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Rules and Exceptions

Rule 1: This is typically where the best overall hitter on the team would go. Usually the guy who can best combine power with the ability to get hits and hit for average. A manager's ideal situation would be for the leadoff guy to get on base, the two-hitter to move the runner into scoring position and the three-hitter to hit a home run or get the runner home.

Examples: David Ortiz, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez
Exceptions: There are some guys who don't hit for a great average that are put in this spot strictly for their ability to hit homers, as hitters in the three-spot usually hit with runners on base. Adam Dunn often hits here, but doesn't hit for a good average.

Rule 2: This could also be a guy who can combine a little power with a good ability to get on base. Managers absolutely do not want to get outs from their team's third spot in the order as this is key to starting innings and scoring runs, so they will put an OBP guy here and try to get the big hit from their clean-up hitter.

Examples: Jermaine Dye (with the White Sox in '05), Carlos Beltran, Michael Young
Exceptions: Just like the exception to the rule above, some guys will hit here strictly for their power numbers. Sometimes guys will be forced to hit in this hole because they are the only true power hitter on their team. Eric Chavez of Oakland is an example of this.
The 3-hole hitter should be the most well-rounded hitter a team has without sacrificing depth at the 4 and 5 spots. An ideal third-place hitter would hit for a high average (.315), hit 25-30 homers and steal 20ish bases, and drive in 100 RBIs. He should be a threat to go deep, but also have the patience to draw a walk, which means that his OPS will feature a high OBP and SLG. Besides homers, a guy who's a big doubles hitter would also be acceptable, meaning that line-drive power is probably more important than 450-HR-foot power in this spot. The cleanup spot should have 40 HR, 120 RBI if possible, but the 3rd hitter should have a more well-rounded offensive slate, with the ability to get on base, hit homers and doubles, steal bases, drive in runs, and score himself.
On a team that lacks offensive depth, a hitter who would normally bat in a different spot would have to move down to third, or a player who would bat third might have to move down to 4th or 5th to provide an anchor for the entire lineup.
Example: In 2006, the Mets' 3-4-5 was Carlos Beltran, Carlos Delgado, and David Wright, and each had good seasons playing in those roles. This is an example of plentiful depth in the middle of the order. But by 2010-ish, Wright, fast becoming a 2-hole hitter, was forced to bat third to give the anemic offense some juice in the middle of the lineup even though he lacked the overall skill set to hit third but would have been a good table-setter at #2.
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