On A Team Desperate For Somebody Who Can Hit Lefties, Michael Cuddyer Is A Decent Gamble For Mets

By: Brian Mangan

Since everyone in the world has been talking about the chances of Michael Cuddyer coming to the Mets, I figured I would quickly weigh in with my thoughts.  Here’s the latest news, courtesy Metsblog:

The Mets will have interest in free-agent OF Michael Cuddyer, so long as he’ll take a two-year deal, according to people familiar with the team’s thinking (Martino, Oct. 22).

MLB Trade Rumors recently predicted Cuddyer would eventually sign a two-year, $22 million contract (MLBTR, Oct. 17).

Let’s say that’s the deal he gets.  I can probably live with that – so let’s take a quick glance under the hood.

Cuddyer Has Been Merely Okay

Cuddyer is a 13 year major league veteran whose career has taken a huge boost since moving from Minnesota to Colorado.  He spent 11 years in Minnesota as a nicely above-average hitter, compiling a .272/.343/.451 slash line and a 111 OPS+ over that time with 21 HR per 162 games.  However, since sliding over to the hitters haven in Colorado, Cuddyer has batted .307/.362/.525 in his ages 33 through 35 seasons.  He even won the batting title in 2013.

Over the last three seasons, Cuddyer has given back much of that offensive value on the defensive side, being worth a total of only 4.5 fWAR or 3.6 bWAR (depending on your preferred source, Fangraphs or Baseball-Reference) over the last three seasons.  Let’s round up and say he’s been a 1.5 WAR player.

But WAR is not the full story, as Cudder was able to compile 1.5 fWAR last season in only 49 games.  Although you could look at that as a good thing — he was on pace for over 3 WAR — I view his inability to stay on the field as a liability at this point in his career.  In fact, staying on the field has been a problem for Cuddyer his entire career, as he has only averaged 122 games played over the last ten seasons, and 114 games played over the last seven seasons.

Cuddyer Projection

If he signs a two year contract, Cuddyer will be playing at his age 36 and age 37 seasons.  Even if you were to remain optimistic and assume that Cuddyer could replicate his 4,555 plate appearances pre-Coors Field and put up a 111 OPS+ …. that’s Daniel Murphy.  Murphy batted .289/.332/.403 this season for exactly a 111 OPS+.  Other players to match that number included OBP-heavy Matt Carpenter at .272/.375/.375 and SLG-heavy Marcell Ozuna at .269/.317/.455.

More likely, Cuddyer, at age 36, will turn in his worst offensive season in a decade.  Hitters simply do not do what he is doing, at his age, in this post-steroid era.  Fangraphs projections are out and they are far more optimistic than me, suggesting that Cuddyer will bat .292/.349/.481 in 110 games and finish with 1.2 WAR.  Those are Colorado stats, so if he were to be at Citi Field that projection would be worse.

I wish that I could be more optimistic, but I cannot.  Both of Cuddyer’s most comparable players on Baseball-Reference (Carl Everett and Rondell White) were both out of baseball at 36.  Meanwhile, even in his big 2013 season, Cuddyer hit only .333/.386/.475 despite a .403 BABIP in the second half, which means you can shave about 60 points right off the top of all of those lines.

It’s been a year and a half since Cuddyer was healthy and raking, he’ll be 36, and in Citi Field, he’ll be a defensive liability.  I think Cuddyer hits .265/.330/.440 for the Mets over 90 games, totaling 1.2 WAR.

Cuddyer’s Value to the Mets

The Mets have one open slot in the outfield (right field, if Granderson moves to left) as well as a perceived weakness on offense.  I say perceived weakness, because despite the fact I’ve spent months reminding people, the Mets offense was not terrible last season (you can read about it here).  But nonetheless, if there was an obvious place to improve this team, it would be at corner outfield, and it would be against left handed pitching.  The Mets were 29th in MLB last season in slugging against lefties, ahead of only the lowly Padres.

It should be no secret at this point that I don’t think Cuddyer will justify a two year, $22M or more commitment.  With the price of a win on the free agent market coming in at around $6M per win last offseason (or more), Cuddyer would be looked at to provide somewhere around 3.5 WAR over that two year commitment.  I don’t think that he will do that, but he is a decent gamble nonetheless.  Here’s why:

  1. Even if Cuddyer flops, the size of the commitment to him would be a bearable, even for a cash-strapped franchise.  Unlike with Granderson, whose 4 year and $60 million contract is an albatross on the Mets’ books, the shorter and cheaper commitment to Cuddyer carries with it much less risk.
  2. There is a substantial chance that Cuddyer will beat his projections and provide more value.  Cuddyer is being valued like a player who teams expect will do what I said above – post decent offensive numbers and miss a bunch of games.  But if Cuddyer can avoid injury, he could put up a 2.5 WAR season (like he did in Colorado in 2013 or Minnesota in 2011).
  3. Making a move for Cuddyer adds legitimacy to the lineup, and allows the team some flexibility with Duda at first.  I am not a fan of “credibility moves” when they are meaningless, or when I think they harm the future of the franchise as a whole (see: Granderson).  However on a smaller scale, adding a professional hitter like Cuddyer to the roster can only help, and he addresses the team’s more dire needs.

If the Mets were to add Cuddyer, it would extend the lineup against righties and completely fortify it against lefties.  He wouldn’t be counted on to start every day, and could spell Duda against tough lefties on a team that struggled mightily against lefties last year. Here’s an example lineup:

vs. Righties (as a team, .241/.309/.376 last season)

1. Lagares. R

2. Murphy, L

3. Wright, R

4. Duda, L

5. D’Arnaud, R

6. Cuddyer, R or Den Dekker, L

7. Flores, R

8. Granderson, L

vs. Lefties (as a team, .230/.305/.328 last season)

1. Lagares. R

2. Flores, R

3. Wright, R

4. Cuddyer, R (on Duda off-days)

5. D’Arnaud, R

6. Murphy, L or Tejada, R

7. Campbell, R

8. Other Outfielder (Granderson, L, Den Dekker, L, Eric Young, S)

Again, I don’t think that Cuddyer is going to light the world on fire or put the team on his back and carry it to the playoffs.  However I do think that at that price and contract length, he is the kind of gamble that the Mets should be taking.  Of course, had the Mets taken my advice they would not have Granderson, would have Cowgill, and would probably go sign Tomas this offseason– but alas, I don’t yet have that power.

The bottom line is that Cuddyer hit .276/.360/.455 against lefties in 2013, and is a phenomenal .291/.379/.506 against lefties in his career (his career OPS against lefties is 885, against righties 783).  In Matt Den Dekker, the Mets have a late-inning defensive replacement who is good enough to start should Cuddyer get injured for a stretch.

You can’t win without taking some gambles, and I think the 2015 Mets are primed to compete.  This is a gamble that I would begrudgingly endorse.