Michael Cuddyer, Second Baseman

The Minnesota Twins are generally criticized for being too conservative. But this season, they have shown a bit of early-season panic. First, Joe Nathan was granted his wish of being removed from the closer role two weeks into the season, and now manager Ron Gardenhire has decided to fill his vacancy at second base with a guy who hasn’t played there in six years.

Gardenhire’s stated reasoning for granting Michael Cuddyer the opportunity to be his everyday second baseman for the next month or so whileTsuyoshi Nishioka recovers from injury is so that Gardenhire can get both Jason Kubel and Jim Thome into the lineup on a daily basis, something he feels his struggling offense needs. And while that is certainly a need, what he isn’t saying — but is true nonetheless — is that Cuddyer may be on his last legs as a Major League regular. Cuddyer has had good offensive seasons before, but they have come sporadically. His high-water mark came in 2006, when he rode a career high .328 BABIP to a three-win season, the only time he has crossed that threshold. His wOBA of .370 that season fell to .349 the next season, and in two of the three subsequent seasons, he failed to put up a .330 wOBA. In 2009, he nearly duplicated his 2006 numbers, essentially trading a handful of doubles for homers. However, he was less valuable in 2009 than he was in 2006, and that was due to his poor defense.

Cuddyer was actually drafted as a shortstop, but only spent one season playing the position professionally. He was then shifted to third base, and by his fourth pro season, he was playing as much at first and the outfield as he was at third. He has been shuffled around defensively because of his bat, but there is no longer a need for that. But loyalty dies hard, and Cuddyer is the longest tenured Twin on the organization. So, as the Rockies did last season with Brad Hawpe, the Twins are asking Cuddyer to do the impossible, and hoping he delivers. Unlike Hawpe though, Cuddyer is being asked to play a premier position, one which he is ill-equipped to handle.

The average height and weight for qualified second basemen this season is 5’11”, 193 lbs. Cuddyer is listed as 6’2”, 225 lbs. Cuddyer hasn’t played enough innings at second base to come up with a definitive sample of his ability there, but suffice to say that if he’s not an adequate defender at first base, third base or in right field, he’s very unlikely to be an adequate defender at second. This is compounded by the fact that the Twins are largely a ground ball staff.

The only Twins starter who produces more fly balls than ground balls is Scott Baker. The other four were ground ball machines last season — their GB/FB marks were all in the top 26 among pitchers with more than 130 innings pitched, with Francisco Liriano ranking the highest at eighth. They have not started 2011 with such extreme tendencies, but they have still leaned more to the ground ball side. It may not get any easier once the starters come out of the game either. Glen Perkins’ GB/FB last year was 1.76, and though Matt Capps had been historically a fly ball pitcher, last year his GB/FB was 1.59.

Getting back to the offensive side, for this experiment to work — even for the small period of time that it will be conducted — Cuddyer needs to hit. Unfortunately, he’s doing nothing of the sort these days. Since the start of last August, Cuddyer has played in 77 games, or just under half a season. In that time, he has hit .254/.318/.376, with a .122 ISO, and twice as many strikeouts as walks. That’s not cutting it, even at second base, where the offensive threshold is lower. You can’t even blame his problems on spacious Target Field, as since the ballpark has opened, Cuddyer has actually hit better at home than he has on the road.

Cuddyer always been a poor defender, and is slowly but surely transforming into a poor hitter as well, even by second base standards. However, as crazy as it sounds, it’s still hard to kill the Twins here. The only other middle infielders on their 40-man roster are Luke Hughes, Trevor Plouffe and Matt Tolbert, and Cuddyer doesn’t project to do any worse than they would. While the Twins didn’t necessarily need to shift Cuddyer to second in order to play Kubel and Thome every day, doing so allows them to keep all three in the lineup without bruising any egos, and the bottom line is that he Twins simply ill-equipped to have either of their starting middle infielders go down with an injury. So even though this probably won’t work out in their favor, you have to credit them for at least thinking outside the box. If Cuddyer turns it around at the plate and doesn’t embarrass himself in the field, perhaps he will have found a way to stick around in the Majors a little longer. And if he doesn’t, well, the Twins haven’t exactly been running on all cylinders this year anyway.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times and a writer and editor for FanGraphs. He has written for the Boston Globe, ESPN MLB Insider and ESPN the Magazine, among others. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

38 Responses to “Michael Cuddyer, Second Baseman”

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  1. Bryz says:

    Contributors to the problem of playing Cuddyer are numerous.

    1. His contract.
    2. His willingness to play anywhere else on the field to help the team.
    3. His flashes of offensive brilliance in ’06 and ’09.
    4. The lack of depth at the position in the organization.
    5. His personality (call it The Jeff Francoeur Effect).
    6. It does help get Kubel and Thome into the lineup.

    I’m a bit worried that after this season, Cuddyer will be re-signed by the Twins. Like I said in #5, he’s similar to Frenchy in the sense that while his negatives outweigh his positives, it’s the pros that get the most attention. I can only hope that if he is re-signed, the Twins are smarter with the type of contract they give him.

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    • Small Sample Goodness says:

      #1 should have been….

      He does magic.

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    • Pjmcnally says:

      With all of the outfield potential in the Twin’s farm system I would be surprised if Twin’s resigned Cuddyer. Personally I think that they will let Cuddyer and Kuble go next year. The 2011 outfield would be Span, Revere, Young (left to right).

      However, you are right that if they do hold on to anyone out of loyalty or whatever that Cuddyer would be the guy. I just hope that the refusal to sign Nick Punto this offseason (another Gardenhire favorite) shows that maybe the FO is looking beyond past performance and loyalty to the team when making signing decisions.

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      • mike says:

        I think they’d keep Cuddy in RF or sign a FA before playing Revere full time. His bat is extremely lackluster.

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      • Ben says:

        I would be shocked if they re-signed Cuddy (as we lovingly call him here in MN). Not to mention Revere and Hicks knocking on the door, but as early as next season, I think it’s altogether possible that Mauer is either in RF or LF most of the time. Cuddy will sign with a team looking for a RH bat that will bank on him being more ’06 than most every other year. He seems to be a great guy, which will help him stay in the league longer, but he is clearly trending toward the sunset portion of his career.

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      • Bryz says:

        @ mike: Revere’s bat is “lackluster” only in the sense that he doesn’t have any power. He’s still going to hit for average and draw walks.

        @ Ben: Joe Benson is more of a guy to look forward to in the short-term than Hicks. A Span-Benson-Revere outfield may be what we see in the near future.

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      • Nick says:

        The reports I’ve seen are not high on Revere as a defensive CF. Considering Span’s early (small sample size) success this season, I would imagine the noodle-armed Revere in LF with Young patroling RF.

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      • Bryz says:

        @ Nick: Sorry, my listing of Span, Revere, and Benson was not supposed to reflect where I think they’ll play in the future. If that was the case, I would have said Revere in LF, Span in CF, and Benson in RF.

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  2. glassSheets says:

    Luke Hughes may be listed as a middle infielder, but he is a middle infielder the same way Michael Cuddyer is.

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  3. Luke in MN says:

    “This is compounded by the fact that the Twins are largely a ground ball staff.”

    Ok, I’m fairly sure that there’s a conspiracy that requires anyone writing an article about the Twins’s bad defenders to write that their bad defense is compounded(!) by the tendency of their pitchers to have balls hit disproportionately at those fielders. This has been an annual affair with the Twins’s bad corner outfielders and supposed extreme fly-ball pitchers, but now that one of their bad outfielders is a bad infielder, all of a sudden they’re an extreme ground-ball staff!

    Anyway, it’s a weak, weak argument even at the true extremes (extreme fly-ball staff + extremely bad outfield defense, e.g.; it just doesn’t “compound” the issue much at all), but especially when the team is, like the Twins, not really extreme at all in either way.

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    • Josh says:

      But they are really bad at outfield and infield defense, so either way the pitching staff is screwed

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      • Barkey Walker says:

        Last year the Twins lead in UZR at almost every infield position. Outfield… not so much.

        This year, they lost every one of those players.

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    • Kevin S. says:

      Actually, it does compound the problem. More balls directed at fielders who convert a low percentage of them into outs = more hits on balls in play than if the staff’s tenancies were neutral or directed away from the porous part of the defense.

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      • Luke in MN says:

        Yeah, that’s the idea and it’s true…to a really small extent. Figure out the difference between a high FB (or GB) staff and the league average. Figure out how many more chances that will result in for whatever bad fielders your talking about. Figure out how many of those chances will be foiled by the bad fielder’s badness. You will be underwhelmed. Bad defense is bad, but the degree to which it is compounded by a pitching staff’s batted-ball tendencies–whatever they are–is trivial. There just isn’t that much variance in batted-ball tendencies at the team level.

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  4. Sean says:

    Cuddyer still mashes lefties. He’s useful in limited doses.


    C: Mauer
    1B: Morneau
    2B: Nishioka
    SS: Casilla
    3B Valencia
    LF: Young
    CF: Span
    RF: ?????
    DH: Cuddyer/Kubel platoon

    of course Cuddyer can then be your super utility guy and fill in for guys all over the place…

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  5. JoeyO says:

    Look, I see the knocks on Cuddyer, but we are also talking about a League Average range hitter who can fill in almost anywhere you need him. That’s a big deal for a club.

    (I would like to add, I hope they manage to find another 5 starts at 3rd for him so he keeps his now extreme fantasy flexibility for next season too.)

    Plus, he has hit .286/.355/.446/.801 with a 304 BAbip over his last 15 games – similar to expectations for him, so… And as far as last season

    .235/.316/.353/.669 with .275 BAbip – Aug 1-14, 2010
    .281/.339/.421/.760 with .313 BAbip – Aug 15-31, 2010
    .255/.283/.314/.597 with .295 BAbip – Sept 1-14, 2010
    .263/.338/.439/.777 with .289 BAbip – Sept 15-season end

    He had two bad stretches late last season, but was fairly strong between them – posting numbers similar to (and even a bit higher then) his overall .271/.336/.417/.753. If he had had said bad stretches early in the season instead of late, the entire “Since the start of last August” goes away and we instead have a guy who just didn’t hit in the first 5 or 6 games of 2011.

    Overall, I think you are making much ado about nothing on that front.

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  6. Xeifrank says:

    What order would Twins fans put the following four second basemen in defensively?

    Luke Hughes
    Trevor Plouffe
    Matt Tolbert
    Michael Cuddyer

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  7. Choo says:

    Michael Cuddyer is what you get when you take Mickey Hatcher and trade quality defense for double-digit homers and a face that makes the farm girls swoon. In other words, the most perfect Midwestern baseball playing non-catcher specimen in the universe.

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  8. mike wants wins says:

    I’m hoping Joe Benson is your CF, Span your LF and Kubel your RF next year. I’m hoping Nishi is back and healthy for most of the year and is the 2B next year and for the majority of this year. I’m hoping Cuddy is not back on this roster, unless it is as RH bat off the bench and DH against lefties for not much money.

    I think this Cuddy at 2B thing is short term until Nishi is back. Unfortunately, I think Gardy will stick Nishi at SS (putting us out of our Casilla misery) and keep Cuddy at 2B. The MIF is a black hole in MN right now.

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  9. shthar says:

    This is a good response to people who think the MLB pays any attention to sabermetrics or uzr or anything that’s been invented since 1952.

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    • Barkey Walker says:

      I don’t think there is any reason to believe that current defensive stats are better than a managers assessment. UZR is OK at best.

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      • shthar says:

        You can honestly type that we should accept an assessment that a team is better with Cuddyer at 2b?

        Unless the rest of the roster is 13 dead guys and 11 Mel Tillis records, that’s not a good assessment.

        But it is a good example that all this stuff we endlessley argue about is completely ignored by almost all of professional baseball.

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  10. J says:

    Hawpe played 6 games at 1B last year for Colorado. That’s a pretty odd and unnecessary comparison.

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  11. GonzoBob says:

    I think Cuddy is still OK offensively if he can stay healthy. He had a hand injury in 2008 that affected his power and last year was playing with a knee injury. He got off to a slow start this year but I think that can be partly attributed to missing over the first half of spring training after having wart removal surgery on his foot.

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  12. ddriver80 says:

    People are making a big deal about his poor offensive start. He’s had bad BABIP luck so far. He’s the same rate of grounders this year, and his LD is a little lower then other years, but he’s really not that far off his career numbers to suggest his poor start is anything but luck/Injury

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    • glassSheets says:

      An alternate interpretation could be that his past years were luck. Maybe his real talent is somewhere in between. Maybe he’s on the wrong side of 30 and those grounders aren’t quite as hard hit, those fly balls dont travel quite as far, and he’s not quite as fast as he once was to leg out some extra bases/hits.

      Or, maybe he has just been unlucky.

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  13. gdc says:

    Read “The Machine” last month where Sparky Anderson waited until the Reds were on the road to start Rose at 3B instead of LF since the GM was against it.

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  14. Brian says:

    Given the current roster (Tolbert and Hughes are replacement level), I think it makes some sense if you’re getting Kubel and Thome into the lineup against a right-hander, but to sacrifice the defense at 2B to start those guys against lefties is short sighted.

    The Twins radio announcers did say that we should start the “Jason Kubel Gold Glove watch” right after he made an “outstanding” running catch last week in Baltimore. Never mind that Ichiro would have been camped under it and roasting marshmallows on the same play.

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  15. MNzach says:

    This is my first comment ever but I had to relay something I heard Dan Gladden (former Twin, current radio color man) say that almost made me pull over while driving.

    “On any other organization he (Cuddyer) could play shortstop”

    Never mind thats totally absurd but even if it were true I’m pretty sure that our current SS is one of the worst players in the Majors at any position right now.

    I almost got whiplash shaking my head at the, apologies to Joe Morgan, most asinine and false statement ever uttered on the subject of baseball.

    That being said Cuddy played pretty alright on Easter Sunday when I had a close view. His range was Jeter-like but he made some solid plays and good throws, even turned a DP.

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  16. renren876 says:

    Shocked that it was so low really. I mean its a decent number, but given that its a yes/no question about equating value, I would have expected it to be higher.

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