourth. In the case of the D-backs, they have two great young players in Paul Goldschmidt and Jake Lamb batting 3-4 who could be together for years. Lamb, 26, is an up-and-comer who we feel will develop into one of the most lethal hitters at his position. The D-backs third sacker broke out in a big way in 2016, hitting .249, with 31 doubles, nine triples, 29 home runs, 91 RBI and a .509 slugging percentage. He did draw 64 walks and five IBBs to push his OBP to .332. He’ll need to cut down the strikeouts (154 in 594 plate appearances) if he wants to be a premier clean-up hitter. However, with Goldschmidt, 29, ahead of him in the order for the foreseeable future, Lamb’s presence at the plate will only grow.
8. Eric Hosmer – Kansas City Royals
With Kendrys Morales now in a Toronto Blue Jays uniform, the clean-up spot for the Kansas City Royals is now Eric Hosmer’s to lose. Still just 27, the left-handed power hitting first baseman drove in 104 runs in his sixth full season in the bigs, the first time he has done so. While he did fail to hit over 30 doubles for the first time in four seasons (he clubbed 24), Hosmer had his first 20-plus home run campaign with 25. The three-time Gold Glover and 2016 all-star’s only blemish was an elevated strikeout total (career high 132). He did walk 57 times to keep his OBP over .300 (.328), while his batting average was .266. Hosmer, a great contact hitter, comes into the 2017 season on a high note, having hit .385 for the World Baseball Classic champion Team USA. He chipped in three doubles, a homer and five RBI for the triumphant Americans.
7. Jay Bruce – New York Mets
The fact the Cincinnati Reds gave up on 29-year-old slugging outfielder Jay Bruce last season could come back to bite them. Now without a competent power hitter to protect the likes of Adam Duvall and Joey Votto in the line-up, the rebuild pains in Reds land will only continue. Bruce smacked 25 homers and drove in 80 runs in just 97 games with the Reds before being dealt to the Mets at the deadline in 2016. He hit .265 and added 22 doubles and six triples in those 97 games too. The free-swinging southpaw saw a bit of a dip in his numbers with the Metropolitans, but still managed five doubles, eight homers and 19 RBI in 50 contests. His 33 homers and 99 RBI in 2016, then, were a welcome sign that Bruce was back to the form he showed between 2011 and 2013, when he averaged 32 home runs and 102 RBI.
6. Albert Pujols – Los Angeles Angels
For how bad the Angels were as a collective in 2016, finishing 74-88, Albert Pujols dipped into the fountain of youth to put up numbers not seen from him since the end of the last decade, when he was with St. Louis. The big native of Santo Domingo, D.R. hit .268 with 19 doubles, 31 homers and 119 RBI, his highest such total since driving in 135 for the Cardinals in 2009. The three-time National League MVP has always had a great batting eye and routinely walked more than he struck out. In recent years, that trend flip-flopped, but as of 2016 Pujols had 1,214 walks and just 1,053 strikeouts in 10,552 plate appearances. Now 37, there is no reason to believe that Pujols won’t be in the middle of the Angels batting order this season and for a few after that. He’s shown to be durable enough and in 2017 should reach the 600-homer plateau, as he has 591 (along with 1,817 career RBI).
5. Daniel Murphy – Washington Nationals
Daniel Murphy was cause celebre with the New York Mets during the 2015 season, capping off a decent year at the plate with a playoff performance for the ages, slugging seven homers and driving in 11 runs in games between the NLDS and the NLCS, where he was named MVP (four homers in four games). One would have thought, then, “is Murphy a flash in the pan?” There certainly was some skepticism for his continued success when he signed a three-year, $37.5 million contract with the Nats before the 2016 campaign. Murphy, 31, kept the naysayers at bay with a monster 2016 season. He hit a career high .347, led the NL in doubles with 47 and contributed career highs with five triples, 25 homers and 104 RBI. He also led the NL in slugging percentage at .595 and in OPS at .985. All that earned him an all-star nod (his second), his first Silver Slugger award and a second-place finish in MVP voting to Kris Bryant.
4. Mark Trumbo – Baltimore Orioles
No lone player in major league baseball surprised pretty much everyone like Mark Trumbo in 2016. The seven-year veteran was always a big swinger, but he never came close to 40 homers ever and had only once driven in 100 runs (in 2013 with the L.A. Angels). However, as clean-up hitter for the O’s last year (his first season in Baltimore) Trumbo led the American League in homers with an astounding 47, while driving in 108. In nearly every offensive category he posted career numbers, including runs scored (94), homers, RBI, slugging percentage (.533) and OPS (.850). Included in his offensive onslaught last season were 27 doubles (third best total), a triple, 51 walks (second best) and two stolen bases. For that performance, he earned his second career all-star nod and first Silver Slugger award. He, Manny Machado and Chris Davis form one of the most fearsome 3-4-5 trios in baseball.
3. Carlos Gonzalez – Colorado Rockies
Except for an injury-shortened 2014 season, CarGo has been a force in the middle of the Rockies’ batting order for seven seasons. The Venezualan outfielder has been a very good contact hitter, besides his power, lugging a career .291 batting average into the 2017 season. In 2016, Gonzalez stroked a career high 42 doubles to go along with two triples and 25 homers. He also drove in 100 runs, turning that feat for the second time since a watershed 2010 season when he won a batting title (.336 average) and smacked 34 homers in tandem with 117 RBI. A three-time all-star, three-time Gold Glove winner and two-time Silver Slugger award recipient, Gonzalez will continue to clean up for superb hitters D.J. LeMahieu and Nolan Arenado.
2. Nelson Cruz – Seattle Mariners
There might not be anymore apt nickname for a major league slugger than “Boomstick.” Nelson Cruz earned that moniker over the last three seasons (one with Baltimore and two with Seattle), hitting 40, 44 and 43 home runs. The 40 from 2014 led the American League and the 108 RBI he recorded were a personal best. The free-swinging Dominican corner outfielder has had few contemporaries the last three campaigns, as he has also hit 81 doubles and driven in 306 runs to go along with the 127 big flies. Cruz’ prowess at the plate has been legendary in the playoffs too and should Mariners make it back to the post-season after a 15-year hiatus, his clean-up bat could be integral. Cruz was the 2011 ALCS MVP with the Texas Rangers, hitting .364 with an incredible six homers and 13 RBI in just six games.
1. Anthony Rizzo – Chicago Cubs
In just three seasons, former Boston Red Sox sixth round pick Anthony Rizzo has established himself as an elite clean-up hitter and first baseman. Rizzo split time in the four-hole with a cast of players last year and depending on Joe Maddon’s game-plan, could be platooned there again. However, make no mistake, Rizzo is the prototypical clean-up basher, having mashed 95 home runs and collected 288 RBI since the 2014 season. In addition, Rizzo has beefed up his slugging percentage (he had a career high .544 in 2016) by stroking 109 doubles and eight triples in those three seasons — each an all-star campaign. Rizzo had a breakthrough season for the Cubbies in 2016, garnering a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger to go along with his all-star nom. At 27, he’s in his prime and will only get better.