February 9, 2005
Mailbag (State of the Twins Edition)
Note: Sorry about the lack of an entry yesterday, but I was having some major problems with Blogger.
Before continuing with the "State of the Twins" series, let's dip into the old mailbag for an e-mail regarding last week's "State of the Twins: Corner Infielders" installment. From Doug:
Beware of the Cuddyer projections. He was somewhat platooned last season, and his numbers against RHP were only so-so. I haven't looked closely as the game logs to see if Gardenhire protected him from the tougher RHPs, but I'd bet he did, and PECOTA et al aren't smart enough to pick up on what a shrewd manager can do by Earl-Weaverifying a player's stats.
Exposed every day, he could blossom, or he could easily hit, oh, .260/.330/.430 when playing every day, numbers closer to Joe Crede's career level than to any kind of All-Star; numbers OK for a 2B but tough to stomach for a 3B. Combine that with the awful middle infield situation that's brewing and the Twins will have to do something to keep the offense off life-support against RHPs. I think your Twins will regret losing Koskie far more than anyone else they've lost over the last three years.
Doug's point about Michael Cuddyer's projections being too optimistic because Cuddyer has been used more in certain situations than others is one of those things someone says that sounds right. Like someone saying the Vikings are doomed in the playoffs because they can't stop other teams from running the ball, it's one of those things you hear, agree with on the surface, and could very well just take as fact. Of course, you could also look up a few numbers to check if it's actually true or not ...
Cuddyer had 382 plate appearances last season, 36.9% of which came against left-handed pitching. The Twins, as a team, faced a left-handed pitcher in 30.5% of their plate appearances. In other words, Cuddyer was in fact used a disproportionately high amount against lefties compared to his teammates in 2004. However, it's also worth noting that if a typical right-handed batter is going to be benched against a certain pitcher, it is usually a right-handed one.
Of course, one season and 382 plate appearances isn't exactly the greatest sample size either (and the projections are not based on just one year of data). Over the last three years, 37.6% of Cuddyer's 619 plate appearances have come against left-handed pitching. Meanwhile, the Twins as a team have faced a lefty in 31.4% of their plate appearances over that same span. All of which means that Doug's hypothesis about Cuddyer's usage patterns is absolutely correct.
The way Cuddyer has been used has, at most, given him 20-25 extra plate appearances against left-handed pitchers over the course of three seasons, or about eight "bonus" plate appearances against southpaws per year. Also, from 2002-2004 Cuddyer hit .251/.319/.445 (.255 GPA) against right-handed pitching and .271/.352/.420 (.263 GPA) against left-handed pitching. Studies have shown that the average right-handed batter is approximately 9% better against left-handed pitching than against right-handed pitching, so Cuddyer (who has been only 3% better) has actually done disproportionately well against righties over the past three seasons.
Considering all of that, along with the fact that Cuddyer is once again likely to ride the bench in favor of a left-handed hitter like Eric Munson more than a couple times against tough right-handed pitchers in 2005, and I just don't see the lefty/righty issue as being powerful enough to skew his entire set of projections for the upcoming season.
Doug also said that the Twins need to "do something to keep the offense off life-support" against right-handed pitching, which is an opinion I haven't heard before. Minnesota has fared significantly worse against lefties than righties over the past few seasons, in part because their lineup has usually been lefty-dominated. That will change a bit this year, as lefty-hitting Corey Koskie has been replaced by Cuddyer and switch-hitting Cristian Guzman has been replaced by -- gulp -- Juan Castro, but it should nonetheless remain true. As long as Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, and Jacque Jones are in the lineup every day, I'm guessing the Twins' offense against right-handed pitching won't be the main problem.