Wednesday, November 12, 2008

I Don't Know is on Third

Let's start by admitting that I have no credibility on this subject whatsoever. And that's saying something, because I'm going to broach a topic which, all by itself, seems to lack any credibility. And a subject which I have resisted writing about for almost three years, in part because I prattled endlessly about it before that.

And I did that because when one talks about this topic, people assume you are crazy. So, in the immortal words of our fellow Minnesotan (and I assume, Twins fan) Prince, let's go crazy. In fact, let's get nuts. If you are so incline, we could even look 4 the purple banana 'til they put us in the truck.

(God help me - that song is in my head now. Along with visions of a Russian discotech and a LOT of vodka shots. I love tangents, but even I'm not ready for that story just yet. Let's get back to the main topic. We've put it off long enough...)

So why the hell aren't we more seriously considering playing Michael Cuddyer at third base?

It's not like he just dabbled there. In 2005, the year before he broke though, he was the starting third baseman, leading the team in at-bats at the hot corner. The year before, it was the position where he had the most at-bats, too, filling in for the injure Koskie. So how is this never considered and option?


(And do we remember who replaced Cuddyer when he was moved away from third base? Would you believe Tony Effin Batista?)

Now this is the point in these statistical blogs where the writer puts up a table comparing Cuddyer to the rest of the third baseman in the major leagues. The problem with such a table is the same problem we have proposing anything about Cuddyer right now - we have no idea what kind of player he is. And I think we can safely say that has been true for the last seven years.

(Here's a nice little sidebar Twins debate you can have at the bar next time: Has any Twin defied expectations, both positive and negative, more consistently than Cuddyer?

He came in as a rookie and looked like a key playoff addition. But he had a mostly negative impact, primarily because of his fielding. Then, as we waited for him to blossom, he was either terrible or hurt until he was benched. Then, once he was benched, he became a stud corner outfielder. Then he signed a guaranteed deal - and had a lost season.

Maybe David Ortiz could rival that, but he wasn't around as long as Cuddyer. Todd Walker? No, he was enigmatic enough, but it seems like he had at least a couple of seasons where he did mostly what we thought he would. Ron Davis? Maybe, because he was either much better or worse than you thought he would be. Shane Mack was much better than we expected and then suddenly much worse, so he might make the top 5.

The one name who I think can give Cuddy a run for his money is Latroy Hawkins. He was alternately terrible or wonderful, but never when you thought he would be.)


So let's get around that little inconsistency thing by adding a whole bunch of Cuddyer's seasons to the table, along with how he hit when he played third base and last year's PECOTA projection for 2009. And finally, we'll highlight the other third baseman that the Twins are reportedly consdering trying to acquire. It's on the left there.

At his best, Cuddyer would be an all-star quality offensive producer at third base. At his worst, he's still put up numbers better than Kouzmanoff (and he's just two years older than Kouzmanoff, too.) And in the middle, he's the offensive equal, if not better, than most of the guys the Twins are reportedly pursuing. Finally, it's worth noting that he didn't put up numbers much different at 3B than he did at his other positions in 2004 and 2005.

Now, I'm talking offense, obviously. His defense was not exceptional, and maybe a little below passable. But before we start being too critical, let's not forget who the Twins have started at third base since Cuddy gave up the job. Tony Batista, Brian Buscher, Brendon Harris and Mike Lamb aren't going to make anyone forget about Brooks Robinson.

This isn't the sort of move that a team forces upon a team leader like Cuddyer. But it is the kind of move that a team leader, a true team leader, might volunteer for if he thinks it could help the team. Not publicly, but maybe quietly, in the fall, so he can get a sense of whether he needs to put in some time during the offseason.

And if that move garners some public adulation down the road, or a nicer contract in 2011 from teams desperate for a decent third baseman, all the better for the unselfish player. After all, he was the one who volunteered for something a little crazy. He's the one who got nuts. Because he thought he better live now before the grim reaper came knocking on his door.

So go on Cuddy. Are you gonna let the elevator bring you down?

And if it also happens to help some of us regain some lost credibility, all the better.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Right on" . We keep reading about how bad Cuddyer is with the glove and have players fill the position who are not any better. Worse yet, we want to trade for players that might not even be as good. A quick thought: Span covered so much more ground and made such a difference that even hacks could visually notice either on tv or in person the massive improvement in RF. Mistakes in the infield are a base, poor coverage and mistakes in the outfield are runs.
Can Cuddyer play 3B as well as Beltre? No, but he is on our team now and is a popular player by all accounts. No more Batista or Lamb.

BeefMaster said...

One quibble with your chart - three of the four players the Twins are pursuing (everyone but Blake) are in extreme hitter's or pitcher's parks, making total OPS a bit of a misleading stat to use to compare them. Their road OPSes are a different story:

Atkins: .661
Beltre: .862
Kouzmanoff: .803

That puts Cuddyer's worst-case as a bit better than Atkins last year, his moderate projections right around Kouzmanoff, and his best case about even with Beltre.

I'm completely with you on the Cuddy-to-3B bandwagon, by the way - it kills two roster-problem birds with one stone (third base and the outfield logjam), and it seems to make a ton of sense, at least from our "I don't know what's going on in the clubhouse" view.

Anonymous said...

The question I have is why he hasn't been the starter at 2B. In 2004, he played 327.1 innings there, and his partial deafness would likely affect him less there. The only issue then is if Casilla can transition to short.

Jack Ungerleider said...

I have closely followed two baseball teams in my life, first the Mets from the '69 Miracle season until I came west for good in '86. I still follow them a little because my sister is a big Mets fan. Of course since I've been here I've followed the Twins. The Twins and Mets share a similar problem when it comes to the third base position. When I followed the Mets it seemed like they were always looking for a third baseman. During the NL Pennant run of 1973 they relied on Wayne Garrett. Good with the glove okay with the stick. (Sort of like Harris on the Twins.) They also played some once and future outfielders at the position. The team finally found an answer in converted outfielder Howard Johnson, who had started his career as an infielder then moved to the outfield, then back. (Sound familiar.) He was a mainstay of the Mid 80s success.

So John, and you other stat hounds, I'd love to see a career arc comparison of Cuddy to HoJo. Maybe the confidence gained as a successful right fielder will translate to confidence at third base.

As to second base as an option for Cuddyer I would say no if nothing else to protect the health of our MVP First baseman. 8^)

Erica said...

If Cuddy goes to third, Span would shift to left and Delmon would move on over to right, correct? Leaving Jason Kubel as a back-up corner outfielder/DH and Span filling in for Go-Go in center if he needs a break. I don't want to get my hopes up, but I'm liking the way this sounds...

Anonymous said...

John - the perfect way to present an issue that is so obviously the right thing to do, there is no way that it will happen.

BeefMaster said...

If Cuddy goes to third, Span would shift to left and Delmon would move on over to right, correct? Leaving Jason Kubel as a back-up corner outfielder/DH and Span filling in for Go-Go in center if he needs a break.

This is what I'd assume as well. I'm wondering how that would affect the bench - my guess is they'd stock another outfielder, since they probably wouldn't want their starting 3B to be the fifth outfielder as well. I initially figured that would be Pridie, but since Span can double as the backup CF, maybe they'd go with more of a RF/DH type like Ruiz.

David Wintheiser said...

Geek,

So why the hell aren't we more seriously considering playing Michael Cuddyer at third base?

Seems to me as though you answered your own question:

Has any Twin defied expectations, both positive and negative, more consistently than Cuddyer?

When you're one game out of the playoffs, making a change simply for the sake of making a change won't wash -- is it more or less likely that Span will suffer a sophomore slump and regress back to his MLEs from 2004-2006? Is Young likely to improve by shifting from left to right? Is Gomez even going to be on the major league roster to start 2009?

Let's also mention that there's a definition of insanity that goes something like this: doing the same thing, but expecting a different result. Cuddyer was the primary third baseman for two years, and those were two of the worst years of Cuddyer's career. Expecting that a move back to third will 'revitalize' him is, to put not too fine a point on it, madness.

Also, Erica and Beefmaster: If Cuddyer moving to third would cause Span and Young to flip positions in the outfield, I think we'd have seen that during one of Cuddyer's long stretches on the DL in 2008.

Extra Credit: Explain why moving Michael Cuddyer to third is a good idea, but moving Joe Mauer to third is a bad one, using some form of argument that doesn't boil down to 'but Cuddyer isn't as good as Mauer and can thus be more easily replaced'.

Jack Ungerleider said...

David said Explain why moving Michael Cuddyer to third is a good idea, but moving Joe Mauer to third is a bad one

I will ignore your rule because it ignores the true value of a gold glove catcher. It ignores the effect the catcher has on the pitching staff. So in essence the reason moving Joe Mauer is a bad idea is that his replacement will make his vacated position worse defensively and make the pitching staff worse until the replacement learns the pitchers. (Bad idea with young pitching staff.)

Moving Cuddyer arguably replaces him with a superior defender (Span) and potentially upgrades the position he is moved to. So at this time, with this roster it makes sense. Does it always make sense. No probably not.

TT said...

do we remember who replaced Cuddyer when he was moved away from third base? Would you believe Tony Effin Batista?

And, even more unbelievable, it was an improvement defensively. Cuddyer is not a third baseman.

Why not move Morneau to 3rd? Or, better yet, move Mauer to third, Morneau to catcher (he caught in the minor leagues) and Cuddyer to first?

Nick N. said...

And, even more unbelievable, it was an improvement defensively. Cuddyer is not a third baseman.

Why not move Morneau to 3rd? Or, better yet, move Mauer to third, Morneau to catcher (he caught in the minor leagues) and Cuddyer to first?


As much as I was not a fan of Cuddyer's defense at third base, he was a better defender their than Batista.

Did you know Cuddyer was drafted as a 3B? He's got a lot of experience playing on the left side of the infield, so your comparisons to Morneau and Mauer playing third are kind of dumb. Cuddyer to third is not the most ridiculous idea in the world, but I sincerely doubt the Twins will do it.

TT said...

Did you know Cuddyer was drafted as a 3B?

No, I didn't. I did know he was drafted as a shortstop. As I recall, he wasn't moved to third base until he got to AA ball. Maybe the Twins should stick him at shortstop.

Did you know Morneau was drafted as a catcher? I don't think anyone wants to see him back there.


he was a better defender their than Batista.

No. He really wasn't. He had more errors and had fewer assists per inning. He was just never comfortable playing third base.

Anonymous said...

Ok, we all agree that Cuddyer is not good at 3B. But what do we have as options? And forget any defense of Batista. If you saw him play in person and understand baseball you would never argue his glove the year he played with the Twins. Quick hands and a solid accurate arm did not camouflage the stone movement. Yes, even Cuddyer is better than that and don't use any stats please on that one. Hopefully, for Twins fans, there will be another option (Beltre) than Cuddyer. Defense wins ball games and our pitchers do not have high K rates.

TT said...

Quick hands and a solid accurate arm did not camouflage the stone movement. Yes, even Cuddyer is better than that

No, he wasn't. Quick hands and an accurate arm are not irrelevant. The stats indicate Batista handled as many balls as Cuddyer did. I am doubtful of personal evaluations by fans - anonymous or not.

For instance, most of us don't know where a player should have been positioned on a particular play. We are always going to think a guy who made a spectacular diving stop made a better play than the player who was in position and got to the ball on their feet.