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Replay from May: The Cuddyer chronicles

Wednesday, September 23rd, 2009

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:

May 21: Another loss? All Cuddyer’s fault, I suppose.

May 22: Player value from a fan’s perspective.

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).

A better world through Twins victories (and Detroit defeats)

Tuesday, September 8th, 2009

No matter how cranky you are about the Twins, the following is something you can heartily endorse:

The blogger Kirsten Brown, owner and operator of k-bro’s baseball blog, has made a pledge that she will donate two items to a local food shelf for each game the Twins win during the month of September.

And there’s more: She’ll donate one item for every game the Tigers lose for as long as the Twins still have a mathematical shot in the division race.

K-bro writes: “And not lame generic mac & cheese or cheap-o ramen noodles either — good, nutritious food that I would eat. (Actually, for the record, I love mac & cheese and ramen noodles, but I wouldn’t want to depend on them for survival. I did that in college — which was a very long time ago.)

She is inviting others to join her effort.

If the incredible happens, and the Twins manage to win the division, k-bro should be asked to throw out the first pitch at the first playoff game

I’m in. Are you?

As Gardy and the others said…

Thursday, July 23rd, 2009

Went into a meeting yesterday and the score was 1-0. Came out and it was 12-1.

Got into the xB for the drive home right after the game ended. Heard that in both of Glen Perkin’s one-inning knockouts this year, the temperature was in the 50s. No wonder some people complain about the overuse of statistics.

Flipped on the kitchen radio in time to hear Gardy say, “We got our a$$e$ kicked.” As Beavis would say if he’d been sitting on the sofa, “Heh, heh. Gardy said a$$ on the radio.”

That pretty much tells you everything you need to know, except for what other people are saying:

LaVelle wrote this after the game:  “The middle infield needs to be addressed. I heard that Oakland’s Orlando Cabrera can be had. What about Cristian Guzman? And while some might think that $9 million is too much to pay Freddy Sanchez in 2010, it’s for one year. Thanks to Target Field, you’re about to get PED injections — Payroll Enhancing Dividends. The Twins can handle the salary. And late-inning relief hasn’t been addressed since May of last year. Trades aren’t easy, but this team needs a jolt.”

From Nick’s Twins Blog: “Fresh off an absolutely embarrassing series in Oakland, the Twins could find themselves in a very precarious position if Crede’s (shoulder) injury turns out to be serious. This team already has enough gaping holes, and adding one more could very well end their chances of contending in this division. The pressure is mounting on the general manager and the front office to right the ship and keep this team from unraveling completely. Let’s hope they’re up to the challenge.”

At the blog 162 Reasons, Alex writes about the ninth inning, which probably makes her the only one who stuck around for it: “In the ninth, manager Bob Geren wants to try out rookie reliever Edgar Gonzalez. It’s very hard for a game like this to have an interesting ninth inning. In fact, one has to assume that players and staff are restless to get on with their getaway. But Gonzalez wants to keep us engaged. He gets Michael Cuddyer out leading off, then walks Brendan Harris. Then he walks Brian Buscher. And then, just because there are three bases, he walks Nick Punto. This is not the time to be experimenting with pitches. The tried and true strike is all you need to throw with a 15-run lead. Yet somehow Gonzalez is losing the knack for it. Now, if this were the fourth inning we’d have time for the comeback that comes back from Monday’s blown lead. But it’s the ninth, with one out. Alexi Casilla has a chance to get an RBI or two, but not much chance to launch us off on a brand new winning streak. The game ends in a swift double play.

Babes Love Baseball pointed out that some things are worse than getting beat 16-1. In this case, it’s life with the Matinglys: “The son of former New York Yankees great Don Mattingly has been arrested on charges of shoving his mother, Kim Mattingly. No, wait. It gets better: he also spit in her face. Taylor Mattingly, 24, is now facing charges consisting of battery, battery by bodily waste (ew) and criminal mischief. He was let out of the slammer late Tuesday on $250 bond, which is not nearly enough money, in my opinion.”

Aaron Gleeman offers this: “Not that anyone with the Twins would care given that they haven’t even bothered to promote him to Triple-A at the age of 25, but Anthony Slama has a 2.98 ERA, 20 saves, and 77 strikeouts in 54 innings at Double-A. His control isn’t great, but opponents are hitting .218 against Slama while striking out 35 percent of the time, and he now has a 1.83 ERA with 236 strikeouts compared to just 102 hits allowed in 157 career innings. What possible reason could there be not to at least promote him to Rochester?” (I would include the link, but his post also has video of Ron Coomer getting a massage during last weekend’s Wisconsin Dells infomercial … and I’m not going there.)

Dan Wade writes at Bleacher Report:  “Rehashing the ins-and-outs of an obliteration like the one on Wednesday isn’t useful. The pitching was an abomination, the bats went silent, and the Twins head to Anaheim with their tails firmly between their legs. To call this series frustrating would be an understatement. Losing is always unpleasant, blowing big leads is even more so, and getting blown out is worse than the others combined.”

A great story … and words to worry about

Tuesday, July 14th, 2009

One excellent way to kill time during the All-Star Break would be to read Jim Souhan’s excellent profile on Joe Mauer, which you can find here.

The best line comes from a friend of Mauer’s who says: “Joe Mauer is ‘Shaft, 2009. The ladies all want to be with him, and the men all want to be him.”

For those who need a quick cinema history lesson, go here

For those who want to ponder Mauer’s future with the Twins, beyond his 2010 contract expiration, you can start worrying about the words of Justin Morneau, as reported by Jim: “We’ve been so close at the deadline so many times. “If he feels like we’re content being that team that is just good enough not to lose, but everybody is going to have to have a career year for us to scrape into the playoffs, I think that’s going to affect his decision a lot. It’s frustrating going out every day and hearing that ‘We want to win a World Series,’ and then not seeing more aggressiveness. I think something like that is going to affect [Mauer's] decision more than the value of the contract. We’ve already got all the money we’re ever going to need.”

Mauer didn’t bite deep on the subject, which is understandable, other than to say: “Isn’t that why you play? To win championships? If I hit .250 and we won the World Series, I’d be happier than anyone.”

In other words, what happens for the rest of this season — with a team that’s four games out in a winnable division — could have a long-term influence on the Twins as they move into a new stadium. Target Field is looking good, but without Mauer and more top-level talent, it’ll become just another pretty space.

Baseball truths and web sites

Thursday, June 4th, 2009

Remember, I told you a couple of days ago not to get all excited about Anthony Swarzak’s first couple of starts. I didn’t want him to prove me wrong with a blow-up like the one last night and, as I said before, I want to see another half-dozen starts before listening in on the staff meeting where the front office turns up the Clash and starts singing Should he stay or should he go. Kevin Slowey had the same kind of debut in 2007 before getting knocked around a bit.

Today’s impressive Delmon Young statistic: Batting average in the last 11 games — .098 (4 for 41). Strikeout average in the last 11 games — .500 (21 for 42 plate appearances). Strip away everything else and the most amazing part of it is that after 125 plate appearances, Delmon has a higher cruddy on-page percentage (.272) than cruddy slugging percentage (.265). That’s positively Puntonian.

I’m glad Carlos Gomez is in the lineup most every day. But, frankly, he should have shut up and taken whatever abuse Cliff Lee dished out last night after striking out on a two-strike bunt. Cleveland’s Victor Martinez deserves credit for gently moving Gomez toward the dugout after his second at-bat, and keeping a stupid situation from getting stupider. The umpires did a good job on that front, too. I hope the fact that nobody except Gomez really took this deal seriously gets him to think about how silly he looked.

No, the Twins weren’t throwing at Kelly Shoppach last night. The Cleveland catcher has managed to turn a .210 batting average into a .342 on-base percentagedespite walking only 9 times in 110 plate appearances. That’s what happens when you get hit by 11 pitches in the first one-third of the season. Twins batters have been hit 19 times in 2,087 plate appearance

While you’re killing time waiting for this afternoon’s game, here are a few Twins blogs you may not have seen to keep you entertained:

162 Reasons is a philosophical take by a Twins fan in Vermont, where even the cows are philosophical. One recent question: “What would it be like to be Scott Baker, to pitch well a good deal of the time, but not in any way always.”

Josh’s Thoughts offers up lots of detail about the Twins minor-league system, including the news that Carlos Guttierez has been promoted to Class AA New Britain. Guttierez was a closer in college and the Twins have used him as a starter this season. Josh’s incredible statistic: Guttierez had a flyout:groundout ratio of 4.48:1 in Class A ball.

And, finally, there’s Vegetarian Piranha: the Story of Nick Punto, which relates just about everything Twins to… As in… “The Twins could pay Mauer and Morneau $27 million each, and still have enough of their current payroll left to pay 22 players league minimum and Nick Punto the remaining $4 million.”

Enjoy the day.