Not long ago, Ron Gardenhire made an interesting proclamation. With a stable of highly qualified candidates lining his bench and bullpen, the manager preliminarily decreed that Michael Cuddyer to be his team’s MVP choice.

At the time of the manager’s announcement, the concussion was still fresh for Justin Morneau. Without the team’s hottest hitter, Cuddyer was asked to step into Morneau’s role. In his stead, Cuddyer deployed some nifty lumber, timely hits and fulfilled the big shoes admirably that first month. At that time, it was fairly evident why Gardenhire believed he was worthy of such praise.
Since August 1 Cuddyer’s pop has fizzled noticeably. Yes, he’s still racking up base hits and driving in runs when necessary but he is lacking the ability to add a big jolt like he did in July. Or last September for that matter.
A year ago, when he was busy providing the spark to push the Twins past the division-leading Tigers, Cuddyer was doing so by way of the long ball. Last September and the beginning of October, he belted 10 home runs and a pair of doubles leading to a .581 slugging percentage along with 29 runs batted in as the team went 20-11. As Cuddyer turned on the heat in the pressured-filled pennant race, he was clearly able to elevate the ball more. As the middle graph below indicates, as the season progressed, Cuddyer produced much more lift leading to those majestic home runs.
Needless to say, Cuddyer is a strong hitter. During is torrent display last year, 13 of his team-leading 32 home runs qualified as “No Doubts” according to This total in that category put him among baseball’s most dangerous and prolific home run hitters in Mark Teixiera, Carlos Pena and Miguel Cabrera. So while Target Field might not be the most conducive environment for home runs, it is far from the only culprit muting the big right-hander’s power. The more likely source for the drop-off in dingers is the manner in which the ball is coming off of his bat.
Similar to last season in which Morneau was unavailable, Cuddyer stepped up his game. This past July, Cuddyer decimated pitching to the tune of .317/.383/.500 in 115 plate appearances. However, since then he has turned in a .261/.323/.373 batting line more suitable for a middle infielder, not a corner infielder accumulating at-bats in the heart of the order. Part of this power outage is due to a free-falling fly ball rate.
Unlike last season in which his ability to get underneath the ball improved in the late season, Cuddyer has seen the opposite happen this year.  As the 2010 season has worn on, Cuddyer’s tendency to elevate the ball has significantly decreased and as such, so too have the amount of home runs:
Cuddyer's Batted Ball Numbers (2008-2010)

Cuddyer's Batted Ball Numbers (2008-2010)

The blue line represents fly balls. This peaked late in the 2009 season and has since fallen exponentially throughout the 2010 season. Meanwhile, the groundball totals have spiked considerably too.
This trend appears to have a strong correlation to the fact that Cuddyer’s supply of fastballs has been curtailed in each successive month of the season. With less of the straight stuff, the righty has expanded his strike zone and attempted to put more out-of-zone pitches into play. Usually out-of-zone contact translates into softer contact resulting from a hitter being off-balanced and out-ahead with his swing. This often induces groundballs.
Out-of-Zone Contact%
September - 09
August - 10
September - 10
With a different assortment of pitches coming at him – and a higher majority of those not thrown within the strike zone – Cuddyer needs to improve his discipline. As noted above, he’s a strong hitter that is capable of generating plenty of power. The key for the interim first baseman will be to keep his weight back while avoiding fishing after pitches that are off the plate.

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