As the season draws to a close, discussions over awards are starting up. Most awards have been rather quiet (AL and NL MVP, NL Cy Young) whereas one has been dominating the virtual water coolers for the past few weeks (AL Cy Young). If you’re a Twins fan, a topic has risen that’s not quite on the same level as the AL Cy Young, but has been more contested than the other 3 major awards (at least here in Twins Territory), and that’s the MVP for the Minnesota Twins.
Well sure, it’s not really an official award, but there’s been several players that are certainly worthy for nominations. Jim Thome, Carl Pavano, Francisco Liriano, Joe Mauer, perhaps even Jesse Crain if you’re feeling a bit audacious. However, Ron Gardenhire shook things up a bit when he suggested that Michael Cuddyer was the team’s MVP. According to Patrick Reusse, Gardenhire first suggested that Cuddyer was the Twins’ MVP in late July, less than a month after he took over 1st base for Justin Morneau.
Although I missed this comment in late July (and some research failed to turn up any evidence that Gardy even said this), it feels like the “Cuddyer for Twins’ MVP?” disbelief has gained some traction lately. After all, Jim Thome is the one that is leading the team in home runs, Delmon Young is leading in RBI, and Pavano and Liriano are the top 2 pitchers in the rotation. If you’re a fan of sabermetrics, Thome has the jaw-dropping OPS and wOBA, Liriano has the WAR and legitimate case for AL Cy Young, Mauer is back to his excellent offensive production at a defensive position, and for a while Young was the breakout player… and yet, Gardenhire suggested Cuddyer as the MVP.
Personally, I would not pick Cuddyer as the team’s MVP – I would give that distinction to Jim Thome (and note that the title of this post is “Why Cuddyer can be the MVP,” not “Why Cuddyer is the MVP”) – but I’m not going to complain. Typically, we nominate and award players for the MVP based on statistics, or the context that they put up their statistics, which is why Felix Hernandez is a popular candidate for Al Cy Young despite having a poor win/loss record compared to C.C. Sabathia.
So why is Cuddyer in the discussion? He’s hitting .276/.336/.420 on the season, which is just barely above-average. He has only 14 home runs and 77 RBI. He’s been poor defensively, and nothing about his game is spectacular. If anything, what stands out is that he’s seen time at 5 positions (1B, 2B, 3B, CF, RF) this season.
It’s this positional flexibility that I believe is the key to him being the Twins’ MVP. He started the season in right field. In June, despite the recent addition of Danny Valencia, Cuddyer shifted over to 3rd base so Jason Kubel and Delmon Young could both be in the starting lineup during interleague play. When interleague ended, Cuddyer remained at 3rd base so Jim Thome could DH and Kubel and Young became full-time players.
Think about that. Jim Thome received more playing time because Michael Cuddyer was willing to let Gardenhire move him out of right field. You have to admit that Thome would not have 25 home runs if he had less playing time.
Another way to look at this is by considering if Cuddyer had stayed in right field. Then Thome would still be fighting for playing time with Jason Kubel and Delmon Young (like Gardy would take playing time away from Cuddyer), and we’d be watching Matt Tolbert, Nick Punto, Alexi Casilla, etc. at 3rd base. I know that Casilla is the best choice here – at least offensively – but he did miss time due to surgery, so you can’t argue that he would have been the only guy manning 3rd base.
Then Justin Morneau had his concussion, and Cuddyer was shifted over to 1st base. Thome remained a near-full time starter, Valencia became the new full-time starter at 3rd base, and Young and Kubel became the regulars in the corner outfield. Once again, I could argue Cuddyer as being the team’s MVP due to his willingness to switch positions once again. Although I don’t have any insider knowledge, I bet if the Twins had attempted to trade for a 1st baseman, they likely would have had to give up Wilson Ramos, which meant that they wouldn’t have acquired Matt Capps from the Nationals. Maybe Brock Peterson would have been added to the 40-man roster and called up to replace Morneau, though his batting line would likely be worse than Cuddyer’s, and Valencia would not have been starting at 3rd base.
A couple years ago, the Tampa Bay Rays drew some criticism as they wanted to name Jason Bartlett their team’s MVP. It was hard to fathom a .286/.329/.361 hitter as being more of an MVP than someone like Evan Longoria (.272/.343/.531, 27 home runs), but the counterargument was that Bartlett was the first solid shortstop that had donned a Rays uniform in years (possibly even ever).
In Cuddyer’s case, his willingness to be a team player by moving around the baseball field created more opportunities for Jim Thome, Delmon Young, Jason Kubel, and Danny Valencia, of which two are also up for consideration as the team’s MVP (Thome, Young) and a third is easily the team’s Rookie of the Year (Valencia). That has to earn some respect in the clubhouse if he accepted the decision to play multiple positions. If he had been selfish and asked Gardy to keep him in one spot for the whole year, we might not be witnessing the Twins fighting for the best record in the major leagues, or even a playoff spot.
Being the Twins’ MVP is not a serious award, so why get upset if someone unique like Cuddyer receives it? I’m definitely in favor of statistics being the primary reason for giving awards like this, and even though Jim Thome is my pick for the team MVP, I have no qualms with giving it to Cuddyer. Some of these guys wouldn’t even be in these discussions if it wasn’t for him.