Pirates Still in Search of Their Cleanup Hitter


One would expect that, with the season that Andrew McCutchen had last year for the Pittsburgh Pirates, he would have had plenty of protection in the lineup. After all, McCutchen is one of the best players in baseball, and there really is no reason to pitch to him unless someone that is reasonably dangerous is behind him. However, that was not the case last season.

In 2014, McCutchen put together a .314/.410/.542 batting line, hitting 25 home runs while leading the National League in on base percentage and OPS. This production was even more impressive considering that the Pirates cleanup hitters produced a .225/.305/.393 batting line. Their .698 OPS ranked 25th in baseball, while the Pirates cleanup hitters ranked 27th in batting average and 26th in on base percentage. It is little wonder that Clint Hurdle has had eleven different players see ten or more games of action in the cleanup spot since taking over in 2011.

It is little surprise that once Spring Training begins, one of Hurdle’s biggest concerns would be to find a competent cleanup hitter. The problem is, that player may not necessarily be on the roster, or be the player that one would expect.

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In theory, it would seem that being the Pirates cleanup hitter would be Pedro Alvarez‘s role. Yet, Alvarez, for all of his power, is not exactly the greatest protection in the lineup. His extreme strikeout tendencies can make it possible to pitch around McCutchen, and while he can pound a mistake pitch, Alvarez is only a .235/.307/.435 hitter in his career. In fact, it is considered likely that Alvarez ends up in a platoon with Corey Hart, provided that the latter is healthy and not on tour singing.

Perhaps that platoon of Alvarez and Hart can take over the role. It would certainly appear to have potential, as both players have displayed the power to take some of the pressure off of McCutchen. However, potential can only go so far.

Another interesting player named as a possibility to hit cleanup for the Pirates would be Jeong-ho Kang. Kang did hit in the four hole in the Korean Baseball League, but the KBO is a long way from Major League Baseball. In fact, Kang does not even have a position locked up yet.

Chances are, the cleanup spot will end up as a revolving door once again, unless a player gets hot and proves they can legitimately protect Andrew McCutchen. Perhaps someone like Josh Harrison or Gregory Polanco will step up next season, providing McCutchen with the protection he has yet to receive.

For a team whose roster seems fairly well set, the Pittsburgh Pirates Still have a few questions in their lineup. One of the more important ones is to determine who should be their cleanup hitter.

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