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Cubs Lineup Series: The Clean-Up Hitter

Cubs Lineup Series: The Clean-Up Hitter
Dan Vogelbach

Today we come to the all important 4th spot in the order.  The "clean-up" man is valued by both old-school and new-school thinkers, albeit it in slightly different ways.  The bad news is that it's slim pickings come opening day.  The good news is that help is coming.

Old School Says: This is where you put your home run hitter.  Ideal situation?  Everybody gets on base and the 4th hitter cleans it all up with a tidy grand slam.  At any rate, he's expected to hit more than solo HRs, so you put him here so he can drive in as many runs as possible.  Home runs and RBIs are what you're looking for with batting average and OBP holding less importance.

New School Says: The 4th spot comes up more frequently in run-scoring situations than any other spot in the lineup.  The difference is that, along with the 2nd spot, it is considered the spot for the best hitter in your lineup.  This spot should be filled by your hitter with the best combination of average, OBP, and, of course, power.  Th0ugh he often bats 3rd, Albert Pujols would be the prototype for this school of thought.

Opening Day Candidates:

Alfonso Soriano: Definitely more of an old-school guy as he's a pure home run hitter these days but not much of a great hitter overall.  He does project to have a .469 slugging pct., which would rank near the top on the Cubs and his .217 ISO would rank first.   His OBP was abysmal last year so despite the occasional power, you have to wonder about giving so many ABs to such a prolific out-maker, especially one who strikes out as much as he does.  Put it all together and it adds up to a .331 wOBA and a 95 OPS+, both below league average.  He did have 26 HRs and two years ago he did have a .497 slugging pct. and a .352 wOBA, which would make him adequate on this team.

Bryan LaHair: Projects to have a .352 wOBA and a .474 slugging pct. per Bill James.  On most teams, that's probably not a cleanup hitter, but on the Cubs those projected numbers put him squarely at the top in both categories.  Given 600 PAs, he should hit 20-25 HRs and looks to be around a .270 hitter.  He's also shown good plate discipline both at Iowa and in his short stint in the majors.  Normally you wouldn't entrust such an important spot to a player who has yet to play a full season in the majors, but LaHair is no kid at 29 and should be able to handle it -- and the Cubs simply don't have a lot of options.

Geovanny Soto: Other than Castro and LaHair,  Soto is perhaps the only hitter who looks to be league average or better.  He struggled in 2011 but he could fit if he rebounds to 2010 levels when he had a .497 slugging pct. and a .385 wOBA, which would easily be the best on this team if he could repeat that kind of season.  He's not a big HR hitter, but he does have extra base power and good OBP skills, so a good season may make him a non-traditional alternative to LaHair and Soriano.

Future Candidates:

Anthony Rizzo: Rizzo has 25-30 HR potential and the ability to hit about .275 with good OBP skills. That probably won't happen in 2012 but it may not be all that far away.  Rizzo is close.  He needs to make a few adjustments in his swing, particularly on good inside fastballs, but once he does, he has a chance to solve the Cubs #4 hitter vacancy for years to come, possibly starting as soon as June.

Dan Vogelbach:  The big 1st baseman generates tremendous power, the best in the system, with excellent bat speed and a surprisingly effortless swing.  He also looks to have a good approach at the plate.  Those combination of skills have Cubs scouts thinking he could be a 30+ HR guy with a good batting average and better contact skills than most power hitters.  He's a long way away, however, and he 'll start the year in low Class A Peoria.  He'll also have to watch his weight, though the last reports I've read indicate that he continues to work hard to stay in shape.  He'll have to hit because his other tools aren't all that special.  That bat, however, gives him a chance to be a classic cleanup hitter by any definition.

Javier Baez: The best bat speed in the system, Javier Baez has drawn comparisons to Gary Sheffield and Hanley Ramirez.  As mentioned in the #3 hitter edition, Baez projects to have 70 hitter and 65 power on a 20-80 scouting scale, which would make him a perennial all-star.  He's considered the best hitter for average in the system and could hit as many as 30 HRs per year.  He's a great candidate as a new school #4 hitter or a traditional #3 hitter but like Vogelbach, he's a long, long way away and will start in low Class A Peoria.  He needs to develop patience as well as trust his natural ability to consistently make hard contact.

Reggie Golden: Chiefs game anyone?  Golden is the 3rd player on this list likely to start with the 2012 Peoria Chiefs.  According to one NL scout, "The ball comes off of his bat as hard as I've seen. He's got a long ways to go because he will swing and miss a lot, but he hit one and I don't know if they ever found it."  He's as strong as any player on this list and takes a powerful swing, but he's raw and doesn't generate power as easily as Vogelbach does.  He probably won't hit for a high average, but he has 30 HR potential and showed the ability to take a walk with 28 in roughly 260 PAs.  He showed much improvement as far as his approach, but he may ultimately be a guy who fits best in the 6th spot or so.

 

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  • fb_avatar

    Ok John, I know you are only through four spots in the lineup, but i have to say, I think i am one of the few that thinks this team is going to do a little better than last year's team. It looks like this team is going to play small ball. Something every team must do at some point in a season. Do you think there record will be better than last years, and what do you think of the team.

  • In reply to Larry:

    I think the record may not be much better, but the team will if that makes sense. The pitching and defense will make it possible, but unless B Jax and Rizzo produce they will still struggle. I don't see too much small ball, but there could be more of a running game. The thing I look forward to most is the improved d

  • In reply to Larry:

    My plan is to do the 5 hitter and then lump 6-7-8 together in the same article because the philosophy will get redundant.

    I'm not a big believer in small ball because it creates so many outs. I think you can use it, but you have to choose your spots. It can't be a full-time strategy. You have 27 outs in a game and you have to avoid them as much as possible.

    As far as the team, the one thing I can say is that it will be different. They'll play better defense, and hopefully that helps the pitching. They'll also have more patience and hopefully get more people on base -- and then run the bases better once they get there. They will miss Ramirez and Pena's bat, though. I think overall they have a chance to be better than last year because they won't beat themselves out there as much as they did last year. They won't have the same caliber of hitters, but they'll be able to score runs in a bigger variety of ways than they have in the past. I'm really looking forward to this season much more than I was last season.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    To me it looks like Lahair is projected to be a better hitter than pena was, but maybe im just optimistic. Dejesus should be an upgrade to fukudome right? again my optimistic inclinations on the cubs may be prevailing.

    I agree that small ball is a little overrated sometimes, but at the bottom of the lineup, its not bad to do with some athletic players. I think it will be nice to see a lot of fresh faces on the cubs above all else, especially because most people on the team can probably be replaced, so nobodys gonna be doggin' it.

  • In reply to Larry:

    Not sure about the record, though a few less injuries would help, but I do hope this team shows more enthusiasm. And at the very least we should have some real prospects to watch.

  • This has to be Rizzo's future home, let's hope they can fix the glitch in his swing by summer, and this #4 spot could be solved for years to come.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    I think he's the guy most likely to fill that spot. That's where I'd put my money. The other 3 guys have great promise, but none are nearly as advanced as Rizzo. Vogelbach and Baez are very, very intriguing, though, and I'm going to be following them closely all year.

  • In reply to Tom Loxas:

    Whats' the problem with Rizzo's swing? I've never seen him play.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    It can get a little long and sometimes has a loop in it, so a pitcher who throws hard can tie him up inside. Every person I've either read or heard from thinks it's fixable.

    Want to say though, that a "long" swing has become too much of a concern with some fans. Power hitters, unless they're Barry Bonds or Albert Pujols, tend to have long swings -- that's how you generate power. I think the bigger problem is the slight loop. As long as his bat speed is okay, the longer swing won't be too big an issue except it probably means he wont' be winning any batting titles and he'll strike out a bit.

  • I love Vogelbach. I actually feel more confident about him than Baez. And his athleticism is underrated, in predraft workouts he was barely slower than baez in the 60 yard dash.

    Just you wait til he hits a roller to the ivy and hauls his jiggly ass round to 3rd!

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    I think he hit a triple in the AZ instructional league. Wish I could have seen that!

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Don't forget stealing a base!

    I know it was a bit of an agents reel on him, but that HR derby also had some fielding clips and frankly I think he looks fluid for his size/build. Of course his weight should be monitored, but he isn't athletically deficient like some people want to think.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    I don't think he's unathletic in the way maybe Bryan LaHair is, but that's not going to be a strength of Vogelbach's by any means. You hope he's athletic enough where he can continue to play well as he gets older.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    It's no secret that anyone who follows Cubs MiLB will be closely monitoring his stats. After all the reports that he has an advanced approach at the plate, we'll see how he does at drawing walks in A ball.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    Be fun just following Peoria...

    Speed guys like DeVoss and Pen-Chieh Chen, hitters like Baez, Vogelbach, and Golden...probably Geiger too.

    Staff will include Ben Wells, Dillon Maples, Yao-Lin Wang, Jose Rosario, and Hayden Simpson...maybe Gerardo Concepcion

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Some of those guys could be fast tracked to play for daytona some in 2012, and AA in 2013, and be in the majors for 2014.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Sounds like I may need to take the family on a road trip over to Peoria to get a glimpse of the future. Vogelsbach could end up very Prince Fielder like. I think we'd all take that!

  • In reply to Larry H:

    Absolutely we'd take that! I may have to take a trip down there myself.

  • To the new school way of thinking, is speed not that important here, John? You have a guy with similar numbers and speed, new schoolers would rather stick him at the two if they can, is that right?

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Not important for either school of thought. It depends on the power and what else you have in your lineup. If it's a guy with speed and not a lot of power, you put him in the leadoff spot. If he has both, then probably the second spot if you already have another good hitter/power hitter in the 4th spot.

    One interesting guy where you can put a guy with some SB speed is 6th because he'll be batting in front of lesser hitters and it may help you create some runs when you have singles hitters like Darwin Barney and the 2011 version of Marlon Byrd coming up.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That is interesting about 6. I always thought that about 8 because then the pitcher could bunt him over and he could score from second on a single.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Also true, h.elps to have speed at the bottom of the order in general since you'll need to score runs creatively

  • Seems like if you have a good OBP guy who's there more so from hitting than walks, he might be a good guy to put at the 3. Pitcher's gonna want to throw him strikes to keep from facing 4 with runners on. You put a guy there who has a good OBP because of his ability to take a walk, seems like you're shooting yourself in the foot a bit for that same reason.

  • In reply to Carne Harris:

    Interesting thought. Lineup protection is a source of controversy these days with stats people saying it doesn't matter much. Intuitively it makes sense. If I'm batting behind Albert Pujols, no pitcher in their right mind is going to give him anything good to hit, so you'd have to think it does matter to some degree. I'm hoping the Cubs are one day good enough to put good hitters in all 5 of the first spots so that actually becomes an issue!

  • Simply based on developmental aspects, I do not think Soriano, nor, to a lesser extent Soto, should bat 4th. Neither are key to the long-term success of the club. I hope the Cubs put LaHair there and give him a long leash, if for no other reason than to see what we have in him. I would expect there to be roster changes by Memorial Day or shortly thereafter anyway. By that time LaHair should have plenty of ABs in a key part of the line-up, and it will be possible to determine what kind of asset he really is.

  • In reply to CubsFanInNorway:

    It's slim pickings. This was probably the toughest one to come up with a list. LaHair was really the only that seemed to fit from all aspects. Soto, if he can return to his 2010 form, might have to do until we can find someone better. If LaHair and Soto both falter, this spot won't be pretty in the short term. Long term options are a lot more exciting.

  • Soriano shouldn't be hitting higher than 7th in any lineup, with that sub .300 OBP of his.

  • In reply to Eddie:

    In a good lineup, you don't have any hitters likely to post a sub .300 OBP. Alas....

  • In reply to Eddie:

    Last year's version of Soriano belongs nowhere near that kind of spot in the lineup unless you're just very old school about it and think HRs/RBIs are the only things that matter. Personally, I don't think that's the case, of course.

    At any rate, I can't see how he's on this team much longer because he just doesn't fit the directions this team wants to go. Even if he was making $3-4M/yr, he's not a fit for this team -- just have to hope someone out there thinks differently.

  • A bit off topic...

    But I'm really excited/interested to see what improvement Campana has made in the offseason. He's never been much of a BB guy, but he sounded like he's committed to working hard to improve that. And if he's gained good muscle that will improve his bat speed and just get more balls out of the infield where he can stretch them to doubles.

    Interesting to note that his batting average went up every level that he was bumped up, from Sub-A, to A, to AA, to AAA, kept moving up.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    The one thing you can say about Campana is that he will work hard to beat the odds. Seems like the greater the challenge the more he steps up to try and meet it. It's still hard for me to picture him as anything more than a 5th OF'er but it'd be fun if he proves me wrong.

    If he can even be a.330 OBP guy, it might be fun to see what he can do. I'd still put him at the bottom lineup and let him run wild.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    He's one of those guy where AVG means nothing and OBP is everything. A walk is the same as a single to him, as he's rarely in a position to knock guys in, but instead he is the catalyst. When he succeeds it seems to pull the whole team up with his energy.

  • In reply to Cameron Macpherson:

    Sure, I agree with that. Hard to have a good OBP w/o a decent average though. And if I'm a pitcher with a clue where the strike zone is, I'm throwing him as many strikes as possible until he shows teams he can make them pay for it.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    That's why my interest in his added muscle is. I think he's got the natural ability to have a healthy average, he just needs to learn how to hit LH pitching, or not be allowed near the plate when one is throwing. Maybe a shorter bat and a more selective approach would help as well, less bat dragging through the zone.

  • Would be awesome if he learned how to drag/push bunt!

  • fb_avatar

    Question for you, John:

    What's your opinion on the alleged importance of staggering the LH/RH order of your lineup?

    I ask this, because in a perfect/theoretical world, and given your criteria in the ongoing "lineup series", the Cubs could be faced with the "problem" of having two LH hitters that might be best suited to hitting next to each other in the lineup (whether that's #2 and #3 or #3 and #4) - Anthony Rizzo and Brett Jackson. Is it your opinion that they should be separated by a RH hitter (a Vitters, a Soriano, a Byrd...?) simply due to the fact that they're both LH? Or, again in a perfect/theoretical world, could it be acceptable to place Rizzo and B-Jax next to each other in the lineup?

    If one argues for the importance of "hand staggering", then a plausible solution could be the following:

    #1 - leadoff man
    #2 - Jackson
    #3 - Castro
    #4 - Rizzo

    ...but I'm with you and really like Castro in the #2 spot. So.....

    ...thoughts?

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    All things being equal, I think you'd like to avoid stringing lefties together if possible for a couple of reasons. The biggest one is that you force more pitching changes from the other team. If they have a good lefty specialist, you'd like to get him to face one batter and then exit -- or at least make him face a RH batter or two if they want to keep him in. The other reason is that pitchers can get into a rhythm working one side of the plate. If they're someone like Glavine who likes to work the outside corner, putting an all righty lineup lets him get comfortable with location.

    Ideally you like Castro 2nd, but if there's no other choice then maybe you split them up as you suggested. I'm not sure this is a decision the Cubs will have to make early on. Brett Jackson could bat 6th until he's acclimated. In the long term I think the Cubs will get a RH power hitter to stick in between Jackson and Rizzo. So maybe you have Jackson #3 and Rizzo #5, or maybe Rizzo 4th, RH power hitter, than Jackson.

    Hard to think long term w/o knowing who's going to pan out, of course but I think it's a situation that will resolve itself in time.

  • fb_avatar

    Thanks, John. I agree that the situation will more than likely resolve itself with the real possibility of either Jackson or Rizzo (or, gasp, both!) not reaching their full potential, or with the possibility of, as you mentioned, the Cubs acquiring a RH power bat to hit between them.

    Mostly, I was posing this as an academic exercise, because as I look at the ~2013 Cubs, I don't see a RH power bat (with the possible exception of Vitters...?) to split Rizzo and Jackson, and became curious of options.

    Thanks for the insight and opinion!

  • In reply to Chris Trengove:

    The lack of RH power could be why the Cubs make a strong run at Cespedes. Not much coming down the pipeline in that area until Javier Baez is ready, and that could be a few years.

  • John-New to the site recently, and enjoy the insightful articles. The Clean-Up Hitter piece has me reflecting on the depth at the 1B position in the Cubs minor league organization. With Rizzo slated for Iowa; and
    Vogelbach starting in Peoria-what happens with Rebel Ridling, Justin Bour and Richard Jones? None of these guys even made honorable mention in John Sickels Top 20 list, but each guy was a Cub draft pick between 08 & 09; and put up respectable #'s in 2011(Ridling AA .309 BA/20 HR; Bour A+ .277 BA/23 HR and Jones A .309 BA/24 HR. What are your thoughts? Thanks.

  • In reply to Upstate NY Cubs Fan:

    Thanks! Rizzo and Vogelbach are a cut above the rest. Bour is probably the best of the remaining guys. He has the best power, but not sure his defense or hit tool will be enough. Ridling is a little old for his level and, while he's a good hitter, won't have the kind of power/OBP skills you like from that spot. He may not be back with Bour due for AA and Rizzo in AAA. Jones is the most fringy of the three. He's old for his league and shouldn't strike out as much as he does and his walk rate is too low. You could probably add Paul Hoilman to that list of names. Big power guy, but big strikeouts and low average-- and old for his league.

  • In reply to John Arguello:

    Almost forgot about Rock Shoulders, good power and plate discipline. May not hit for average but I'd say he might be in the same league as Bour, maybe better.

    Should also keep in mind that some of the better 3B prospects may end up moving to 1B (Vitters, Candelario).

  • John, any chance shoulders, bour, ridling, or hoilman has enough athleticism to move to left?

  • In reply to socalcub:

    I don't think so. They may be able to play out there, but they'd be a negative. The only way you justify it is if their bat is so good you can't keep them out of the lineup, and I don't believe that's going to be the case with any of these guys. None are as good a hitter as LaHair is at this point. So if someone is moving to LF, it's probably him

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