Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Michael Cuddyer: Underrated?

Last week, ESPN.com's Jayson Stark published his version of baseball's All Underrated Team. It was a fun little read with a few notable snubs, but I had to pause when I reached the right field section.

Stark listed Michael Cuddyer as one of the most underrated players in all of baseball.

The same Cuddyer who will make $10.5 million coming off an extremely disappointing campaign; who was described during that disappointing campaign by his manager as team MVP; who is widely cherished by a fan base that lovingly looks past his flaws in embracing his contagious smile and cannon arm... underrated? That's an awfully tough case to make.

In making it, Stark enlists the wisdom of an anonymous scout, who provides us with this jewel:
"If I was going to give a one-word description that defines him, that would be the word 'winner,'" the scout said. "He's not the reason you win. But he makes everybody else better."
I dare say this scout is doing a bit of a disservice to his profession by spouting vague and hackneyed cliches that offer no insight into Cuddyer's actual value as a player, but I digress.

When he's at his best, Cuddyer is a very good hitter who helps the team significantly. Certainly this was the case in 2009, when his late surge was elemental in pushing the Twins to an unlikely postseason berth, and in 2006 when he hit .284/.362/.504 with 24 homers and 109 RBI. The problem is that in the surrounding seasons, the 32-year-old has annually posted a sub-.800 OPS with less than 20 home runs and mediocre (at best) defense at non-premium positions.

Right field and first base, the two spots where Cuddyer tends to spend most of his time, bear higher offensive expectations than anywhere else on the field.  Even in his best seasons, Cuddyer has not ranked as one of the elite performers at his position, and when all is accounted for, his production could best be described as "solid" and "unexceptional."

A defender of Cuddyer will surely point to the outfielder's intangibles: his work ethic, his willingness to move around the field without complaint, his fan appeal, and so forth. I recognize and appreciate these things, but don't necessarily see how they go above and beyond what should be considered basic expectations for a professional athlete. Answering the manager's call to change positions, being friendly toward fans, and maintaining professional and respectable habits off the field -- these should be standards for a person being paid over $8 million to play baseball, no? Yet we frequently see these attributes glorified through media articles that minimize his undeniably underwhelming production on the field, perhaps because Cuddyer has such a bright personality and is easy to like for those who spend time around him.

Underrated? Maybe by those who decry his supposed lack of clutch hitting and label him "Cruddy" or "Cuddaver," but that strikes me as a fringe minority. Unless my read on the general public perception of Cuddyer is way off, it seems to me like "overrated" would be a far more accurate descriptor.

That doesn't mean Cuddyer is a bad player, and it doesn't mean I mind having him on the team this year. The Twins will need his right-handed bat and he could be a real difference-maker if he can stay healthy and produce like he did in '09.

But in my mind he's got a long way to go before his actual value surpasses his perceived value, which continues to be inflated by flattering but ultimately empty portrayals like the ones provided by Stark and his scout.

37 comments:

Bryz said...

I was thinking the same thing when I saw the underrated lineup linked on Hardball Talk. I feel that Shin-Soo Choo is far more underrated than Cuddyer.

I think what bugs me the most when people defend Cuddyer is when they say that his arm makes up for his lack of range, which it does not.

Nick N. said...

Choo was definitely a glaring omission.

Poppy said...

Agree with you wholeheartedly on this one, Nick. Being a 'nice guy' can only get you so far.

Sometimes we personalize our sporting heroes too much. While it's important they're good people off the field, when they're on it, perhaps it's far better if they're competitive, bad ass, and above all else, talented.

Reminds me of that line from Glengarry Glen Ross (pardon the expletives): "Nice guy? I don't give a sh*t. Good father? F*ck you! Go home and play with your kids. You wanna work here - close!"

VodkaDave said...

Again...

Cuddyer is underrated due to the fact that he gets shit on by the message board folk more then any other on the Twins not named Punto or Delmonto Youngmente (pre 2010). Is he overpaid this year? Sure, but I can't blame the Twins for picking up that option after he put up a 124 OPS+ and 32 HR. I do blame them for putting that bizarre clause in the original contract, but that is water under the bridge at this point.

Cuddyer is the by far the largest reason we made the amazing run down the stretch in 2009, and he did everything the team asked of him last year. Yeah, his stats took a dip last year, but it still wasn't that bad. He played every single day once Morneau was injured and filled in admirably at 1st base, without him we would have been looking at 200 PA out of Morales at 1st base last year, and that wouldn't be pretty.

His last 4 healthy season he has put up OPS+ of 124, 112, 124 and 104, yet all people talk about are his strike outs and limited range in the OF (never-mind the fact his arm puts him much closer to average at the position at that point (not saying he is average, he just is in that next notch somewhere around 18-20 in the league) Also worth pointing out, he is one of the very few Twins to actually [b]play well in the playoffs[/b] with a very solid .338/.372/.473/.845 line over his 22 games, Nick can bash on the "winner" comment all he wants, at the end of the day attitude and leadership do count a significant amount in baseball, don't believe me? Then tell me why Manny Ramierez was only able to secure a 2 million dollar contract this year? Or while Gold Glove Caliber Orlando "Terrible HJs" Hudson had to settle on 1 year contracts with different teams the prior 3 years. You can study every stat in the book, but at the end of the day intangibles do matter during a 162+ game season, and until Mauer/Morneau become more vocal Cuddyer remains the clubhouse "leader"

At this point the Twins have nobody better to replace him, anyone who thinks this team would be better off without him (DPJ) is insane. He is far from a perfect player or perennial all-star, but at the end of the day he is pretty much always one of the Twins best 3 or 4 hitters in the lineup. We certainly could do a hell of a lot worse.

socaltwinsfan said...

If you don't have great numbers but you do the intangibles that help your team win (and your team does win), I think that would be a decent definition of underrated. If anything, I think Cuddyer could be overrated by the Twins and their fans and underrated by the national media. And there's a difference between what a player should do and what most players actually do. Cuddyer's willingness to play anywhere and other ways he's willing to help the team at the sacrifice of his own ego is a rarity, which is why it is celebrated. The supposed greatest leader ever in New York never offered to switch positions when a clearly superior shortstop was brought to the team.

JimCrikket said...

"...these should be standards for a person being paid over $8 million to play baseball, no?"

Sure... and honesty, statesmanship and high moral character should be standards for those holding high public office, too.

Doesn't mean that either of those "should be"s are necessarily prevalent.

I get the feeling there's a significant portion of supposed Twins fans who are actually hoping Cuddyer doesn't have a big year in 2011, just so they can continue to have someone around to shit on now that Nick Punto's gone and the Twins will part ways with Cuddyer after the season in favor of one of the flavor-of-the-month minor leaguers.

Kinda sad.

Large Canine said...

Nick haters abound. No matter you you say. "Cuddyer is underrated due to the fact that he gets shit on by the message board folk more then any other on the Twins not named Punto or Delmonto Youngmente (pre 2010)." Cuddy is at least 7th on the Twin haters list on all the blogs I read. "Is he overpaid this year? Sure," That statement right there argues that he isn't underrated. or can someone be overpaid but underrated? "Cuddyer is the by far the largest reason we made the amazing run down the stretch in 2009" Cuddy BA for Sept/Oct 2009 =.279. Young = .340. Why did Cuddy get 20 more AB's during that timeframe? That's for you Gardy. I would argue that w/out Young's .340 BA after Justin went down, the Twins would not have gone to the playoffs in 2009. I love Cuddy as a 4-5 mil per year RF batting in the 6th or 7th spot. Not a 10 plus mil guy batting ahead of Young. Cuddy's best BA ever =.284. Young's worst BA ever =.284. One last stat. "His last 4 healthy season he has put up OPS+ of 124, 112, 124 and 104" Young's OPS+ last year was 121. Cuddy makes like 4 times what Young makes.

Anonymous said...

I dare say this scout is doing a bit of a disservice to his profession by spouting vague and hackneyed cliches that offer no insight into Cuddyer's actual value as a player

What the hell do you expect in a discussion of an abstract topic like "who is underrated"? I haven't seen many blog posts this winter that haven't lamented Cuddyer's presence on the team in the blog post or the comments. If you appreciate Cuddyer being on this team, that hasn't been my impression from reading your blog over time.

JimCrikket said...

"Cuddy makes like 4 times what Young makes."

Wow... you mean people still dealing with arbitration due to lesser service time make less money than those who can market their services to the highest bidder? Imagine that.

Young is going to end up being compensated just fine as long as he doesn't let his weight get out of control.

Josh said...

I actually like Cuddyer quite a bit, and his RH bat is pretty valuable in the Twins LH-centric lineup. And his ability to move around the field when needed gives him extra value. But he's hardly underrated at $10M or considering his production hasn't been at an all-star level lately, except for maybe the one year. Kind of a weird choice for Stark, but nice for Cuddy to get some national props.

Hopefully there will be less GIDPs this year and he'll be a little more comfortable hitting at Target Field.

Anonymous said...

Context is everything. Look who wrote the article. For the ESPN guys, anybody who does not plays for the Philies, the Yankees or the Red Soxs, is not named Pujols or Mauer, and is pretty good at baseball, is under-rated (As in,look at this guy's stats, he is pretty good and I never heard of him)

Anonymous said...

Sure... and honesty, statesmanship and high moral character should be standards for those holding high public office, too.

Doesn't mean that either of those "should be"s are necessarily prevalent.


I don't think Nick's suggesting that Cuddyer's intangibles are common; I think he's suggesting that they ought not to count heavily as a performance metric. Put another way:

Presidential historians agree that few presidents demonstrated Jimmy Carter's honesty and moral character. And his role in the Camp David accords, at least, spoke highly of his statesmanship. And yet many presidential historians regard Carter's presidency as a failed one. Point is, one can grant that Carter exhibited the qualities you mention and still rate poorly his presidential performance.

I think you can make a similar case with Cuddyer. I'll grant you that Cuddyer's intangibles are off the charts, just as Carter's were, and I'll argue that Cuddyer's career performance is underwhelming (and Nick provides some of that argumentation), just as Carter's presidential performance was.

Anonymous said...

"If you don't have great numbers but you do the intangibles that help your team win (and your team does win), I think that would be a decent definition of underrated."

That's a terrible definition of underrated. Its doesnt discuss his value at all.

Anonymous said...

Francisco liriano should have been the all under rated pitcher.

Nick N. said...

Francisco liriano should have been the all under rated pitcher.

Honestly, it's hard for me to get a read on the national perception of Liriano. I know he wasn't great ERA/Win wise, but people are looking past those numbers more and more. He was nasty last year and a Game 1 playoff starter. I think people have started to take notice. At least, I hope so.

Anonymous said...

Nick, you are an idiot. The term "under rated" doesn't have anything to do with salary. It has to do with All Star votes and ratings league wide. It is about acknowledgement, not payment.

Cuddy played what, 4 positions last year? He had to work harder on defense so his hitting suffered a little. Nobody gives him any credit for that. If he didn't move to 1B, we don't win the Central. Period.

You know, Nick. You seem to want to be that writer that has the poison pen. Criticizing everybody else. Like that makes YOU better or something. Here is some criticism for you: Your writing sucks. You lack imagination, hurl barbs from teh cheap seats and dont; hav eanything original to say. A high school kid could write this better than you do.

Anonymous said...

"I think people have started to take notice."

Its possible thats the case nationally but I dont think its the case locally. When i hear local opinion about liriano its usually about how mentally weak he is or how prone to melting down he is or how he's perpetually putting the team in insurmountable early hole. I've heard and read a lot of stuff about how the twins need to bring in a "true" ace if they hope to compete and almost nothing about how liriano was a top 5 pitcher in baseball last year. Everyone seemed a lot more concerned with bringing back 35 year old carl pavano than they did extending 26 year old francisco liriano even though theres a decent chance waiting could cost the twins a ton of money.

lvl 5 Charizard said...

"The term "under rated" doesn't have anything to do with salary."

Salary is absolutely a form or acknowledgment.

"Cuddy played what, 4 positions last year? He had to work harder on defense so his hitting suffered a little. Nobody gives him any credit for that. If he didn't move to 1B, we don't win the Central. Period."

Cuddyer actually played 5 positions, portions of 3 games at 2b and CF and a short stint at 3b. He was terrible everywhere and played RF and 1b in long consecutive stretches. Alexi Casilla played 4 different positions and his offense was fine. Lets not overstate the impact of cuddyer switching from to the easiest position on the field.

And the twins won the central by 7 games resting at the end. Replacing cuddyer with anyone in the organization wouldn't have cost them 7 games. Period.

Nick N. said...

You know, Nick. You seem to want to be that writer that has the poison pen. Criticizing everybody else. Like that makes YOU better or something. Here is some criticism for you: Your writing sucks. You lack imagination, hurl barbs from teh cheap seats and dont; hav eanything original to say. A high school kid could write this better than you do.

Aw, you're mean!

Nick N. said...

Look, there have been a lot of people complaining about the pessimism in my writing this offseason. Some have gone so far as to generalize it to my writing as a whole, which demonstrates that these folks either haven't read my blog for very long or have short memory spans. If you want some positiveness and optimism, go read some posts from last offseason. I was happy with nearly every move the team made and extremely optimistic about their outlook. They won 94 games and captured the division easily.

Based on events that have taken place this offseason and a series of unfortunate but essentially unavoidable circumstances, I feel much less optimistic about the way this year's club is shaping up. I can't help that. I'm a diehard fan. I'm emotionally attached. My writing about the team is inevitably going to be shaded by my feelings about the state of the club at present.

If you disagree, you disagree. It's entirely possible that I'll end up being horribly wrong, and you all will have plenty of ammunition to remind me of that when the time comes. That's fair and square. But don't come in here with the cyber-bully act, because it accomplishes nothing and only reflects poorly on you, whoever you are.

USAFChief said...

I've heard and read...almost nothing about how liriano was a top 5 pitcher in baseball last year.

Perhaps that's because few people can make a living writing things that aren't true.

Dave said...

I am fairly high on Liriano, but top five in baseball? No way, not based on last year.

He is, however, clearly the best pitcher with the Twins. I use my own made up stat Bases per Batter Faced (BBF). Based on that I am not pleased with the Pavano signing. BBF for Liriano = .393, Pavano = .434, and Duensing = .402

Other BBFs of note from last year (the top 7 in AL cy young voting)

.355 – Hernandez
.396 – Price
.397 – CC
.372 – Lee
.382 – Lester
.391 – Weaver
.370 – Buckholz

So, Liriano was clearly better then his ERA, as he drew a better BBF then CC and Price, but there were 5 guys in the AL alone that beat out Liriano. And I coud probably fish out some more with more analysis.

[BBF is my superior metric of choice derived by the following formula; BF / (1b+(2b*2)+(3b*3)+(hr*4)+bb)]

Anonymous said...

Dave the problem with you BFF stat is that a pitcher like Liriano is hurt by his fluky high BABIP. He actually performed better than any of those listed pitchers in terms of the things he had control of.

Anonymous said...

A quick look actually showed his BABIP was more than 40 points higher than any of those other guys. Thats not likely to continue.

Dave said...

Look, BABIP is the "in" stat. I get it. But that doesn't mean that it means a thing. A high BABIP does not mean that the defense behind him was bad, and a low one doesn't mean that the defense was good. Good pitchers post low BABIP's, and bad pitchers post high ones. BABIP is not a luck meter, and I wish people would stop treating it so.

Is it possible that Liriano got unlucky and some balls squirted through the infield? Sure. Is it possible he just got rocked sometimes? You bet. Saying that BABIP is out of the pitchers control is akin to saying that a hitters only job is to put wood on the ball. I can make contact every time I'm up to bat at the major league level. It will be a bunt every time, but then again my BABIP on those bunts will be atrociously low. Does that mean I'm unlucky? Does it mean that my all bunting is due for a rebound in average? No, it means I suck.

In the same way, if you post a high BABIP as a pitcher, odds are you just plain sucked some times. BABIP is not out of the pitcher's control, in fact it is under his direct control. Pitch well and balls get pounded into the ground or get swung under and pop harmlesly to shallow spots. Pitch like crap and the hitter will be making good contact and placing those same balls into the power lanes and gaps. To say that BABIP is out of a pitchers control is to completely discount a batters ability to actively hit the ball in a desired direction and trajectory.

BABIP is useful to compare for a singular player against his previous showings for sure. But so is any other stat in his control. You may say that Liriano will rebound and post a better BABIP. I say you are probably right, he will, because his physical ability is better than the BABIP he produced. But that doesn't change the fact that he owns that BABIP because he sucked it up on certain days. I refuse to believe its luck, God, cuddy's D at first or weird bounces in the infield.

Anonymous said...

Cuddyerrhea

Anonymous said...

You're right, I'm sure 99 Pedro had that .323 BABIP from all the days he "sucked it up," but the next year when it was .236 he just decided to never suck and never lose his focus. Defense and luck play a huge role in BABIP and thats why it varies so much more than other stats.

Nick N. said...

Pitch like crap and the hitter will be making good contact and placing those same balls into the power lanes and gaps.

You're right. So if a high BABIP was attached to other numbers indicating he's been rocked, it would make sense. But Liriano was one of the most difficult pitchers in the league to make solid contact with. Fifth-highest K-rate in baseball, .355 opponent slugging percentage (even with the inflated BA), only nine home runs allowed in almost 200 innings.

If Liriano's BABIP is so high because of his "getting rocked," then why didn't he allow more extra-base hits? Why did he suck only enough to allow singles? The difference between a single and an out is often a matter of inches, so I don't see why it's hard to wrap your head around the idea that a run of bad luck and not bad performance can lead to fluky results. Even in '09 when Liriano actually DID suck his BABIP was 13 points lower.

You're right that BABIP isn't always a measure of luck, but why do you feel the need to combat one extreme by offering your own? There are cases where an abnormally high BABIP, like Liriano's second-in-baseball mark last year, is simply a fluke.

And to be honest, I like your BBF measure. It's like a hybrid of WHIP and opponents SLG, which are two of my favorite quick measures for a pitcher. But it's not flawless and susceptible to error, with Liriano's case being an example.

Dave said...

I don't see what extreme I have resorted to, the extreme of not insisting BABIP is a luck meter?

Let me make this clear; I have an issue with BABIP independant of whatever argument it is attached to. I just happened to snap on the issue here, but feel free to apply my rant to any other thread where BABIP is blindly cited as a luck meter.

BABIP abusers always use it to say that the objective stats aren't applicable because the BABIP was high, and therefore the stats were skewed by luck. That just doesn't fly with how BABIP trends. BABIP is ALWAYS higher when a pitcher pitches like crap. The opposite is also true. So to say BABIP measures only luck just can't be true, unless all of baseball is just luck.

Nick, you suggest that the high BABIP for Liriano is due to his bad luck as the difference between singles and outs can be inches, and lots of singles contributed to Liriano's troubles. So which of those singles were caused by bad luck? Which of them, as I contend, inflated his BABIP because he hung a slider? BABIP doesn't tell us. That is not a good statistic. That is not a scientific way to apply the statistic. It is a crutch, and a poorly utylized crutch for those not bound by truly independant statistical analysis.

I guess there lies my extreme viewpoint; that all of BABIP is performance, and none of it luck. I will admit, some, and maybe even a good proportion may be luck. But how much? How are we to have a high minded statistical discussion using BABIP where we have no idea where the line is? This type of statistical inprecision is fatal. And for that reason, I refuse to take BABIP as an independant reason to discount actual verifiable quantifiable statistics.

VodkaDave said...

Liriano is not a top 5 pitcher, a case could be made for top 10 but he is far from a sure fire top 10 guy. Not saying that is a bad thing at all though.

Anonymous said...

"And to be honest, I like your BBF measure. It's like a hybrid of WHIP and opponents SLG, which are two of my favorite quick measures for a pitcher."

Why not use something like wOBAA or something that does the same thing better? This BFF statistic is easy to understand because very basic but is a walk really worth the same theoretical portion of a run as a single? Or a single 1/4 the value of a HR?

"BABIP is ALWAYS higher when a pitcher pitches like crap. The opposite is also true. "

This is a pretty quantifiable analysis and not at all self serving. Obviously theres a fairly large pitcher skill component to WHIP. Inducing weak contract, the type of BIP (FB, GB, LD) all play a large role in hits allowed. But theres also luck, defense, ballpark, etc components that influence whip that are largely out of the pitchers control. WHIP is certainly not an independent statistic and I dont think its a particularly valuable pitcher evaluation tool, but if its abnormally higher or low theres a good chance that things outside of pitcher skill were at play more than normal with that pitcher.

"I refuse to take BABIP as an independant reason to discount actual verifiable quantifiable statistics."

As you shouldn't. The problem lots of people have is they chose statistics that are flawed for the same reasons you think WHIP is without thinking about it. Im specifically talking about ERA, but BFF falls into this category too.

Anonymous said...

"Liriano is not a top 5 pitcher, a case could be made for top 10 but he is far from a sure fire top 10 guy. Not saying that is a bad thing at all though."

Well if you say so. Its good to know a case could be made at least.

Anonymous said...

Agree with Nick's evaluation of Cuddyer, especially the segment about how professional athletes are now "worth" more because they act like they are supposed to. Although I would not mind Cuddyer on the team, my "big" move as GM this year would be trade Cuddyer (age 32, inconsistent, payroll needed elsewhere) for (in this order of importance) a solid infielder with a bat, a starting pitcher, relief pitching.
Other notes: Capps is overpaid, was not impressed with his closing abilities last year. Too many hick ups for me.
Sign Liriano to at least a two-year deal, I would go three. Arm seems to be back, along with his confidence and we can't afford to lose him with our lack of depth at the minors.
Delmon, Delmon, Delmon...I've been a supporter of Delmon since we traded for him and I was happy to see him succeed last year. If he is showing the same work ethic this off-season, I would also sign him to at least three years. Still a young player, and the sky is the limit for him. Someone needs to work with him on the defensive side, but he will be an above average bat from here on out.
Finally, in order to accomplish these signings, as mentioned in Nick's blog, Nathan's salary comes off the books next year and no club should invest that much money in two closers. Capps should be a strong set-up man to get more innings, but again too much money.

Anonymous said...

It's entirely possible that I'll end up being horribly wrong, and you all will have plenty of ammunition to remind me of that when the time comes.

This is annoying. Don't write as if you're setting yourself up for gloating later.

Gleeman's writing is aboug 50% substance and 50% arrogance and passive aggression. Parker's writing is 90% substance and 10% corny jokes. You fall somewhere in the middle, but you remind me of Gleeman more and more. You should maybe hang a picture of Parker next to your computer or something.

Nick N. said...

This is annoying. Don't write as if you're setting yourself up for gloating later.

How so? By saying that people are welcome to tell me I was wrong when it's actually proven that I'm wrong, but that I'm tired of hearing it until then?

You should maybe hang a picture of Parker next to your computer or something.

Already do, naturally.

Anonymous said...

Which players would hit or field worse if Cuddeyer were not around, exactly? I mean, if he makes other players better, which ones would be worse if Cuddy wasn't around? How much worse would they be, exactly, and does that make up for his lack of range in the OF?

tabstar said...

I don't know if Michael Cuddyer is worth 10.5M, or if Morneau is worth 15M? Those values are determined by the Twins and player agents, we're not writing the checks, so who cares. It should be about the game and Michael plays to win, he is entertaining, playing with as much grit as anyone on the team, and if he is average, I will take 9 average players "like Mike" any day.

I would be very disappointed if Michael is not given a new contract, he has earned the right to be a Twin for the rest of his career, both on an off the field.

My only disappointment with Cuddyer is that he seldom gets credit he has earned.