A Closer Look at Michael Cuddyer

With the Phillies reportedly in serious pursuit of free agent Michael Cuddyer, I find myself caught in something of a time warp whenever I hear him mentioned. I still play MVP 2005 every once in a while. To me, even as the rosters get more dated with each passing year, it’s still a nearly infinitely replayable game.

I bring this up because, whenever I would play with my good buddy Baumann from Phillies Nation, Cuddyer would always have the biggest impact on the game. He’d make diving plays at third base. Come up with a solid double to drive home Lew Ford. You know, 2005-type things.

Of course, the Michael Cuddyer of 2011-12 bears no resemblance to Fake Michael Cuddyer from ’05. Since the end of that ’05 season, Cuddyer has logged all of 107 innings at third base (all in 2010) and spent most of his time in the outfield and at first base. He doesn’t seem like a logical fit to supplant Placido Polanco, so we’ll move forward assuming that a potential signing of Cuddyer would mean time in the corner outfield spots and at first. He’s spent some time (read: very little) at second base, too, but with one of Wilson Valdez and Michael Martinez expected on the roster come Opening Day, there’s already a more viable backup option there.

Cuddyer handles lefties very well. His .311/.403/.589 slash in 176 PA against them last year is Victorino-esque, and his career OPS is more than .100 points higher against lefties than righties. That isn’t to say he’s unplayable against right-handers; he’s just especially dangerous against southpaws. And that’s an antidote to something Phils fans had heard about for a couple of seasons now: how the club and everyday lineup is too lefty-heavy. And really, the complaints aren’t exactly unfounded as it relates to LHB performance vs. LHP.

A look at Cuddyer’s In Play Slug heatmap (right) against lefties in 2011 shows some decent plate coverage. The cold spot down and in is a little surprising to see from a RHB against a lefty, but the strong showing in the heart and on the outer edge – from the top to the bottom of the zone, too – does compensate. Cuddyer also seems to fare better on pitchers in the lower portion than anything at the letters and up.

The drawback to that, naturally, is that Cuddyer can find the high pitches a bit too appetizing. Inside Edge reports Cuddyer as having a chase rate on pitches up and out of the zone near 50 percent, a weakness pitchers are sure to target with two strikes during the season. Pitches in on the hands also tend to draw Cuddyer’s attention often. It will be interesting to see how long his hands have the speed to turn on pitches in, especially if his next contract carries him through his age 35 season.

Cuddyer is also a candidate for the infrequently-used right-handed Ted Williams shift. When he puts the ball in play to the outfield, he’s pretty equal-opportunity. Most of his home runs tend to be pulled, but he’s not dependent on left field for hits past the infield.

Ground balls, on the other hand, are a bit of a different story. The Inside Edge spray chart (left) shows that, on balls in play since the start of 2010, Cuddyer pulls the ball a great deal. Now, this might not make a difference, again considering how little the right-handed shift is used. Either way, Ryan Zimmerman, David Wright (maybe?) and Chipper Jones should be on their toes if/when Cuddyer comes to the plate.

What we have in Michael Cuddyeris a nice player; a guy who plays some different positions (none particularly well defensively) who appears appetizing to the Phillies for a variety of reasons, none of which should be confused for being the best player available. He would be a nice addition at the right price – as any player would – but to me, Cuddyer makes the most sense on a two-year deal. A three-year deal to Raul Ibanez ended on a rather sour note, Placido Polanco looks to be slowing as he enters his third year and Joe Blanton has a nerve issue in his pitching arm as his third year approaches. Three-year deals for Cole Hamels, Carlos Ruiz and Shane Victorino, plus the recently expired Ryan Madson, look to provide counterbalance. But those latter four were all at least three years younger than Cuddyer is currently when they signed. Apples and oranges, etc.

Would Cuddyer be a good fit for this Phillies club? I tend to think so on the surface. He’s no star player, but he does represent an upgrade from Raul Ibanez on both sides of the ball. The thing I’m struggling with is Domonic Brown’s eventual place in all of this. Signing Cuddyer to a multi-year contract – paired with Hunter Pence’s two remaining years of team control – leaves no place for Brown this season. Now, Ruben Amaro has stated that he wants Brown to basically spend the whole year in Triple-A, so that may be a moot point for ’12. Moving forward, though, what’s the plan? Does Cuddyer become your third baseman after Polanco’s deal expires, with Brown finally slotting in a corner outfield spot? Another wrinkle to the saga of the once-top prospect being curiously handled. It will be interesting to see how Cuddyer’s potential addition affects Brown’s future in Philadelphia; a future that seems muddier every week.