Eliezer Alfonzo And The Amusing Cleanup Hitters Of 2011

SAN DIEGO, CA - : Eliezer Alfonzo #55 of the Colorado Rockies rounds the bases after hitting a grand slam during the sixth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. (Photo by Denis Poroy/Getty Images)

Things you didn't expect to see this morning:


That's Eliezer Alfonzo hitting cleanup. The only thing that would be more surprising than having Eliezer Alfonzo hitting cleanup for the Rockies would be having a reanimated Edgardo Alfonzo hitting cleanup, with blood mages and mad scientists bringing him back to life with spells and sci ...

He is? Well, then he'd definitely make a better cleanup hitter than Eliezer.

No, lineups don't mean a heck of a lot when it comes to scoring runs. Bill James once theorized that if the 1930 Chicago Cubs hit Hack Wilson ninth, he sure as heck wouldn't have had 191 RBI, but the Cubs still would have scored over 900 runs. But there's something symbolic about a cleanup hitter. It's something the fans understand the second they look at a lineup. Speedy guy, contact guy, best hitter, best power hitter. You can argue about the 5-9 spots, but the top four are set in stone with most managers.

Today, Jim Tracy believed his best power hitter was Eliezer Alfonzo.

The last time Alfonzo was in the majors, he cracked the Wily Mo List -- the 47 players since 1919 who have had a home run but not a walk in over 40 plate appearances. To be fair, Alfonzo did have an 1123 OPS at Colorado Springs this year (12 HR, 101 PA, two walks), which is much higher than the .940 OPS I had in Colorado Springs before Neyer traded for me. Alfonzo does have a little power. He has 17 career home runs in 550 at-bats, which is pretty good for a catcher.

Because Alfonzo is swinging a hot bat these days, Jim Tracy's going for it.

This isn't a regular thing, mind you. Troy Tulowitzki is out of the lineup, and he's the regular cleanup hitter. So this decision almost certainly isn't going to mean a thing when it comes to on-field results. It's just fascinating as a trivially symbolic gesture. Eliezer Alfonzo, he of four teams in four years -- ten, if you count his minor league teams -- hitting cleanup for the Colorado Rockies.

In the interest of science, I'm willing to browse through every team's lineup this season, trying to find a more unlikely cleanup hitter than Eliezer this season. Here goes:

Aaron Hill
Shelley Duncan
Travis Buck
Danny Valencia
Vernon Wells (regularly!)
Alberto Callaspo
Various Seattle Mariners, as dictated by MLB rules
Matt Diaz
Miguel Cairo
Matt Downs

And there it is. Eliezer Alfonzo is not the wackiest cleanup hitter in the major leagues this season. There are plenty of others who made as little sense. Travis Buck's career high in home runs is ten, and that's only if you add his AAA numbers to his 2008 season total. Orlando Cabrera would have been an amusing cleanup hitter back when you were still getting AOL free-trial CDs in the mail. He's now 68 years old, and his power is even more limited than it used to be. Danny Valencia is Danny Valencia.

But the silliest cleanup hitter this season for my money is Miguel Cairo. With Buck, you can at least pretend that as a slowish, lefty-hitting outfielder, that he might fit the role of cleanup hitter. And with Cabrera, he did hit 17 home runs back in 2003. In geological time, that's like five seconds ago. Cairo, though, is a utility infielder. He has a career high of six home runs -- very utility infieldish. If Cairo were to retire and join a beer-league softball team, they'd hit him second. Because Miguel Cairo.

So, cheer up, Rockies fans. Eliezer Alfonzo is an unorthodox cleanup hitter, but he isn't the silliest one of the year. And on May 26th, when Cairo hit cleanup, how did he do? Three-for-four.

Baseball is awesome.

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