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The Five Most Underrated Players in Twins History

While there have been more than a few tough years since 1961, and there hasn’t been a World Series since 1991, there have been a ton of great individual performers over the years. Many of them are celebrated, but these five stick out as being deserving of a higher amount of praise.
Image courtesy of © Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports
When teasing this piece on Twitter recently I found myself inundated with names that all fill this bill. From Kevin Tapani to Jason Kubel, there were dozens of replies reflective of compelling cases. Many of them I found myself nodding in agreement. While this is obviously opinion, I tried to create some objective parameters.



To truly be underrated there was a need for a sustained level of greatness. No player below a career fWAR mark of 20.0 would be included. That’s a modest bar to clear for the established veteran, but one that generally comes with some substantial highlights along the way (for the sake of comparison, Justin Morneau produced exactly 20.0 fWAR as a Twin).

That numerator was the only hard and fast rule. If I was going to blueprint another, it was that the player needed to be given a higher level of appreciation than I felt they’d been shown. There’s nothing more subjective than that, but again, opinion.

Honorable Mention: Shane Mack 17.9 fWAR

He doesn’t meet the numerical parameters and therefore could never have been fully under consideration. However, for a guy that played in just north of 600 games for the Twins after being out of the big leagues the year prior to joining the club, he made his presence felt. After two seasons with the Padres, Mack showed up and posted an .854 OPS across parts of five seasons. He batted .309, had some pop, and played all three outfield positions. A 130 OPS+ is nothing to make light of.

4. Cesar Tovar 21.6 fWAR

Of all players in Minnesota history, Tovar owns the 13th highest fWAR. Despite playing in fewer games, he’s ahead of guys like Roy Smalley, Justin Morneau, and Greg Gagne. Often brought up during the yearly debate regarding the Twins Hall of Fame inductions, Tovar gave the Twins eight seasons of a good average and great plate discipline. He played all over the diamond and earned MVP votes in five straight seasons. Not often considered among the best in franchise history, this is a guy too often forgotten in those discussions.

3. Corey Koskie 23.2 fWAR

Maybe the most impressive on this list given the games played, Koskie compiled the 10th best fWAR in franchise history despite playing in the 25th most games. He tallied better totals than both Torii Hunter and Brian Dozier, all while being a relative footnote on those early 2000’s teams. He earned MVP votes one time, but never drew any other accolades. His .836 OPS with the Twins matches Eddie Rosario’s best year, and is nearly 50 points above Rosario's career average.

2. Brad Radke 38.7 fWAR

Arguably the most overlooked member on this list, Radke was the reliable anchor on some clubs that faced significant uphill battles. His contributions trump those of Frank Viola and Jim Perry while getting only a smaller amount of runway. An All- Star just once in his career, Radke earned a top-3 Cy Young finish in 1997, starting 35 games. He pitched 200 innings in nine of his twelve major league seasons, and it was because of his efforts that Tom Kelly and Ron Gardenhire had a go-to arm they could count on. Nothing was flashy about Brad, but he never was going to beat himself, and he gave Minnesota that luxury for 377 career starts.

1. Joe Mauer 52.5 fWAR

We can argue all day long about whether Joe was better than Kirby Puckett, Rod Carew, or Harmon Killebrew but I don’t see any questions around which one struggles to get his due. Minnesota’s top trio are all enshrined in Cooperstown while the generational catcher is often questioned about his inclusion by a hometown fan base. One-third of Mauer’s career was dragged through a period in which injury altered his trajectory (though he became one of the best defensive first basemen in the game). Poor press releases and an out-of-position contract further complicated his narrative. There’s no reason for a future Hall of Fame catcher to have a questioned legacy.

Because of the subjective nature here, let’s see your list. Who do you agree with and what would you change?

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49 Comments

I'd probably give a Shane Mack/Shannon Stewart for HM.

    • Ted Schwerzler likes this
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Matthew Lenz
Mar 24 2020 07:39 PM
Biased by the team(s) I grew up with, Koskie is a big one for me. Realized that when I was writing about the next set of Twins HOF Inductees.

I know, from feedback for leaving him out from that article, that Tovar is appreciated by many! But likely not by many people “our age”.
    • Ted Schwerzler likes this
Oh this could be fun! The fWAR of 20 could be tough as it may eliminate a few good candidates and also provide homework some of us just don't want to do, LOL. I really like your initial list and would make a couple quick comments.

Mack: Really glad you mentioned him. He was just so good and did so much for the Twins in his limited time with them. Boy I wish we could have him, as he was, for another season or two.

Tovar: He was before my time, but I've read enough and heard enough to know who and what he is and did. He needs to be in the Twins HOF.

Koskie: We still lament, years later, about the concussions to Mauer and Morneau and what might have been, even though both remained quality ballplayers for a few years after the fact. But few mention Koskie. He was a virtual shell of himself and never really did recover. And it's a terrible shame because to those who watched him, he was beyond just good offensively and defensively.

Radke: I think he is simply undervalued, not forgotten by any means. He was just so consistent, and meant so much on some good and not so good teams. While he wouldn't qualify as a true ACE, he just took the ball and delivered time and again until his arm fell off.

Mauer: Making this simple as we have debated him already too often. He was a victim of circumstance, despite his greatness. It was never his fault his RBI numbers weren't what some wanted. You have to have guys on base. At times, he didn't have someone hitting behind him. He probably should have hit 1-2 much more in his career. Just because he was a strapping, athletic man doesn't mean he was born to be some 30HR power hitter. But so many wanted him to be that. It was never his fault, like Koskie, like Morneau, that concussions robbed him of some of his greatness.

In all my years watching baseball I've seen some truly great catchers. I've seen Bench, Boone, Fisk, Pena, Carter, Piazza, Rodriguez and others. Some were great defensively, some great offensively, some managed to be both. There was a stretch of about 7yrs where Mauer did both, and put up numbers that are actually historical in the annals of MLB before he was injured. IMHO, he should be in the HOF. He may end up being the Oliva equivalent at catcher, which would be unfortunate.
    • glunn and Dantes929 like this
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stringer bell
Mar 24 2020 07:54 PM

All good choices. I think of a couple of G-Men (Gaetti and Gagne) asunderrated although they won three championships combined for the Twins. 

 

Four of the five were position players. A couple more pitchers could get consideration. Jim Perry is one that comes to mind. Kevin Tapani is another that comes to mind. 

 

 

    • DocBauer, Rigby, Ted Schwerzler and 2 others like this

Roy Smalley... Matt Lawton... Fun list to think about... 

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I would include Knoblauch and Gagne for sure. Not sure about fWAR vs WAR...these things confuse me...but both had over 20+ WAR in their careers. I think we sometimes forget about Knoblauch because of his late career finish with the Yankees, and we dismiss Gagne because his offense was only OK, but each was a stalwart for many years.

All good choices. I think of a couple of G-Men (Gaetti and Gagne) asunderrated although they won three championships combined for the Twins. 
 
Four of the five were position players. A couple more pitchers could get consideration. Jim Perry is one that comes to mind. Kevin Tapani is another that comes to mind.


Sort of feel like Tapani was Radke before Radke came along. Very consistent and a stalwart for a few years.
    • Nine of twelve likes this

Roy Smalley... Matt Lawton... Fun list to think about...


Two of my favorite all timers. The precursor to the modern day offensive SS and the beginning of the "soul patrol".

Smalley is a definite add. By OP context, much of a fan as I am, career WAR would leave Lawton out. But underrated, yes.
I'm all for tovar. He just did so many things on the field, on the bench, with his attitude. He was a spark that ignited the great twins teams of the '60s. I'm not sure war is the measure for the question you've asked. I would even venture to say that Nick Punto might belong in this discussion. Radtke during his time gained accolades. Maybe Dave Goltz belongs in the pitcher discussion.
    • glunn and DocBauer like this
Tovar for sure. Absolute great player. Tapani is also a good candidate.
    • glunn and DocBauer like this

Tovar -- played all 9 positions in a single game. 

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howieramone2
Mar 25 2020 02:44 AM
Not underrated but favorites, Luis Tiant and Vic Power.
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killertwinfan
Mar 25 2020 06:18 AM
Interesting, I like the list but I would say a key indicator of under-rated would be $ per fwar. Mauer would drop off the list based on career numbers.

Certainly Gagne, Gaetti and Tovar but also Al Worthington, Camilo Pascual & Dave Boswell.

    • Nine of twelve likes this

Dave Goltz - pretty good pitcher on some not so good teams.

    • Nine of twelve likes this

Just my own take. I have always thought Mack was overlooked. His career OPS as a Twin was better than Puckett's. I think Radke has always been valued exactly as he was. A good durable pitcher. I would take him off the list.Goltz was much the same pitcher but no one really talks about him.Koske would be on top of my list. I just don't remember him being as good as his numbers but his numbers were really good. I don't know about Mauer. He was great and people knew it and then he was just ok and people knew it. Tapani doesn't qualify but he had the best ERA, by far the best WHIP and the best OPS+ of any of the regulars on the 91 team. Rick Aguillerahonorable mention. My list 1.Koskie2.Goltz3.Tobar4.Kaat

Honorable mention goes to Nick PUnto.Most fans here would have guessed his WAR as a Twin at somewhere around -70 based on comments while he was here.It was actually +10 so his spread of 80 is by far the biggest.

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Ted Schwerzler
Mar 25 2020 08:40 AM

Wanted to add a couple of guys I wrestled with including:

 

Gagne came up but the 14 fWAR in over 1,000 games suggests more average than anything else. Gaetti is also a guy I considered, though I think he gets his due.

 

Knobluach was an interesting one. He's arguably among the greatest Twins ever, and I think he is thought of in that ilk, heck he was to have his number retired. His perception has changed because of what he became.

 

Thought about Earl Battey. Told Seth the next guy up if I was doing a HM two-deep was Kevin Tapani.

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Ted Schwerzler
Mar 25 2020 08:42 AM

 

Dave Goltz - pretty good pitcher on some not so good teams.

I'm not intimately familiar with Goltz, but he was a strong candidate for sure. More fWAR than Viola in less IP. I also saw Kaat mentioned above. I didn't include him and he was never a consideration as I don't think there's much underrated about his track record. Tons of awards, second highest fWAR in team history.

 

I'm not intimately familiar with Goltz, but he was a strong candidate for sure. More fWAR than Viola in less IP. I also saw Kaat mentioned above. I didn't include him and he was never a consideration as I don't think there's much underrated about his track record. Tons of awards, second highest fWAR in team history.

I think Kaat was probably appreciated in his time. I just don't know if he is remembered in the same vein. For second highest fWAR he just is never talked about much on these boards.Carew, Killebrew, Allison, Oliva and yes, even Tovar are brought up way more often.

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stringer bell
Mar 25 2020 11:02 AM

For almost totally the opposite reasons that I think Tony-O should be in the Hall of Fame, I think Kaat belongs there too. He won over 280 games and pitched in the majors for parts of 25 seasons. He reinvented himself after being traded to the White Sox and reinvented himself again as a relief pitcher. Of all color commentators I have listened to, Kitty is my all-time favorite. 

 

He holds a fistful of Twins all-time pitching records and won something like sixteen gold gloves.

    • DocBauer and Nine of twelve like this

To me, under-rated is a guy who is better (more valuable) than his numbers indicate...particularly the offensive numbers. Guys who had qualities not necessarily captured in many of the numbers...particularly the 'averages'. Qualities like defensive flexibility, good/smart on the bases, ability to perform in big moments, great durability/availability, defensive quality/consistency. This list comes off more like popularity vs numbers.

 

Mauer and Koskie are not those guys for me...to me, they're better examples of players that were exactly as good as their numbers would indicate.

 

Tovar, Gladden, Pierzynski...I'd probably go with Gagne as an all-timer.

 

And while Mack certainly served a useful role with the Twins in the early 90s, it's easy IMO to argue that he was actually NOT as good as his numbers would indicate. His numbers are based on a relatively small period of time where he demolished left-handed pitching. Not the most valuable skill for a guy that played primarily a corner outfield spot. He actually platooned for a significant period with the Twins. In the outfield, he had a legendarily weak arm (early career injury contributed). At age 30,he OPS'd .966 in the major leagues. The Twins let him go...and the highest bidder was the Giants. The Yomiuri Giants.

Fun article, but I am not going to look up fwar for players I think of, if they do not meet the number, so sorry.First, comments on the list in the article.I agree with Mack and Tovar and Koskie for sure.I think Radke was not underrated, at least not by Twins fans.If he was by national media it was because he was never a media guy and just wanted to fish when he was not playing.  

 

I am going to say something very controversial, as all things are when it comes to Joe.I think he was overrated in areas of his game and underrated in others.The problem with Joe and his underrated is that people wanted him to be something he was never going to be.That being a power hitter, run producer, and leader.He was overrated as a defensive catcher, he won gold gloves because he could hit and was not terrible as a defensive catcher.However, when you look at him as a catcher he could throw guys out and control baserunning, although he should have tried to throw behind runners.He was not good at blocking pitches in dirt and would let plenty of wild pitches past him he should not have.  

 

That being said, he was one of the best pure average and on-base guys the Twins have ever had.The Twins always put him the 3 hole, when he should have been in the 2 hole or even the lead off spot, but he was managed by people that said best "hitter" bats 3 hole even though Joe never fit that spot.Joe would frustrate me so much in his lack of situational decision making as a hitter.Not sure if it was all him, or leadership telling him, but he would constantly do things that were counter to producing runs.Mainly taking strikes when runner was on third with less than 2 out and eventually walk, when he could have hit the strike to try and produce the run and not leave it to someone behind him.  

 

Now that my Joe vent is over, he was still one of the best hitters of all time and just because he was not a power hitter he still was great, and just lacked the personality stars have.  

 

My number one underrated players, from the 2000 era, is Nick Punto.He was amazing on defense, and just because he did not put huge numbers on offense he did not get the gred he deserved.When he was hitting well the team was winning.He would never drive fear in the other teams, but when Nick was going well the team was winning. 

    • Nine of twelve likes this

Bob Allison comes to mind for me. 31.1 fWAR as a Twin (removing all the Senators seasons, though I'm fine including them) with a terrific run in the prime of his career. Feels like he's become the forgotten man from those great Twins clubs in the 60's. Heck of a player, a big thumper in the middle of the lineup.

    • Sconnie, Rigby, jkcarew and 1 other like this

Joe Mauer.....the “most underrated” Twin in history??

The guy that literally the entire fan base couldn’t stop talking about (good or bad) for 20 years??

 

The universally accepted view of “underrated” would be a guy who was ignored but did pretty well in reality.  Everyone knew how good Joe Mauer was......they just expected more out of him.

 

Unappreciated?  Maybe.

Underrated?  No.

    • DocBauer likes this

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