May 25, 2012

Link-O-Rama

Dmitri Young sold his baseball card collection for $2.5 million. And here's my favorite part of the story: "Only seven cards in the entire collection received no bids and all were rookie cards of his brother, current Tigers outfielder Delmon Young."

• Anyone know if this team needs a blogger?

• Oddly both brilliant and creepy: The evolution of a family, one picture per year.

Joe Mauer and Snoop Dogg, together again at Thursday night's White Sox-Twins game.

• Financing the remake of a Pauly Shore movie is a sure sign that you have too much money.

• Thing that made me feel elderly: This week is the 20th anniversary of The Real World on MTV.

• Friend of AG.com and former Gleeman and The Geek guest Lindsay Guentzel beat out 22,000 applicants for a spot in the MLB Fan Cave, but now they're voting out residents, Survivor-style, and she needs your help to stick around and keep living in New York all season. Go vote.

LeBron James reads The Hunger Games in the locker room, obviously.

Michael Cuddyer is in a new league and on a new bad team, but the newspaper articles about him and "clubhouse chemistry" predictably live on.

Curt Schilling: Great pitcher, not-so-great businessman.

• Saying this will inevitably lead to ridicule, but whatever: John Mayer's new album is really good and also quite a bit different than most of his previous stuff.

• If you're interested in becoming an AG.com "sponsor of the week" click here for details.

• Fat-O-Meter update: I wrote on March 7 about losing 153 pounds in one year. Since then I've dropped another 23 pounds and now weigh 179 pounds, compared to 176 pounds lost.

• My weekly appearance on KFAN with Paul Allen was fun and you can listen to us talk about the Twins and the MLB draft and my life as a robot by clicking here.

• On a related note, I showed up at the radio station immediately after this took place:

 Not so long ago I'd have been excited about the fact that there were still donuts around.

• I'd like this cake for my next birthday, please. But definitely not the blond version.

Aroldis Chapman was arrested for driving significantly slower than he throws.

Jim Thome is single-handedly trying to prop up the housing market by selling his old place for $3.8 million and buying a new place for $4.6 million.

• Someone bought Babe Ruth's old jersey for $4.4 million.

Torii Hunter has yet to rejoin the Angels two weeks after his 17-year-old son's arrest on sexual assault charges.

• My former Sunday school classmate Leora Itman writes about how my old temple in St. Paul has a new, supposedly "cool" rabbi. And he has a sports blog called The Great Rabbino.

Chris Brown and his fans truly deserve each other.

Albert Chen of Sports Illustrated wrote a lengthy profile of Georgia high school center fielder Byron Buxton, who might end up being the Twins' choice with the No. 2 pick next month.

• I've never tuned in specifically to watch this show, yet cancellation is probably the only way to stop me from watching five episodes in a row every time I stumble across a marathon.

• NBC renewed Community for another season, but creator and show-runner Dan Harmon got fired and it's tough imagine the quality and creativity not suffering without him.

• Who is Cole De Vries and what is he doing in the Twins' rotation? I'm glad you asked.

• In similar news, I'm taking myself out of consideration for People's sexiest man of the year.

Jesse Thorn's long-form interview show Bullseye is always a must-listen, but that's especially true this week with Mets knuckleballer R.A. Dickey as his guest.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is the studio version of the title track from Mayer's new album, "Born and Raised":

This week's blog content is sponsored by Curt's Salsa, a locally owned salsa company that believes in fresh ingredients and rooting for the little guy. Please support them for supporting AG.com.

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.

December 16, 2011

Twins sign Josh Willingham, say goodbye to Michael Cuddyer

With their three-year, $25 million offer to Michael Cuddyer on the table for almost two weeks and no resolution in sight the Twins decided to move on, replacing his right-handed bat in the middle of their lineup by signing Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million deal. Cuddyer then signed with Colorado for three years and $31.5 million, so by swapping 33-year-olds the Twins save $10 million, get two draft picks, and maybe even wind up with the superior player.

At a minimum Willingham is the superior hitter, offsetting lower batting averages than Cuddyer by offering considerably more power and plate discipline. This year their overall production was nearly identical, as Cuddyer hit .284/.346/.459 with 20 homers and an .805 OPS in 139 games and Willingham hit .246/.332/.477 with 29 homers and an .810 OPS in 136 games. However, in 2010 and cumulatively during the past three seasons Willingham's edge over Cuddyer is clear:

2011            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .284     .346     .459     .805     121
Willingham     .246     .332     .477     .810     121

2010            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .271     .336     .417     .753     107
Willingham     .268     .389     .459     .848     129

2009            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .276     .342     .520     .862     124
Willingham     .260     .367     .496     .863     127

2009-2011       AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .276     .341     .465     .806     117
Willingham     .257     .360     .479     .839     125

That certainly isn't a massive difference, but during the past three seasons Willingham topped Cuddyer by around 20 points of on-base percentage and 15 points of slugging percentage, all while playing in pitcher-friendly ballparks and grounding into one-third as many double plays. Willingham has been more consistent as well, posting an OPS above .800 in each of his six full seasons in the majors while Cuddyer cracked an .800 OPS three times in eight full seasons.

Willingham has also displayed a less extreme platoon split than Cuddyer, who often struggled against right-handed pitching. Willingham hasn't crushed left-handed pitching quite as well as Cuddyer, but hit a robust .249/.368/.514 off lefties from 2009-2011 and also hit .259/.358/.466 off righties. By comparison Cuddyer hit just .267/.320/.424 off righties from 2009-2011, which is below average for a corner outfielder. Cuddyer crushes lefties, but Willingham hits everyone.

He's one of MLB's most powerful right-handed bats, averaging 27 homers and 32 doubles per 550 at-bats for his career. Among all right-handed hitters with 1,500 plate appearances since 2009 he ranks 11th in Isolated Power, sandwiched between Alex Rodriguez and Matt Kemp, and his adjusted OPS+ ranks 16th. And as Parker Hageman at Over The Baggy pointed out in an analysis of Willingham's swing, his dead-pull approach should be an ideal fit in Target Field.

Defense is a different story, as Willingham is a poor left fielder with limited experience in right field and little action at first base since the minors. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs him as 6.7 runs below average per 150 games in left field since 2009 and his numbers in right field are similar. Ideally he'd be a designated hitter and that may be an option at times, but it sounds like the Twins want Willingham to replace Cuddyer in right field.

That won't be pretty, but neither were Cuddyer's numbers in right field. Ultimate Zone Rating shows Cuddyer as 10.5 runs below average per 150 games in right field since 2009 even with his strong arm factored in. Cuddyer also has experience at first base and can be an emergency option at second base and third base, so he has considerably more versatility than Willingham, but in terms of simply turning fly balls into outs they've been similarly bad.

As a walks-and-power, fly ball-hitting slugger with poor batting averages, big strikeout totals, and little range Willingham is an obvious departure from the typical Twins mold. He's also the most expensive free agent signing in Twins history, although that isn't saying a whole lot for a team that had never dropped even $10 million on an outside free agent. Across baseball $21 million over three years won't rank among the dozen biggest contracts of the offseason.

And while a 33-year-old is at risk for decline Willingham has yet to provide less than $7 million worth of value in six years as a big leaguer, with Fan Graphs pegging his all-around production at $11 million per 140 games. That includes valuations of $11.5 million, $12.4 million, and $9.4 million during the past three seasons, so even if Willingham slips a bit in his mid-30s the Twins should get solid value in the form of a skill set they've struggled to develop internally.

Willingham has generally been a better player than Cuddyer, besting him in metrics like Wins Above Replacement, but they're very similar and close enough in value that an argument can certainly be made for preferring Cuddyer, as the Twins know what they're getting and clearly loved him on the field and in the clubhouse. However, factoring in the money saved and draft picks gained makes it much tougher to justify a preference for Cuddyer over Willingham.

No picks were lost to sign Willingham, but the Twins get two picks for losing Cuddyer. Because the Rockies went 73-89 in 2011 the compensation for Cuddyer isn't as strong as if he'd signed with a winning team, but the Twins get two of the top 70 picks in June's draft and can add a pair of quality prospects to a farm system in need of help. Based on draft studies those two picks project to be worth $3-5 million and then there's the $10 million saved in salary.

Cuddyer was the Twins' first-round pick in 1997, worked his way through the minors to debut in 2001, and leaves as one of the best, longest-tenured, and most-beloved players in team history. Keeping him around would've been nice, but it's unclear if Cuddyer wanted to remain in Minnesota and ultimately the Twins were able to replace him with a similar and arguably superior player for $10 million less while adding two valuable picks. They made the right call.

December 14, 2011

Report: Twins close to three-year, $21 million deal with Josh Willingham

Nothing official yet, but Joe Christensen of the Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the Twins are "very close" to signing Josh Willingham to a three-year, $21 million contract to replace Michael Cuddyer. Once things are finalized I'll have a full write-up here, but in the meantime you can read my article from earlier this week examining whether the Twins would be better off re-signing Cuddyer or signing Willingham.

December 12, 2011

Michael Cuddyer or Josh Willingham?

Nearly a week ago the Twins made Michael Cuddyer a three-year contract offer believed to be worth $25 million, and depending on which reports you choose to trust he's either holding out for more money to re-sign or hoping another teams steps forward with a similar offer because all things being relatively equal he'd rather not return to Minnesota. Or maybe he's just been too busy with newborn twin daughters to make a decision.

Whatever the case, the wisdom of re-signing Cuddyer involves factors that go beyond his age, performance, and salary. For one thing, if Cuddyer signs elsewhere the Twins would receive a first-round pick and supplemental first-round pick as compensation, which studies have shown is a combination worth approximately $5 million. That type of value (and two quality prospects) shouldn't be brushed aside, particularly for a team whose farm system has slumped of late.

Replacing his right-handed bat in the middle of a lefty-dominant lineup is also an issue, but the Twins have reportedly been preparing for that possibility by reaching out to free agent corner outfielder Josh Willingham. By choice or not, if the Twins were to let Cuddyer walk and sign Willingham to replace him they'd gain two valuable draft picks as part of the switch and, based on recent speculation about Willingham's likely asking price, might even save some money.

On the most basic level the question about re-signing Cuddyer is whether he'll be worth $25 million for the next three seasons, but on a deeper level the question should be whether he's more valuable than Willingham and two picks (and possibly some extra cash too). Not only is that a tough case to make, there might be a stronger argument for Willingham simply being a better player than Cuddyer even before factoring in the draft picks or money.

Cuddyer and Willingham are both 33-year-old corner outfielders with poor range, but Cuddyer has a better arm and offers more versatility defensively. This year Cuddyer hit .284/.346/.459 with 20 homers in 139 games for the Twins and Willingham hit .246/.332/.477 with 29 homers in 136 games for the A's. Combined during the past three seasons Cuddyer hit .276/.341/.465 and Willingham hit .257/.360/.479. Here are their year-by-year and 2009-2011 numbers:

2011            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .284     .346     .459     .805     121
Willingham     .246     .332     .477     .810     121
2010            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .271     .336     .417     .753     107
Willingham     .268     .389     .459     .848     129
2009            AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .276     .342     .520     .862     124
Willingham     .260     .367     .496     .863     127
2009-2011       AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     OPS+
Cuddyer        .276     .341     .465     .806     117
Willingham     .257     .360     .479     .839     125

Cuddyer has consistently posted a higher batting average than Willingham, but the superior overall production has typically come from Willingham because he offers more power and plate discipline. However you slice it they're extremely similar players in terms of age, handedness, skill set, and performance, with Cuddyer likely holding a slight edge defensively and Willingham holding a slight edge offensively.

Given all those similarities I'm willing to believe the Twins would be better off sticking with the guy they know and clearly love, but there's a huge difference between preferring Cuddyer to Willingham and preferring Cuddyer to Willingham, two high picks worth millions of dollars, and perhaps some extra money. Subjectively the Cuddyer decision is no doubt very tough for the Twins, but objectively it's even tougher to argue that Willingham wouldn't be a better option.

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