Michael Cuddyer Defies Platoon Logic

As a fantasy manager, you look at Michael Cuddyer‘s 2013 season statistics and there should be giant flashing red lights around this number: .382. That’s Cuddyer’s BABIP. Granted, he earned a good deal of that given his hit trajectory which was a fairly tidy 20/50/30 LD/GB/FB, producing a .355 expected BABIP. But for a soon to be 35-year old with a career BABIP rate of .312, we should all probably temper our expectations for 2014.

This isn’t to discount his performance in 2013. His .331/.389/.530 line with 20 home runs, 84 RBI, and ten steals was a welcome surprise for owners who drafted him somewhere around the 20th round or picked him up for $6 bucks or so. In fact, in the end-of-season rankings produced by the human calculator Zach Sanders, Cuddyer ranks just behind, ahem, Joey Votto in overall value.

But as far as performance going forward, you should probably be suspicious. Yeah, there’s the BABIP thing, but there’s also his second half where his ISO went from .239 down to .142. That could have been a result of injury as he battled a litany of bumps and bruises practically all year, but regardless, his home run totals fell dramatically from 16 in the first half to just four in the second. For context, his HR/FB rate dropped from 21% in the first half to 9.8% in the second.

And speaking of bumps and bruises — Cuddyer has been a regular for ten seasons, and in half of those seasons he’s missed significant time due to injury. That’s not including 2013, where he appeared in just 130 games. At 35, he’s not likely to avoid the trainers table any less, so if you own him you almost have to have a backup plan for the near certainty of missed time.

Perhaps the most practical way to use Cuddyer is when he’s playing at home, where he hit .356/.414/.582 for the season. In his career, Cuddyer has hit .309/.375/.543 at Coors Field with 20 home runs and 31 doubles in 480 plate appearances, so he clearly has a preference for the altitude.

Lastly, it’s worth pointing out that Cuddyer had a rather bizarre year relative to his platoon splits. His career line versus right handed pitchers is .272/.332/.448 and a wOBA of .339. In 2013, he hit .350/.399/.555 and posted a wOBA of .411. I can’t say that it’s impossible he’ll reproduce that performance, and he has demonstrated a reverse split in the past, but odds are Cuddyer is much more likely to post something closer to his career line versus right handers in 2014. When he does, it’s probably going to leave us with a Michael Cuddyer that resembles something much more akin to his career line of .277/.345/.462.

For what it’s worth, the Steamer projections appear to be rather bullish on Cuddyer, predicting a .290/.351/.494 slash line with 23 home runs, 81 runs, 90 RBI, and nine stolen bases. That’s a pretty nice season if you manage to keep him on the cheap. They also predict him to play in 146 games, which is more than he’s played in since 2010.

But for my money, in re-draft leagues or if he hits the table at auction, the price is likely going to be too high to invest in a player who is injury prone, had his counting stats inflated by an unsustainable BABIP, not to mention the uncanny reverse split performance. At a significant discount, Cuddyer is an interesting player, but don’t have such a short term memory that you forget he hit just .260/.317/.489 a season ago.

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Michael was born in Massachusetts and grew up in the Seattle area but had nothing to do with the Heathcliff Slocumb trade although Boston fans are welcome to thank him. You can find him on twitter at @michaelcbarr.

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The team’s current (albeit tentative) plan to move Cuddyer to first base addresses some of the health and sustainability questions. Although what that means for positional value, I’m not really sure.

Jacob Smith
Jacob Smith

Probably helps him for 2014, since he’s hopefully less likely to get injured, and will still have OF eligibility for 14 in most formats. For 2015 and beyond, it’s probably not a good thing, especially if he doesn’t sneak into enough games in LF/RF to keep the OF eligibility.