January 9, 2012

Leftover notes on Josh Willingham and Michael Cuddyer

I wrote plenty about Josh Willingham replacing Michael Cuddyer when the Twins signed him last month, but here are some leftover notes about their new right fielder and old right fielder:

• If you don't count re-signings and Tsuyoshi Nishioka's posting fee the $21 million deal given to Willingham is bigger than any two previous Twins free agent signings put together. And the $10.5 million difference between Willingham's deal and Cuddyer's contract with the Rockies is larger than any Twins free agent signing from 1961-2010.

• Cuddyer made his MLB debut on September 23, 2001, starting at designated hitter in place of David Ortiz against Indians lefty Chuck Finley. Brian Buchanan was the cleanup man and the other seven hitters in the lineup were Luis Rivas, Cristian Guzman, Doug Mientkiewicz, Corey Koskie, Torii Hunter, Bobby Kielty, and Tom Prince. Cuddyer walked in his first plate appearance, went 1-for-2 with a double, and the Twins lost 4-2.

• Willingham didn't make his MLB debut until age 25 and didn't become a regular until age 27 despite hitting .277/.415/.512 in the minors, including .324/.455/.676 at Triple-A.

• Of the 47 players selected ninth overall in draft history Cuddyer ranks eighth in Wins Above Replacement despite being just 33 years old. Cuddyer has 11.8 WAR for his career, and Kevin Appier and Barry Zito are the only No. 9 picks with at least 20 WAR.

• Florida selected Willingham out of the University of North Alabama with the 491st pick in the 2000 draft. One pick later the Twins selected Paul Maholm, but failed to sign him.

• Over the past three years Cuddyer hit 48 percent ground balls and grounded into 21 double plays per 600 plate appearances, while Willingham hit 34 percent ground balls and grounded into 10 double plays per 600 plate appearances. Few hitters are on first base more often than Joe Mauer, Denard Span, and Jamey Carroll, so Willingham's ability to avoid double plays can have a sizable impact.

• Compared to Cuddyer during the past three seasons Willingham has struck out 40 percent more often, walked 44 percent more often, hit for 17 percent more power, and been hit by 129 percent more pitches.

• Willingham has a .213 career Isolated Power, which would be fourth in Twins history behind Harmon Killebrew, Bob Allison, and Justin Morneau. Cuddyer has a .179 Isolated Power.

• Cuddyer ranks 12th in Twins history with 1,139 games, between Greg Gagne with 1,140 and Cesar Tovar with 1,090, and ranks 16th in Twins history with a .795 OPS, between Marty Cordova at .799 and Jason Kubel at .794. He's also 10th in hits, 10th in homers, 10th in RBIs, and 11th in runs.

• According to Fan Graphs pitch values Willingham was 44 runs above average versus fastballs from 2009-2011, compared to four runs below average versus fastballs for Cuddyer during that time. Cuddyer was more effective than Willingham against sliders, curveballs, changeups, and cutters, doing most of his damage versus off-speed stuff.

• Cuddyer swung at 17 percent more pitches than Willingham from 2009-2011, which includes swinging at 65 percent more pitches outside the strike zone.

• In describing himself as a hitter following the signing Willingham said: "I think I'm at my best when I'm going deep into some counts and working some walks and seeing a lot of pitches."

• Willingham was linked to the Indians, but they dropped out citing a poor fit defensively and after signing with the Twins he revealed that the Reds were his second choice.

• Willingham and Ryan Doumit share the same agent in Matt Sosnick.

• Among free agent corner outfielders signed in the past five offseasons Cuddyer's three-year, $31.5 million deal is tied with Raul Ibanez for seventh-largest behind Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, Matt Holliday, Jason Bay, Manny Ramirez, and Jose Guillen.

• Willingham got the same three-year, $21 million deal that the Dodgers gave Juan Uribe last offseason. Uribe is a shortstop/third baseman, but also a career .253/.298/.423 hitter.

Dan Szymborski's great ZiPS projection system over at Baseball Think Factory has the Twins getting $25 million worth of value from Willingham during his three-year, $21 million deal.

• Along with saving $10.5 million over three seasons, by swapping Cuddyer for Willingham the Twins also added the No. 32 and No. 65 overall picks in June's draft.

  • David

    Great stuff, Aaron. Takes us a lot deeper into the comparative analysis process. More confirmation all around of the wisdom of this signing (and non-signing).

  • Paulie

    But what about the narrative (I mean children)?!

  • spoofbonser

    could you write the same sort of thing for the Capps signing?

  • Old Twins Cap

    Small matter, but watching the replays of Morneau’s injury versus Toronto in 2010, it’s hard not to notice Cuddyer hacking the high hopper that resulted in, well, the biggest Twins disaster since Puckett lost his eye-sight.

    All those extra double-plays do mean something in the end.

  • koop

    I’ve always been a Cuddyer fan, and will remain so. I think he would have been best utilized as the long term replacement for Koskie at 3rd, where his bat would have been more valuable relative to position, and his best tool – arm strength – would have been utilized more often. I will readily admit Willingham has been the more valuable hitter over the past few seasons, so getting him for 3mil less per season is probably a no-brainer. My concerns:

    1 – Will the Twins (namely Gardenhire) properly value his patience and put up with his lower batting average? Or will they encourage him to “put the ball in play” more often, thus negating much of his value?

    2 – Was last year just a down year, or the beginning of a career decline? I know nothing of Willingham’s makeup or conditioning, but I do have faith that Cuddyer can maintain form into his mid-30s based on those attributes.

    3 – How much will the outfield defense suffer? RF isn’t all that important, but this ties into question 1. Cuddyer was a more versatile defender, and a better outfielder. Is Willingham’s low batting average and inferior defense going to land him in the doghouse, and if so, how is that going to affect his utilization and performance?

    I realize I may be nitpicking in order to justify my personal disappointment at losing a guy who was probably my favorite Twin for the whole of the last 10 seasons.

  • http://fieldoftwins.blogspot.com Shane

    Cuddyer’s defensive versatility is almost a joke since he is below average to terrible everywhere but in RF where he is average as the result of his strong arm.

  • koop

    Eh, you don’t have to be a plus defender to be versatile enough to add value. Cuddyer did add value, capable of providing replacement level defense at 3B and 2B, Willingham will likely not.

    Just to push a little further, I’d add that Cuddyer’s defensive improvement at 3rd from 2004, when he was Koskie’s injury replacement for a quarter of a season to 2005, when he got a 1/2 season audition as Koskie’s long term replacement, suggested that he could indeed be an average 3B with a little seasoning. Of course, he never got that seasoning. If I recall, the reports were that he was just hitting better as an outfielder – something that, even if true and valid, I think still would have evened out if he was allowed to settle into a position – and so was never really given serious thought as a full-time 3B after 05.

    Of course, that’s history and has no bearing on current value.

  • D-Luxxx

    Not to mention the fact that Cuddy has hearing loss in his left ear, and is documented as saying he was uncomfortable with having that side to the rest of the infield…

  • chamoman

    Hi Aaron, I have a question for you and Bonnes on the podcast: what would your 5-year plan be for the Twins? I agree with the two of you that Capps aside, I generally like the off-season moves so far. The problem is, this Twins team seems a lot like recent Houston Rockets teams under Darryl Morey: stuck in no-man’s land as good enough to not be terrible, but not good enough to win it all.

    You and Bonnes seem to agree that Terry Ryan has built a team to which he can add pieces if Mauer, Morneau, Span, et al. are healthy, and to which he can subtract and trade if not. Do you guys think this is the best option for winning in the short/medium-term?

    Thanks! And congrats on your weight loss this past year.

  • mike wants wins

    Still less than half the HoF voters don’t think Tim Raines should be in……

  • Son of Shane Mack

    I’ve always been a Cuddyer fan, and will remain so. I think he would have been best utilized as the long term replacement for Koskie at 3rd, where his bat would have been more valuable relative to position, and his best tool – arm strength – would have been utilized more often.

    Sure, on paper – but did you ever see him play 3B? If you had, then you’d know why he only lasted half a season there.

    In 2005, the Twins were terrible. They had nothing but useless replaceable parts. Still, Cuddy’s play at third resulted in Gardy decided that such luminaries as Luis Rodriguez, Juan Castro, and Terry Tiffee were a better options there. Ouch.

    Then there was the two week phenomenon of Glenn Williams, before he went down with an injury.

    After the season, Ryan was desparate enough to sign Tony Batista to play 3B instead of Cuddy. Obviously, that didn’t work out, but there should be no doubt as to the motivation.