This is the fifth entry in a series detailing the greatest players in Cleveland Indians history for each spot in the batting order. Here are links to the previous entries in the series: Batting 1st, Batting 2nd, Batting 3rd, and Batting 4th
In 2012 the Tribe had a whopping thirteen different players started at least one game in the #5 spot of the lineup, led by Michael Brantley, who was there 64 times, followed by Carlos Santana, who started 41 games there. Having no one start even half a season's games in this lineup spot has been a trend of late. The last time anyone was penciled in there even 75 times for the team was 2001. Brantley was in the lead-off spot for most of last season and Santana mostly hit cleanup, but Nick Swisher seems like a strong candidate for that role this time, so I tend to think Santana will be the Indians' primary #5 hitter in 2013.
According to the Play Index at Baseball-Reference, since 1916 (as far back as complete box scores go) there have been 374 different players to start at least one game in the #5 spot for the Tribe (that's more than for any of the first four spots in the lineup). 38 of those players have collected 500+ plate appearances while hitting fifth, which is the cut-off point I'm using for these rankings.
In creating these rankings I've tried to balance rate stats against counting totals. In other words, while an OPS of 850 is better than an OPS of 825, if the former came in 600 PA and the latter came in 2,000 PA, I'm probably going to favor the second player. I've also attempted to make adjustments for the run-scoring environments of different eras. I'm including an estimated OPS+ for each player, based on comparable figures from the seasons they regularly hit fifth. Finally, these ranking are based solely on players' contributions on offense.
TOP TEN #5 HITTERS IN INDIANS HISTORY
10) Travis Hafner
198 G, 845 PA, .284/.383/.463, .845 OPS, ~124 OPS+, 25 HR, 112 R, 116 RBI
Hafner ranked 7th on both the #3 and cleanup lists. His biggest seasons were spent primarily in those spots, but he also hit fifth for stretches of many different seasons, though never regularly. Even Hafner's "lesser" production gets him onto his third different list in this series.
9) Manny Ramirez
136 G, 610 PA, .298/.385/.541, .926 OPS, ~135 OPS+, 26 HR, 96 R, 104 RBI
Ramirez occasionally started in the #5 spot from 1994 to 1999, but never more than 61 times in a single season. His production there was still strong enough to make this list, but his numbers were substantially stronger in the cleanup spot (he ranked 3rd on that list).
8) Toby Harrah
195 G, 814 PA, .300/.400/.404, .804 OPS, ~123 OPS+, 9 HR, 123 R, 88 RBI
Harrah hit fifth between 1979 and 1983, mostly in '80 and '81. He had very little power for someone in this lineup spot, but he had a tremendous eye, leading to a great OBP. He's also the only player on this list with strong base running skills, with 30 SB at an 88% success rate in roughly a season and a half in the #5 spot.
7) Les Fleming
166 G, 707 PA, .287/.393/.442, .836 OPS, ~140 OPS+, 17 HR, 74 R, 90 RBI
A player I'd never heard of beginning this series, Fleming was the team's primary #5 hitter in 1942, which was the only full season of his career. He also hit there occasionally in 1946 and '47. That was a low-scoring era, so his modest .836 OPS looks awfully good when adjusted for context.
6) Rocky Colavito
218 G, 923 PA, .285/.363/.523, .886 OPS, ~142, 52 HR, 130 R, 157 RBI
Colavito is another hitter on this list who hit fifth at times in many different years (in both of his stints with the Tribe, stretching from 1956 to 1967), but never spent the majority of any particular season there. His 52 home runs rank 3rd in club history for #5 hitters.
5) David Justice
176 G, 754 PA, .323/.418/.581, .999 OPS, ~154 OPS+, 40 HR, 112 R, 134 RBI
Justice started in the #5 spot for most of the 1997 season, when he was an MVP candidate and help the Tribe to the World Series. That was arguably the finest season any Indians has ever had while hitting fifth. He also hit there in 2000, until he was traded.
4) Larry Doby
219 G, 948 PA, .280/.392/.521, .913 OPS, ~148 OPS+, 47 HR, 158 R, 151 RBI
Doby, who ranked 3rd on the #3 hitter list and 10th among cleanup hitters, also put up great numbers in the #5 spot, where he spent time semi-regularly between 1951 and 1955. In terms of ~OPS+, he was even better from this lineup spot than either of the others. Basically, the man hit the crap out of the ball wherever he was penciled in.
3) Earl Averill
175 G, 758 PA, .369/.455/.597, 1.052 OPS, ~163 OPS+, 25 HR, 145 R, 146 RBI
Another player who's appearing on his third list of the series, Averill, the club's #5 hitter for part of 1930 and most of 1938, was 3rd among #2 hitters and 2nd among #3 hitters. He's now the only player in the top three at three different spots. His rate stats from the #5 spot are greater than those of any other Indian in history, only limited playing time keeps him from the top of this list.
2) Al Rosen
353 G, 1499 PA, .289/.397/.524, .921 OPS, ~148 OPS+, 73 HR, 206 R, 255 RBI
Rosen hit fifth for most of 1950 and 1951 and then again on occasion from '52 to '56. He put up big numbers there, same as he did everywhere else. I'm curious as to how many other "original" teams have had so many of their best hitters move around the lineup so much.
1) Jim Thome
372 G, 1628 PA, .280/.413/.566, .979 OPS, ~149 OPS+, 99 HR, 274 R, 267 RBI
Thome batted fifth for a few games between 1995 and 1998, then took over as the primary #5 hitter from '99 to 2001. He ranked 5th on the #3 hitter list and 4th from the cleanup spot and in both cases he had the best rate stats of any player in franchise history, just without the playing time to pass the players ranked ahead of him. This time he combines those impressive rate stats with the third most starts from the #5 spot of any player in Tribe history.
As you can see, there haven't been a lot of players who spent lot of time hitting fifth in the order. Each of the first four spots in the lineup had at least ten players with 1,000+ PA, compared to just seven here, and while each of the previous spots also had at least three players with 2,000+ PA, no one has ever gotten that many in the #5 spot. The franchise leader, Larry Gardner started there 441 times, less than three full seasons worth of games, and didn't even make this list (his OPS+ while hitting fifth was ~106). More than half the players who DID make the list started in the #5 spot fewer than 200 times. There's a certain logic to that, because most of the guys on this list hit well enough at #5 that they were eventually moved up in the lineup.
Carlos Santana has hit fifth 76 times in his career so far, with fantastic numbers (.304/.394/.533, an OPS+ of ~160). If he ends up starting there enough times this year to get to 500+ career PA, he will almost certainly make the list, and could land as high as 7th place by season's end.