Why Mike Jacobs Shouldn’t Hit Cleanup

Besides the obvious, there is solid statistical evidence that Mike Jacobs should not be batting fourth for the Mets — or in anyone’s lineup, for that matter.

While it’s true I tend to eschew many baseball stats, the truth is, I do find stats to be valuable in evaluating a ballplayer. Further, sometimes one uncovers numbers that reveal or prove something about a player’s “makeup” or “character” — things that supposedly can’t be measured.

Such as these stats by Mike Jacobs:

The “#” refers to the spot in the lineup. PA = Plate Appearances, AB = At-Bats, OPS = On Base Pct. + Slugging Pct. and the rest you can probably figure out.

Are you seeing what I’m seeing?

Most statheads claim that a hitter hits the same no matter where he’s placed in the lineup. They lean on mountains and mountains of numbers from every MLBer to support that claim. Indeed, they’re right — GENERALLY SPEAKING, a batter will hit the same regardless of where he’s placed in the lineup.

But generalized stats do not necessarily apply to every single individual. Ballplayers are human, therefore unique, and therefore may react differently than the norm, depending on the situation. For example, based on the above stats, it could be surmised that Mike Jacobs either changes his approach when hitting cleanup, or simply feels uncomfortable batting fourth.

That’s not an outlandish theory, is it? Anyone who has played at least little league baseball knows that there is something attached to hitting fourth; it’s an anointment of sorts, and it comes with perceived responsibility. The “slugger” bats “cleanup” because he’s the guy who’s counted on to “clean up” the bases / drive in the runs. Maybe, just maybe, Mike Jacobs has this “thing” about hitting cleanup that keeps him from being the best he can be when penciled in to that spot.

My friend James Kannengieser of AmazinAvenue claims the “sample size” is insufficient to support my theory. I beg to differ, based on the following:


“4” refers to Jacobs hitting fourth. “AE” refers to Jacobs hitting “anywhere else” in the lineup, other than fourth. “C” refers to Jacobs’ career stats, regardless of his lineup position.

So the “sample size” of Jacobs hitting anywhere other than fourth is actually larger than his sample size in the cleanup spot — does that mean it’s more indicative of what kind of hitter he can be?

(Side note: I don’t think there is an argument regarding batters “protecting” Jacobs in the lineup, considering that he appears to hit better the lower he goes, and lesser hitters tend to hit lower in the order.)

Based on his career splits, I believe there is at least a strong theory worth arguing here — not that there should be ANY argument regarding Jacobs hitting fourth. I’m not sure why any manager would see Mike Jacobs as a cleanup hitter, considering his prodigious strikeout totals and below-average plate discipline — which remain fairly consistent regardless of his lineup position.


Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude April 5, 2010 at 6:58 am
    Unless the injury bug were to make a re-appearance in 2010, the only people who should be batting 4th for the Mets this year are Jason Bay and Carlos Beltran. That’s it. The only reason Jerry is penciling Jacobs into the 4th spot is to break up the righties in Wright and Bay. You gotta wonder, with Jerry’s incessant love affair of balancing the lineup with alternating lefties and righties, how in the world have the Angels survived with Juan Rivera, Torii Hunter, and Vladimir Guerrero batting back to back to back; or how the Twins get by with Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jason Kubel (and now Jim Thome); or even the Phillies, with Utley-Howard-Ibanez. How badly would Jerry be butchering those lineups just to make sure he doesn’t have back to back lefties or righties in his lineup. What a complete baffoon.

    Does this mean that, when Murphy comes back, he will be batting cleanup? With Jerry’s rationale, you have to figure that if he can justify batting Jacobs cleanup, than Murphy should be a shoo-in. God forbid if Alex Cora has to play 1B at any time this year. He may be next on the depth chart to get time as the #4 hitter. Don’t scoff – I really do think Jerry is that crazy.

  2. CatchDog April 5, 2010 at 8:13 am
    The bottom line is that over the winter, the Royals cut our starting first baseman. And it’s only fitting that Jerry also makes him our clean up hitter.

    Nuff said.

  3. Mike April 5, 2010 at 10:14 am
    Two things here I have to say:

    First, as I have said again and again, the 4th hitter is BY FAR the most important run producing position in the lineup. It sees the most at bats with runners on base (more than the #3) and thus is the one and ONLY place David Wright should hit.

    Second, Jacobs is just proof that the Mets 1st baseman is their biggest power source. Yes Murphy would be batting cleanup if he were healthy. The Mets are trying to prove that the 1st base position is a power position on the team, just like they are ruining Mejia’s career to prove the minor league system is not barren (it’s not, btw, but only idiots think it is and idiots dictate the Mets decisions, also make them). Look obviously I’m being tongue and cheek but really why not think this way? It all falls in line.

  4. Matt Himelfarb April 5, 2010 at 10:49 pm
    know we’ve discussed this topic before, but i still think you are wrong on this point, or, more accurately, there is not enough evidence to prove otherwise.
    898 plate appearances might seem like a lot, but you are only talking about 43% of his career PA’s.

    Sample size is RELATIVE. If a guy has, say, ten seasons in the major leagues, 500 ab each year, and he hits 40 HR’s 1 year, and 10 HR’s each of the next 9, the 40 HR season does not reflect his true talent level, even if it was 500 at-bats, because you are talking about 5,000 plate appearances.

    You can’t definitively say Jacobs does not hit as well in the cleanup spot as anywhere else, anymore than you can say 200 at-bats represents a guy’s production over a full season.

    It’s an interesting point, and I concede it can be true, but there’s not sufficient info to say so. I agree Jacobs shouldn’t bat fourth, simply because he is not nearly as productive as Bay period.

  5. joejanish April 6, 2010 at 11:42 pm
    Matt – thanks for alternative viewpoint. Maybe you further can help me understand sample size, because I still don’t “get it”(I failed statistics in college). If 898 PAs / 43% of a player’s career is NOT a good sample size, what is? Further, why doesn’t the other 57% of Jacobs’ career have any merit toward supporting the idea that he might be a better hitter than his total numbers suggest?

    How much more evidence is needed before one can start to build an argument? And will that argument be relevant by then, or will the player have retired by the time there’s enough data to evaluate? In which case, what’s the point, since one of the big reasons people crunch numbers is to help predict FUTURE performance?

    I’m not being a smarty pants, I sincerely don’t understand sample size. Sometimes I feel like it is an excuse when numbers don’t fit a stathead’s hypothesis (not you, I mean others). If you can help me figure out stats, maybe I can explain Homer’s The Iliad to you LOL!

  6. astromets May 13, 2010 at 2:22 pm
    I know this post is waaaaaaaaay late, but I just saw this link from another article and it raised some questions in my head. For example, I know Jacobs played well above his head for 112 PA in 2005; 67 of which were from the 7-spot, his best spot in the lineup according to the stats. So, what happens when you remove those fluky rookie numbers? Also, Jacobs has regressed statistically across the board in almost every season of his career. BB’s stayed about the same, but SO’s, AVG, 2B’s, HR’s, RBI’s, OPS all declined every year except 2008 when he hit the most HR’s of his career despite being worse everywhere else. I just feel Jacobs has been regressing ever since he made the majors, but with more experience came more responsibility, aka the 4 spot, and the result is Jacobs looks awful batting 4th but acceptable elsewhere.

    As for the sample size, you have piqued my interest so I will investigate and get back to you ASAP if you haven’t already had a satisfactory answer.