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New cleanup trend on display on Opening Day

Power numbers have dipped from traditional boppers batting fourth
April 5, 2016

David Ortiz is a cleanup-hitting archetype: brawny and imposing, with the enduring dugout cred of perpetuating 30-homer seasons.And as Ortiz appeared on an Opening Day lineup card for a final time on Tuesday -- batting fourth, of course -- he had relatively few comparables across the Majors.Consider this: Among the

David Ortiz is a cleanup-hitting archetype: brawny and imposing, with the enduring dugout cred of perpetuating 30-homer seasons.
And as Ortiz appeared on an Opening Day lineup card for a final time on Tuesday -- batting fourth, of course -- he had relatively few comparables across the Majors.
Consider this: Among the 24 Opening Day cleanup men on teams who started play as of Monday night, a majority -- 13 -- hit fewer than 20 home runs last year.

Opening Day cleanup hitters

In fact, five Opening Day cleanup men hit 10 or fewer homers in 2015: Tampa Bay's Corey Dickerson (10), Atlanta's Adonis Garcia (10), San Francisco's Hunter Pence (9), San Diego's Wil Myers (8) and Milwaukee's Jonathan Lucroy (7).
Sure, several bona fide sluggers opened the season batting fourth, including Nelson Cruz, Nolan Arenado, Albert Pujols, Edwin Encarnacion and Todd Frazier, all of whom finished last season with at least 35 homers. Ortiz, who hit 37 homers last season, joined their company once the Red Sox opened against the Indians following Monday's postponement.
Clearly, though, teams have changed how they conceptualize the cleanup role. The late-career "slugger emeritus" is rarer in the Major Leagues today than a decade ago, because of performance-enhancing drug testing and teams' increasing reluctance to hand out long-term contracts to older players.
The increased use of analytics among front offices -- and managers -- has contributed, too. Notions of optimal lineup construction have evolved quickly, to the point that looking like Jim Thome isn't part of the criteria for batting cleanup.
For evidence of that, look at the very first game of the Major League Baseball season. On Sunday afternoon in Pittsburgh, outfielders Starling Marte and Randal Grichuk batted cleanup for the Pirates and Cardinals, respectively. Both are athletic and explosive, like NFL cornerbacks -- a completely different body type from, say, Jason Giambi.

Neither Marte nor Grichuk has had a 20-homer season in the Major Leagues. The same is true of Eric Hosmer, who batted cleanup for the Royals on Sunday night. But their teams accounted for three of the Majors' top four records last season. Perhaps, then, our timeworn ideas about cleanup hitters are retiring along with Big Papi.

Jon Paul Morosi is a columnist for MLB.com.