When the Yankees’ beat the Orioles on Monday night, Robinson Cano was batting in the cleanup spot. Then, in the team’s victory over the Red Sox on Tuesday, Dustin Pedroia was batting fourth in the opposition lineup. Why is that significant? Because of the position both men play.
Since 1919, only 7,096 lineups have featured a second baseman in the cleanup slot (or just above 2%). However, this year, that ratio has tripled, which signals the relative level of strength throughout the position in the current game.
Cleanup Hitters by Position, Since 1919 and Current Year (click to enlarge)
Note: Due to database errors, the position count differs from total games played by about 1%.
In addition to Cano and Pedroia, who have batted cleanup in 31 and 19 games, respectively, 12 other second basemen have been placed in the heralded power position, including Neil Walker, who leads the group with 66 games, and such notable names as Brandon Phillips, Dan Uggla, Michael Young, and Chase Utley. In total, second basemen have accounted for 262 games in the cleanup slot, putting the position on pace for its highest number since 1919.
If Alex Rodriguez is unable to return to action on Thursday, it’s very likely that Robinson Cano will be moved up to bat fourth against left hander Jon Lester. If that occurs, and Pedroia maintains his current place in the order, it would mark the seventh time this season that two second basemen started a game batting cleanup, which would tie 2007 for the most such occurrences since 1922. In that latter season, there were 24 games with two slugging second baseman in the middle of the lineup (most featuring Rogers Hornsby as one half of the tandem), but since then, there have only been 16 season in which at least one has taken place (including a 25-year drought between 1977 and 2002).
Jeff Kent leads all men at his position with 1,266 games in the cleanup slot, easily outdistancing Hornsby’s total of 699, a margin that would stand even if the Rajah’s 417 games before 1919 are included. Although Kent’s status seems safe for the time being, Cano, who currently has 57 games batting fourth, seems to a good bet to eventually march up the rankings. In the meantime, the Yankees’ second baseman is only five games shy of Tony Lazzeri’s franchise mark. If Arod is out of the lineup much, Cano could break that record this season.
Second Basemen with Most Games Started in the Cleanup Slot, Since 1919
Position strength ebbs and flows with each era, but the current crop of second baseman has helped extend a recent stretch of relative productivity at the keystone sack. No longer the exception, prolific offensive players like Cano, Pedroia, and Utley have helped to increase the offensive profile of the position they play. That’s why it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the cream of this crop rise to the cleanup slot. And, after the era has run its course, the ultimate impact could be a swelling of the position’s rank in the Hall of Fame.