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.

Ryan Madson’s Free Agency

Previous update (October 24, 2011):

  • The Nationals may be interested in signing Madson: source.

Paul’s Take: Hm. Where have we heard this one before? An impending Phillies free agent being lured to the nation’s capital on the promise of a career payday? Well, it seems Ryan Madson may be the next such Philly player, joining Jayson Werth, to consider fleeing south. Madson has emerged as one of baseball’s better relievers over the past few seasons – 204 strikeouts in 191 innings since the start of 2009, and an even 4:1 K:BB ratio – but the Phils may have used their Get Out of Jail Free card with Madson’s agent, Scott Boras, when they signed him to a three-year deal before that ’09 season. That deal bought out two free agent years, and Madson may be itching to see what he may have missed out on earlier.

Ryan’s Take: I’m already wondering whether it is worth signing a reliever to Madson’s actual market value. If the Nationals are going to rerun the 2010 offseason and top that value by 30% or more, I’ll be bidding another bittersweet farewell. Madson, by all accounts, loves pitching in Philadelphia, but it sounds so far as if the offers he’ll be seeing this winter will be impossible to turn down. Amaro’s recent comments about looking outside the organization for a veteran reliever portend a serious overpay on the part of the Phillies. Bill was absolutely right when he wrote that the Phillies would do well to be thrifty in assembling the 2012 bullpen, given all we know about relievers and the market for them. Madson’s possible departure, while a definite loss, gives them an opportunity to re-allocate money to other areas of need, and presently, if you believe Amaro’s media face, the Phillies may squander that opportunity entirely.

Bill’s Take: Not much that I can add here. Regular readers of the blog know how much of a Madson fan I am, but I don’t want to keep him at a Boras price. Even if the Phillies raise payroll a bit, I think they would have  hard time adequately plugging every hole while committing, let’s say, $12 million for Madson starting next season. I also have no qualms about going into 2012 with Antonio Bastardo or Jose Contreras as the closer. The one downside I see to passing over Madson is that Amaro said he wants to get a veteran closer from outside the organization. When I hear that, I think of Heath Bell and cringe.

Phillies Should Utilize A Thrift Store Bullpen

The bullpen has seemingly always been a problem for the Phillies. Whether it was the 1980 bullpen that barely made it to the finish line, the 1993 ‘pen, that imploded, or the revolving door bullpen the Phillies implemented between 1995 and present, there has never been that one constant. Sure, Billy Wagner was good for the two years that he was here, Brad Lidge had that perfect season, and Ryan Madson came out of nowhere to become one of the most dominant relievers in baseball, but the latter two are gone after this season having only been key cogs in the Phillies’ bullpen dating back to 2007 (’08 for Lidge).

With the off-season comes a plethora of unsolicited advice from fans and media types alike. The focus has mostly been on the shortstop position, and rightly so, but the Phillies have a bullpen in flux that cannot be ignored. The Phillies went into the season with the back of the bullpen including Madson and Lidge, as well as Jose Contreras, J.C. Romero, and Danys Baez. Prior to September call-ups, that changed to Madson, Antonio Bastardo, Michael Stutes, and Lidge; Contreras threw only 14 innings over the course of the season while Romero and Baez were both booted from the roster.

For the most part, the evolution of the bullpen was completely unexpected. No one saw Bastardo being as dominant as he was, nor did anyone expect Stutes to pitch in so many high-leverage situations. That is par for the course for most teams when it comes to the bullpen: they are all just rolling dice. After the 2011 regular season, less than half of the teams in the National League stayed within 0.20 of their bullpen ERA the previous season. Equally as many teams (seven) shifted by a half run of ERA or more.

Team 2011 ERA 2010 ERA DIFF
ARI 3.71 5.74 -2.03
CHC 3.51 4.72 -1.21
MIL 3.32 4.48 -1.16
PIT 3.76 4.57 -0.81
FLA 3.44 4.01 -0.57
PHI 3.45 4.02 -0.57
CIN 3.55 3.97 -0.42
LAD 3.92 4.07 -0.15
WSN 3.20 3.35 -0.15
ATL 3.03 3.11 -0.08
COL 3.91 3.99 -0.08
HOU 4.49 4.49 0.00
STL 3.73 3.73 0.00
SFG 3.04 2.99 0.05
SDP 3.05 2.81 0.24
NYM 4.33 3.59 0.74

Relievers are notoriously hard to predict, particularly because the sample sizes are too small. Madson finished the year with 60.2 innings pitched. Roy Halladay, on the other hand, surpassed that total after his eighth start on May 10. Needless to say, Halladay’s first eight starts of the season hold very little predictive value. It feels like relievers’ stats should stabilize quicker, but they don’t; they are just as prone to the randomness of the universe as any other player.

Unless the price is right and you are dealing with Mariano Rivera-types who are eerily consistent from year to year (Madson would fall into this category), it seems the best strategy is to spend as little money as possible on the bullpen and hope for the best by utilizing pitchers with good defense-independent skills. Of the 58 relievers that threw 50+ innings and posted an ERA lower than 3.00 during the 2011 regular season, only eight of them (14%) had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 2.0 or lower. Five of those eight had a ground ball rate at 50 percent or higher (six if the threshold is lowered to 49 percent).

The Phillies have five arms that could be key contributors to the bullpen that are not yet arbitration eligible: Bastardo, Stutes, David Herndon, Michael Schwimer, and Justin De Fratus. Meanwhile, Jose Contreras will still be around in the final year of his two-year contract, earning $2.5 million. With the five youngsters at a cheap price (let’s say $450,000 apiece) and Contreras, the Phillies could run with a bullpen costing them around $5 million. As a result, the Phillies would have much more freedom to address their other needs.

The Phillies should say no to Heath Bell, to Jonathan Papelbon, to Jose Valverde and any other expensive relievers out there. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like GM Ruben Amaro is going to, per Bob Brookover:

Amaro said that even if the Phillies do not re-sign Madson, they plan on going outside the organization for an experienced closer. Whether it’s Madson or somebody else with experience at the role, it’s likely to cost at least $10 million [...]

The contract, to whomever it may be, has the potential to be just as hamstringing as the Raul Ibanez contract. If the Phillies play it smart, they’ll walk past the department stores and shop at Goodwill. Then they may give themselves enough room to adequately plug the shortstop hole, sign Cole Hamels to a contract extension, address third base and left field, and find a new bench corps.

Placido Polanco and the Third Base Situation

Last updated: 10/13, 12:30 p.m.

  • Charlie Manuel ponders an upgrade at the hot corner: source.

Paul’s Take: Third base for the Phillies is something like the goaltender position for the Flyers. Back in the day, there was a stalwart at the position, but recent years have found little stability or above-average production. Placido Polanco, signed before the 2010 season, has been hurt and producing offense more typically found in middle infield positions. As Aaron Gleeman mentions over at Hardball Talk, Polanco’s .702 OPS is 20th among third basemen since the start of 2010. Polly is owed $6.25M in 2012, and he’ll almost assuredly remain the starter when healthy.
What might behoove Amaro would be a search for a quality backup. The Phils missed out on acquiring guys like Wilson Betemit who, while not a superstar, did provide the Tigers with 15 extra-base hits in 40 games after being acquired. Polanco had 19 extra-base hits all season.

Ryan’s Take: The Phillies have a lot on their shopping list right now, including some pieces that probably take a higher priority than a position where there is already an established starter. To his credit, Polanco provided excellent defense even while playing hurt in 2011. But, facing possible offensive regression by Hunter Pence and Shane Victorino, and with Ryan Howard’s 2012 effectiveness in serious doubt, that might not be enough on it’s own. Normally I would accept him retaining the full-time job as a foregone conclusion, but to hear a manager as fiercely loyal as Charlie Manuel even mentioning an “upgrade” makes me wonder if falling short of the NLCS this season may have put him in a more pragmatic state of mind. Considering that Polanco posted a .364 wOBA last year against left-handed pitching, compared to just .281 against right-handers, might a platoon be in order?

The 2011-12 Compendium

This is the main page for the Compendium of the 2011-12 offseason. Bookmark this post for a collection of links to various posts on the different issues and storylines surrounding the Phils, plus the opinions and analysis of the Crashburn Alley staff. This post will be updated as the individual posts update. Bear with us in the early going; we’ll try to keep everything organized and filled with content, but the offseason is young.

A more detailed description of what the Compendium is after the jump:

Continue reading…

Jimmy Rollins’s Contract Status

Last updated: 10/24, 9:15 a.m.

  • Five years is probably too much for Phils, Scutaro an option?: source. – 10/24

Paul’s Take: Marco Scutaro would certainly be an offensive upgrade from the replacement suitors we know in Wilson Valdez and (gulp) Michael Martinez. Scutaro wasn’t necessarily a factor of Fenway Park, either, as his road OPS is comparable to his home split; it was even higher than his home OPS this year. Scutaro won’t fulfill the needs of people fixated on the decrease in age, but on a one-year deal, he would seem a suitable replacement. At this point, to me, he seems a more suitable replacement for 2012 than Freddy Galvis.

Paul’s Take: While I don’t think he’s going to get five years, I have little doubt that he means business and won’t hesitate to sign elsewhere if the price is right. Hey, this is his last big contract, after all. I don’t think it would be wise to give Jimmy – with a .316 OBP since ’09 – five years. Three makes more sense, given his defense should be worth it.
Some advanced metrics have Rollins showing signs of declining range, partially as a result of injuries and partially, perhaps, as a result of age. It’s difficult to discern between the two right now. Phillies fans are aware of Rollins’s stout defensive abilities, to be sure, but there doesn’t seem to be reason to think a healthy Rollins isn’t still a valuable commodity, even with a slowing bat.

Bill’s Take: I’m with Paul. I’m comfortable giving Rollins three years, even with an option for a fourth, but I get uncomfortable guaranteeing four or more years to a player of Rollins’ caliber. Don’t get me wrong, I find Rollins to be very valuable especially given his position, but he is no Troy Tulowitzki. I do, however, grimace at the thought of going year-to-year with one of the many crummy free agent shortstops around or, worse yet, relying on an unproven Freddy Galvis, who has just one potentially-fluky season at Triple-A Lehigh Valley under his belt. Rollins talked about five years, but that’s what he should do — it’s Negotiating 101. I have a hard time seeing him getting five guaranteed years, and for the Phillies’ sake, I hope I’m right about that.