When attempting to compile names for this list I couldn’t help but enjoy the trip down memory lane. I’m not big on re-watching previously completed sporting contests. The idea of the already known result isn’t all that exciting to me. Specific plays or portions can be fun, but much of the programming we’re being delivered doesn’t hit home here. Without needing to relive a full season, these snapshots provide pop up excellence amidst otherwise static careers.
There really aren’t any specific parameters other than the season in question truly had to be an outlier. I utilized fWAR to designate that, but a bar to clear wasn’t a hard and fast rule. Before getting into the top five here’s a relatively recent honorable mention:
2014 Phil Hughes 6.3 fWAR (17.7 career)
The first season in a Twins uniform was one for the ages when it comes to Hughes. The former Yankees top prospect and World Series winner entered Twins Territory and went on to set the All-Time MLB single-season strikeout-to-walk record. It was the only time he surpassed 200 innings in his career, and he posted a career best 3.52 ERA. With a 2.65 FIP Hughes was every bit as dominant as could be hoped for. The team wasn’t any good, but that didn’t stop him from getting serious steam in terms of Cy Young consideration.
5. 1995 Marty Cordova 3.6 fWAR (6.5 career)
It’s not surprising that a Rookie of the Year winner would put up a good season, and it’s also not unfathomable they’d fall off from there. Cordova wasn’t otherworldly in his debut, but he was better than he’d ever be again and that’s why he makes this list. He trumped the 114 wRC+ in 2001 with the Indians, but the 24 longballs always remained a high-water mark. Within two years Cordova had turned into a negative asset for the Twins and he lasted just five with the big-league club. Bouncing around between three organizations in his final four major league seasons, the magic of that debut was never recaptured.
4. 2006 Nick Punto 3.6 fWAR (15.1 career)
There has never been a team that Nick Punto was on and he didn’t provide value. The light hitting utility man was a swiss army knife that did little at the dish but was exceptional in the field. For a guy that owned a career .646 OPS and .245 average, the .725 and .290 marks in 2006 were amazing. He played five different positions that year and helped to propel Minnesota to a 96-win season capped off with an AL Central division title. More of a complimentary asset throughout his 14 years in the majors, Punto was absolutely a strong contributor on that Ron Gardenhire squad.
3. 2001 Cristian Guzman 3.9 fWAR (8.2 career)
Debuting in 1999, things didn’t go well for the Twins new shortstop. He contributed -3.1 fWAR and there wasn’t value on either side of the diamond. Fast forward two years and the script had flipped entirely. Guzman made his first All-Star Game appearance and owned a .302/.337/.477 slash line. He led the league in triples (14) for the second straight season and launched a career best 10 dingers. He wouldn’t again eclipse 2.0 fWAR in his career until 2008 with the Nationals at the age of 30 and had made a career of being slightly above replacement level by then. The 2001 Twins paved the way for a great 2002 club, and Guzman’s performance arrived just a year too soon.
2. 2004 Lew Ford 3.4 fWAR (5.9 career)
Owner of arguably the most interesting career in recently memory, Lew Ford just misses out on the top spot for this list. He played in the big leagues for just six years but had a five-year gap between year five and six. On top of that, the now 43-year-old is still playing professional ball with the Long Island Ducks and has 21 years under his belt. 2004 was Ford’s first full major league season and he contributed in a big way. The .299/.381/.446 slash line was easily a career best, and his 15 homers were 43% of his career total. He swiped 20 bases being thrown out just twice, and he posted an impressive 11 DRS.
1. 2002 Jacque Jones 5.0 fWAR (12.5 career)
The best season of any hitter on this list, Jones easily had the largest outlier year of recent Twins memory back in 2002. A team that wins 94 games and goes to the ALCS needs stars, and Jones was one of them. His .852 OPS was a career best, and it was one of only two times in his career that he batted .300. The 27 homers were also a career best, and 132 of his 149 games came with him starting in the leadoff spot. His 11 outfield assists were a high career high, and he had completely embodied an offensive and defensive threat. At no point throughout his career did he ever surpass 2.0 fWAR in a single season aside from that magical 2002 run.
What other one-year wonders can you think of in Twins history? Who do they come from further back in history?
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