Perhaps no more puzzling venom was directed at a Twins player earlier this year than some of the outrage directed toward Michael B. Cuddyer. Maybe it was because he does magic tricks or maybe it’s because he’s better lookin’ than most folks who sit at their computers and comment on blogs. Or maybe it was a conspiracy between the number munchers to show how deeply they could drill into new-wave statistics to find damning evidence and the gut-feeling crowd who simply wanted to go young (or Young) as in a regular outfield of Delmon, Carlos and Denard. Or maybe it was a bitter Lew Ford posting under an assortment of names and personalities, which wouldn’t surprise me as much as if, say, Jason Tyner tried to do something like that.
Whatever the case — and I bear no ongoing malice toward contrarian opinions — I felt the need back in May to devote two consecutive posts to a defense of Cuddyer.
On May 21, I wrote, in part:
Going back through some comments of recent days, you might think that Michael Cuddyer is the main reason the Twins have lost six in a row, the starters can’t locate their pitches, the bullpen has been a disaster in key situations and the little things kept getting done wrong. That’s the same Cuddyer who is batting .310/.430/.535 over his last 20 games and has the highest OPS on the team except for three guys named Mauer, Morneau and Kubel.
He has seemed to run afoul of the baseball socialists who seem to think that others should be getting a chance based on unmined potential or some of the numbers that can be found if you drill down deep enough into the statosphere. Some people seem to be making the leap that he should be benched because he’s overpaid — at least that’s the argument I’ve been extracting from a quick review of their words. I like numbers. I like the ones that I cite and I’m intrigued by the numbers that some of you bring up. But here’s a simple contention: If more Twins were producing like Cuddyer, the Twins could make even Terry Felton a winning pitcher.
After an interesting conversation-booster from commenter Jason — “The $8.5 million Cuddyer is making this year comes in part from your season ticket money to sit in 220, Howard. From that standpoint, I would think you would be curious … at the questioning of how that investment is paying off.” – I offered up the following on the issue of the return on my investment:
Cuddyer? His OPS+ right now is 124, the same as in his best season of 2006 … and I’ll take that from him. It’s a big improvement over last season’s injury-hampered 92. and better than his career figure of 107. For the season, I’d be very happy if he performed in the 110-120 range. (It’s early enough in the season that yesterday’s performance moved his OPS+ from 112 to 124, kind of like a huge day in the market.) I’m not going to put him on my All-Star ballot right now, but I’ll make the argument that Cuddyer’s a solid player who has deserved his at-bats. That he’s making $6.75 million this season (or $7.67 million if you want to throw in one-third of his signing bonus) doesn’t bother me.
Here are links to the full posts:
The best part wasn’t that I was so incredibly right about Cuddyer — the animosity has shrunk to a fringe effort that calls itself, I believe, the Justin Huber Liberation and Libation Society — but that it provoked about 450 comments over two days that were mostly evidence of value for this kind of discussion on the internet. That doesn’t include the guy who offered up, during the May 21 day game: “Howard, your boyfriend flied out on the 2nd pitch with runners on 1st and 3rd.”
That was before Cuddyer went 4-for-6 with a home run and a double that afternoon in Chicago and hit for the cycle the next night against Milwaukee.
Some of your concession speeches were downright flattering.
More satisfying, however, is that Cuddyer is having a year even better than I was willing to give him credit for six weeks into the season — and has stepped up to fill the Morneau void, both in the batting order and on defense, when it was vital to do so.
And if you buy the argument that Cuddyer’s performance has been key to keeping the Twins in the title chase, you can also give him some credit for enhancing Joe Mauer’s chances to win the American League MVP award. If the Twins were doing a White Sox fade right now, it would lend strength to the arguments that Mauer has been most outstanding without being most valuable.
At this point, however, in baseball’s only serious title chase (regardless of the division’s weakness), Mauer’s singular performance makes him such an obvious choice that the only reason for debate is to fill time in the 24/7 sports universe. But the Mauer-for-MVP question will have to wait for another day.
Today, it’s all about Cuddyer (and me).