“We had guys that just didn’t perform last year offensively. It was puzzling. It was out of the norm. You’re hoping, you’re planning on them getting back to norm, and that’s going to create a pretty big improvement in our offense. That’s a big part of this.”
These are the words of Craig Counsell, the optimistic skipper of the Milwaukee Brewers who’s entering his seventh season at the helm of the ballclub. He’s well aware that his guys had a tough season at the dish last year and he’s expecting a big bounce back. Counsell did all he could to try to stimulate the Milwaukee bats last season, shuffling guys around the lineup almost regularly, but it never clicked.
This year, I would guess the Brewers manager would like to develop more of a consistent lineup. One spot in the lineup where Brewer hitters struggled was the cleanup spot. As a matter of fact, Craig Counsell started SEVEN different hitters at that particular spot in the lineup in 2020 and the results were less than thrilling.
Among those seven players, they had a combined average slash line of .190/.374/.390, not ideal numbers for one of the most important spots in the lineup. Four of the seven players who started in the cleanup spot last year are not currently on the roster and the combined number of games started by the guys remaining on the team is 21 out of the 62 they played a year ago.
So obviously the Brewers cleanup spot needs to be addressed in 2021, so who are the best options?
There are three that stick out as leading candidates.
Brewers cleanup hitter candidate #1: Keston Hiura
Keston Hiura has the pop to be a cleanup hitter in the big leagues. He also strikes out at a high clip, unfortunately following the profile of a number four hitter. He only started in one game at that spot in the lineup last year, but in 2019 he was quite comfortable in the cleanup spot hitting his most home runs (10) at that spot compared to the six other spots in the lineup he started at.
Another positive of Hiura being the Crew’s cleanup hitter is the continuity within the lineup. Ideally, Kolten Wong leads off (lefty) with Lorenzo Cain (righty) hitting second and Christian Yelich (lefty) starting the game in the hole with the right-handed hitting Hiura next. Craig Counsell has always been a fan of keeping the lineup as balanced as possible and Hiura would fit nicely in this spot.
Keston Hiura is very capable of hitting 25+ home runs in a full season and his career slugging percentage of .505 is very respectable. He will need to overcome the season-long slump that he encountered last year if he wants to hit in the coveted spot behind the 2018 NL MVP. But if and when he figures out his struggles at the plate, I think he’s a prime candidate for being the day in, day out cleanup hitter.