May 22 edit: according to baseball-reference, after another 0-4 last night, Kent’s OPS+ is now down to 69. He is currently the worst cleanup hitter of the last fifty years. The worst. Is that enough to get Matt Kemp in the cleanup spot yet? Original story with stats from yesterday remains below.
You don’t need me to tell you this, but Jeff Kent is having a pretty lousy season. Whether it’s just a slow start or age finally catching up to him remains to be seen, but a .241/.291/.387 line (74 OPS+) isn’t exactly what we’d hoped for. But that’s fine; not only do the Dodgers not really have any better options at second base, a no-doubt Hall of Famer who hasn’t had a OPS+ even below 119 since 1997 more than deserves the chance to hit his way out of this. He’s been too successful for too long to give up on him just yet.
But what is starting to become a problem is the fact that Joe Torre has batted Kent cleanup in each of the 36 games he’s started this season. If Kent doesn’t turn it around, it’s going to be a historic problem, in fact.
A recent series at the excellent The Hardball Times has been going through each spot in the lineup, finding the worst players in recent history at those spots, i.e., “the ten worst leadoff hitters since 1957.” The latest of these articles is “the ten worst cleanup hitters since 1957.”
After first exploring the guys who just missed the cut (Andruw Jones was tied for 13th place for his showing with last year’s Braves), they sum up the dishonorable mention list like this:
Predictably, most of these are veteran sluggers in decline; whether understandably or foolishly, their deployment just hadn’t yet caught up with their rate of production.
We haven’t even hit the main list, and that’s not a good sign for Kent, who despite remaining surprisingly productive through his late 30s is clearly not the player he was in his prime. Now Kent’s obviously not on this list, as the season is less than two months old, but just remember: his OPS+ is 74.
- Worst cleanup hitters since 1957
- 9th (tie) – 85 OPS+ Tony Armas, 1983 Red Sox
- 9th (tie) - 85 OPS+ Jim Presley, 1990 Braves
- 9th (tie) – 85 OPS+ Joe Carter, 1990 Padres
- 8th – 84 OPS+ Jeffrey Leonard, 1990 Mariners
- 7th – 83 OPS+ Don Baylor, 1980 Angels
- 5th (tie) – 81 OPS+ Dick Stuart, 1962 Pirates
- 5th (tie) – 81 OPS+ Ron Coomer, 2000 Twins
- 3rd (tie) – 77 OPS+ Tim Wallach, 1991 Expos
- 3rd (tie) – 77 OPS+ Joe Carter, 1997 Blue Jays
- 2nd – 75 OPS+ Willie Kirkland, 1962 Indians
- 1st – 72 OPS+ Aramis Ramirez, 2002 Pirates
Think about that. If Jeff Kent keeps up his current pace and Joe Torre continues to bat him cleanup, he’s going to be the second worst cleanup hitter of the last fifty years – and as the THT article explains, Aramis Ramirez was only so bad in 2002 because he played all year on a destroyed ankle.
As I said, I don’t expect Kent will be this lousy all year, and should at the very least be given time to figure it out. But isn’t it just about time to get him out of the cleanup spot and give someone like Matt Kemp a chance? Remember, it’s the cleanup spot, and we’re talking about historically bad here if this keeps up.