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Did 600-homer guys hit cleanup?

8/16/2011
Manny Rubio/US Presswire

Conventional wisdom says you hit your big home run hitter in the cleanup spot. With Jim Thome joining the 600-homer club, I thought it would be fun to take a little look at the eight members of the club to see where they hit most often in their careers -- as it turns, only two of the eight hit cleanup most often and neither of them did it 50 percent of the time.

Barry Bonds

Career plate appearances: 12,606

PAs batting cleanup: 3,599 (28.5 percent)

Home runs hitting cleanup: 242

Bonds received his most PAs in the three-hole, but also came to the plate more than 2,000 times in the leadoff spot (where he hit early in his career) and the five-hole. Bonds hit fifth in his first MVP season in 1990, as Andy Van Slyke hit third and Bobby Bonilla fourth. When Bonilla left after the 1991 season, Bonds moved into the cleanup spot. Inexplicably, Dusty Baker also hit Bonds fifth during his monster 1993 season when he hit .336/.458/.677. Will Clark and Matt Williams manned the three- and four-holes, but if Bonds had hit third or fourth (or even second) -- and thus received more plate appearances, the Giants may have picked up that one extra win they needed to tie the Braves that year.

Hank Aaron

Career plate appearances: 13,941

PAs batting cleanup: 5,126 (36.7 percent)

Home runs hitting cleanup: 261

Fred Haney, Aaron's manager in Milwaukee, talked about moving Aaron into the leadoff spot since he would get more plate appearances, but he never actually did it. Aaron had nearly 8,000 PAs hitting third.

Babe Ruth

Career plate appearances: 10,617

PAs batting cleanup: 2,012 (19 percent)

Home runs hitting cleanup: 144

We're missing some data from early in his career, when he was mostly a pitcher, but Ruth wore No. 3 for a reason -- that's where he batted most often, in front of Lou Gehrig. But if the Yankees had worn numbers in 1920 -- his first season with the club -- Ruth would have worn No. 4.

Willie Mays

Career plate appearances: 12,493

PAs batting cleanup: 1,849 (14.8 percent)

Home runs hitting cleanup: 111

Mays started 66 games in his career in the leadoff spot. Most of these came late in his career -- 32 times in 1972 and 20 times in 1973, his final season. It actually made since in 1972, when he posted a .400 on-base percentage.

Ken Griffey Jr.

Career plate appearances: 11,304

PAs batting cleanup: 984 (8.7 percent)

Home runs hitting cleanup: 56

Griffey batted third nearly his entire career.

Alex Rodriguez

Career plate appearances: 10,550

PAs batting cleanup: 4,173 (40 percent)

Home runs hitting cleanup: 243

Did the '96 Mariners have the best 2-3-4 single-season combo of all time? Hitting second, A-Rod hit .358/.414/.631, Griffey hit .303/.392/.628 and Edgar Martinez hit .327/.464/.595.

Sammy Sosa

Career plate appearances: 9,896

PAs batting cleanup: 3,319 (33.5 percent)

Home runs hitting cleanup: 215

Sosa received a few more PAs hitting third than cleanup.

Jim Thome

Career plate appearances: 10,220

PAs batting cleanup: 2,998 (29.9 percent)

Home runs hitting cleanup: 202

Thome has received more than 2,000 PAs in the third, fourth and fifth spots. On the 1995 Cleveland team that reached the World Series, Thome usually hit sixth -- and despite hitting .314/.438/.558 that year, began 1996 hitting seventh!

Follow David Schoenfield on Twitter @dschoenfield.