The free agent season is officially upon us—Monday afternoon news broke that the New York Mets had signed Michael Cuddyer to a 2 year deal worth $21 million. The deal required a fair amount of sacrifice on both parts. Declining his qualifying offer, Cuddyer turned down a significant AAV ($15.3 million) for multi-year financial security. In signing the outfielder, the Mets have sacrificed the #15 overall pick in next year’s draft as well as a fair portion of payroll. Clearly Sandy Alderson sees something valuable in Cuddyer. But how valuable exactly is the aging outfielder?
Let’s take a step back and look at Cuddyer’s production for the Rockies over the last several seasons.
Following a BABIP spike and a power dip in 2013, Cuddyer became fairly productive for Rockies in 130 games played. Even after a BABIP regression, Cuddyer absolutely raked while healthy this past season. Although his 2014 BABIP remained 15%+ greater than his career average of .314, Cuddyer stepped up his power game and produced runs at a rate 51% greater than league average. Although it is highly unlikely Cuddyer could have sustained that pace for an entire season, one must appreciate what he was able to do while healthy.
Consistently posting high HR/FB rates, Cuddyer appears to have benefited from his homer-friendly environment; the corresponding league average HR/FB marks are: 2012- 11.4%, 2013- 10.6% & 2014- 9.6%. Although wRC+ attempts to neutralize park effects in its calculation, Cuddyer’s home/road splits are worth considering in any serious valuation.
Home/Away Splits for Michael Cuddyer, 2012-2014
Even without 2014’s small sample, it’s no secret that Michael Cuddyer enjoyed his time playing in Coors Field. Unfortunately for Cuddyer, he no longer plays in an extremely inflated run environment. Even more unfortunately, however, he now plays half his games at Citi Field—a considerable departure from the homer-friendly confines of Colorado.
Consider: for every 100 runs produced in an average MLB park, Coors Field produces 143 while Citi Field produces 89. While Coors produces 145 home runs for an average park’s 100, Citi yields only 84. Although Citi’s dimensions are much harsher on lefties and the Mets are moving the fences in yet again, Cuddyer is highly unlikely to replicate the power numbers or BABIP that supplied much of his value in Colorado.
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Cuddyer’s defensive profile certainly isn’t as attractive as his bat. According to UZR, Cuddyer cost the Rockies more than 15 runs during his time in the outfield. Extrapolated to three full seasons, that figure balloons to an unsightly 29.2 runs below average. Regardless of how much stock you put into the accuracy of defensive metrics, it’s difficult to shake the intuition that Cuddyer’s defense has hurt his team to some extent.
Perhaps the Mets could try platooning Cuddyer with Lucas Duda at first base.
Career Averages vs. Left-Handed Pitchers
Cuddyer looks like an excellent platoon partner for Duda. Unfortunately, the Mets will see more righties than lefties, and without a DH, Cuddyer’s defensive flaws will still face serious exposure in the outfield. From a defensive standpoint, an American League team might have been a better fit for Cuddyer’s services.
It’s time to address the elephant in the room: Cuddyer’s injury profile. It’s no secret that Cuddyer logged serious time on the DL during his stint with the Rockies.
Time Spent on DL, 2012-2014
|Season||Injury||Days on DL||Games Missed|
|2012||Strained Right Oblique||15||14|
|2012||Strained Right Oblique||46||44|
|2014||Strained Left Hamstring||32||28|
|2014||Strained Right Hamstring||15||14|
Inextricably tied to Cuddyer’s injury profile is his age; players in their mid-30s are no strangers to muscle strains. As Cuddyer’s age rises, so too will his injury risk. No matter what the talent level, productive players are healthy ones—Cuddyer’s inability to stay on the field is a major red flag in the valuation process.
The Mets are gambling that Cuddyer can stay on the field long enough to justify not only his contract, but also the draft pick compensation attached to it. It’s impossible to know how teams value draft picks, but a modest valuation might suggest that the #15 overall pick is worth several times its slot value, which will likely reside around $2.5 million. Using this shorthand, the Mets are expending roughly $28M in resources to secure Cuddyer’s talents. At a reasonable price in $/WAR, say perhaps $6M, the Mets are hoping Cuddyer yields four wins over two seasons.
Ultimately, the Mets spent considerable resources to acquire the age 36 and 37 seasons of a player who has missed 177 games over the last three seasons. Although Cuddyer’s power will likely take a step back, the outfielder’s bat has a chance to remain fairly productive. However, regularly playing Cuddyer in the outfield not only exposes his poor glove, but also increases the risk of injury. Among the many threats to Cuddyer’s production, injury risk is principal. The Mets expect the aging outfielder to be a solid contributor rather than a superstar, but even that may be a stretch.