As a Twins fan, it is easy to get frustrated with Michael Cuddyer.
As Howard Sinker pointed out earlier this week, Cuddyer is practically oh-for-the-year with runners in scoring position. In fact, Sinker went so far as to calling Cuddyer’s early season production “the worst of the worst”. Given that his numbers with men in scoring position this season is 4-for-32, tied for sixth worst in baseball, it’s hard not feel the same way. After all, with a team that is dilapidated and desperate for heroes, the Twins need one making nearly $12 million this season to step up.
Heading into 2009, Cuddyer made some wholesale changes to his approach at the plate. In his set up, he lowered the position of his hands, something he told 1500ESPN that he had done in two-strike situations and Tony Oliva convinced him to hit that way all the time. Additionally, Cuddyer incorporated a much more aggressive leg kick. Both adjustments appeared to amplify his power stroke, leading to a career-high in both home runs (32) and slugging (.520).
Since then, however, his production has begun to slide.
For starters, using Inside Edge’s data, it doesn’t take a hardened scout to tell the ball isn’t jumping off Cuddy’s bat in the same manner in which it did the past two seasons. Likewise, the small sample measurement of his home runs agree, as the actual speed off of his bat appears to be down as well compared to the previous two seasons:
Cuddyer’s power decline
Speed Off Bat (HR only)
In his 2009 swing, we see what was then his ne w approach at the plate. Although he added a more aggressive leg kick – something that can mess with a hitters’ timing – Cuddyer demonstrates a smooth motion and good weight transference, staying back, and then bringing his bat quickly through the hitting zone.
This season, using a clip from Cuddyer’s first home run of the year in Baltimore, we see the same mechanics except that slightly before he hits the apex of his leg kick, he begins moving his weight forward. Yes, it is minor but it appears to prematurely set his swing in motion which would lead to being caught out-front on some pitches. Along with the decline in hard hit balls the past two seasons, Cuddyer also witnessed a spike in groundballs which could be a byproduct of his increased amount of contact with out-of-zone pitches (also up as well).
While a vocal amount of the population seems to want to assign his early season ineptitude on him simply, you know, sucking, I am a bit more skeptical that this is his true talent given his 2009 display of power but rather remnants of an off-season full of physical tribulations.
After the 2010 season, it was revealed that Cuddyer was playing the season’s entirety with pain in his right knee, which would explain why he would be transferring his weight off of his back leg sooner in his swing. In what was supposed to be a routine arthroscopic procedure to repair the knee, it actually was the first of three afflictions this off-season.
Shortly after going through his knee surgery at the end of October, doctors discovered that Cuddyer needed an emergency appendectomy. Interestingly enough, sluggers like the White Sox’s Adam Dunn and St Louis’s Matt Holliday both needed the same procedure this year. Sports Illustrated’s Will Carroll, a sport injury expert, said in reference to Dunn’s recovery that the procedure is “minimally invasive that it is almost nothing.” Carroll speculated that it should take a player out of pocket for seven to ten days. While Dunn has struggled offensively nonetheless, the younger Holliday has mashed for the Cardinals so far this year post-operation.
To make matters worse, Cuddyer battled a nasty wart problem on the bottle of his left foot which eventually led to it being removed just as spring training was firing up. (If you think that the wart was a minor event that shouldn’t affect someone’s playing time, I suggest you look again at the size and location of the scar once again.) Needless to say, it’s no small wonder that one of the longest tenured Twin (one who played in all but four games last year) was ever able to get himself into playing condition.
From reports from those that have spent time within the Twins clubhouse, Cuddyer is not the type of player to complain or make excuses about various ailments. Of course, he’s not in much of a position to do so either. Unlike say, Joe Mauer, who had surgery in December on his knee, Cuddyer is playing for a contract while Mauer is settling into his first year of his extension like a warm bath. The Twins realize that because of the significant long-term investment with Mauer, it is best to allow him to fully recover rather than push him to play through any sort of ailments. Cuddyer on the other hand, does not have the luxury of taking off a month or two in hopes of getting back to 100%, rather he has to labor through the aches and pains in hopes of performing well enough earn his next payday.
Is there value in being consistently able to be counted on to play day-in and day-out despite substandard numbers? It’s hard to say. Sabrists would say no. Managers would say absolutely. What can be agreed upon by both camps is that the Twins need him to not only play every day but to also convert in scoring opportunities.
Is it possible that we will see the 2009 Cuddyer ever again? Given the laundry list of reasons why his power may be gone, I believe it is unlikely that we will. Still, so far in May, we have see good signs of a rebound, going 9-for-31 (.290) the past eight games. Some of those hits will eventually come with runners in scoring position. Also, with the Blue Jays in town and sending back-to-back left-handers to the mound tonight and tomorrow, we could see upwardly mobile progression of his numbers this weekend.