Monday, May 17, 2010
Cleanup this mess
By Mark Simon
Chris Carter became the fourth player to start in the No. 4 spot in the batting order on Sunday, and the Mets power drought from that slot continued. Carter's RBI gave the Mets 17 RBI from their starting cleanup hitters this season. They only have one home run from the cleanup spot this season.
Carter has as many starts in the No. 4 slot as Frank Catalanotto did and one fewer than Jason Bay, the primary occupant of that spot, with 34 starts.
He got his shot because little has worked in the cleanup spot this season for Jerry Manuel. Mets cleanup hitters rank tied for last in the majors in home runs, 27th in OPS (.689, 117 points below the league average, 26th in OPS+ (meaning the home ballpark doesn't even matter), and first in strikeouts with 42.
Thirteen National League teams have gotten more home runs out of their No. 8 hitters than the Mets have gotten from the No. 4 spot. A dozen NL squads have gotten a better OPS from eighth than the Mets have gotten from fourth.
The club record for most starters used in the cleanup spot is 12, set in 1966, and no starting cleanup hitter that season had more RBI than the 16 Ed Kranepool had with 16 in 23 games. Ken Boyer, whose best days as a Cardinal were behind him by that point, led the Mets with 37 starts in the cleanup spot that season.
The Mets have had three seasons- 1973, 1989 and 1999 in which they used a total of three cleanup hitters. It helped the latter team to have Mike Piazza and Robin Ventura on the roster.
Using as few as four starting cleanup hitters has been a positive indicator for the Mets, since it shows some lineup stability. Of the 13 previous Mets teams to start as few as four different cleanup hitters, 11 of them had winning records.
It figures that the Mets have three other likely starting cleanup hitters on their roster -- David Wright and Jeff Francoeur once they get going again, and currently disabled Carlos Beltran.
Rod Barajas, the team's leading home run hitter, also has cleanup potential if needed. He's started four games in the No. 4 spot in the lineup, including two last season. His teams are 3-1 when he starts at the cleanup spot, and at this point, that's what the Mets need there -- winning performance.