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  1. If you thought I was talking about Johan Santana, then you would be correct. As a young Twins fan living in Minnesota in the mid-2000s, the first pitcher I can remember watching in person was Johan. Johan was an exciting pitcher who captivated Twins fans with his outstanding stuff, especially his changeup. Rule 5 Johan Santana was born in Venezuela in 1979. In 1995, he was signed as an amateur free agent by the Houston Astros. After three seasons in the minor leagues in which he was 17-17 with a 5.05 ERA, the Astros left him unprotected in the 1999 Rule 5 Draft. In the Rule 5 Draft, Santana was drafted by the Marlins and immediately traded to the Twins for Twins legend Jared Camp. In 2000, Santana made his Twins debut despite never pitching above single-A ball. Santana was used mostly out of the bullpen, appearing in 30 games over his rookie season and throwing 86 innings with a 6.49 ERA and a 5.26 FIP. 2001 was rather uneventful as well, as Santana posted a 4.74 ERA in 43 innings. A Change of Pace In 2002, the Twins started Santana at AAA in hopes of converting him from a reliever to a starter. While at AAA, Santana developed an absolute weapon. The pitching coach for the AAA team, Bobby Cuellar, taught Santana about the importance of throwing a changeup. Cuellar knew Santana needed an elite pitch to pair with his fastball to be effective at the Major League level, so he worked with Santana on his changeup, often having him throw it in traditional fastball counts or having him throw seven straight changeups in games. In late May, the Twins called Santana back up and he was very good the rest of that year, going 8-6 with a 2.99 ERA. Another very encouraging sign that he was developing more swing-and-miss stuff was that he had 137 strikeouts in 108 innings, compared to 92 strikeouts in 129 innings the two years prior. Dominance After a very encouraging 2002 campaign, Santana had a great 2003, going 12-3 with a 3.07 ERA. He also decreased his BB/9 from 4.1 to 2.7. All signs were pointing towards a Santana breakout. From 2004 to 2006, Santana had the most dominant three year stretch by any Twins pitcher ever. During this time period, Santana was the best pitcher in baseball. He was 55-19 (most wins in MLB), threw 693 innings (3rd), struck out 748 (1st), had a 2.75 ERA (2nd), 2.92 FIP (2nd), and led all MLB pitchers in WAR (20.4). Santana’s stretch was historically great. In MLB history, there are only three left handed pitchers to have three seasons or more of 200+ innings pitched, an ERA under 3, a WHIP under 1, and 220+ strikeouts. These pitchers are Sandy Koufax, Clayton Kershaw, and Johan Santana. Highway Robbery For his excellent work, Santana won the Cy Young in 2004 and 2006 and got second place in 2005. However, Santana should’ve won it in 2005. In 2005, Bartolo Colon won the Cy Young award in the American League. However, it should’ve been Santana. Here is a comparison of their 2005 statistics: Colon ERA: 3.48, Santana ERA: 2.87 Colon IP: 222.2, Santana IP: 231.2 Colon SO: 157, Santana SO: 238 Colon ERA+: 122, Santana ERA+: 155 Colon FIP: 3.55, Santana FIP: 2.80 Colon WHIP: 1.159, Santana WHIP: 0.971 Colon fWAR: 4.1, Santana fWAR 7.1 Any sensible baseball mind would be able to see that Santana was clearly a better pitcher in 2005 and he was robbed of having three consecutive Cy Young awards. Goodbyes In 2007, Santana had another good season, going 15-13 with a 3.33 ERA and leading the American League in WHIP. However, he demanded a lot of money out of the Twins as he would be a free agent after the 2008 season. The Twins offered him a four year, $80 million extension, which he declined. The Twins wanted to get some value for him, so they traded Santana to the New York Mets for Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Phillip Humber, and Kevin Mulvey. He then agreed to a six year, $137.5 million deal with the Mets. Santana had a successful four year stretch with the Mets, going 46-34 with a 3.18 ERA and accumulating 13.9 fWAR. On June 1st, 2012, Santana had a magical start. He threw a complete game no-hitter in a legendary pitching performance. He recorded the last out on a disgusting changeup. This is one of the most memorable moments of Santana’s career. 2012 would prove to be his last year in professional baseball because of a torn anterior capsule in his left shoulder. This is not an ideal way to end such an illustrious career, but Johan was still an outstanding talent either way. Twins Legend The Twins have won four Cy Young awards, and two of them are Santana. Both of Santana’s awards were unanimous decisions. Among Twins pitchers all-time, Santana has the best ERA+ (141) and the fourth best fWAR (31.7). Santana was inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame in 2018 and appeared on the MLB Hall of Fame ballot in 2018, but only received 2.4 percent of the vote so was removed the following year. This is very unfortunate because every pitcher who has three Cy Youngs is in the Hall of Fame or will most certainly be inducted after they retire. If Santana would have won that 2005 Cy Young award he most likely would be on the ballot this upcoming year. Conclusion Johan Santana was the most dominant pitcher in Twins history and was a major part of the successful Twins teams of the 2000s. Santana is a beloved figure in Twins history and is the sixth best player in Twins history. Stay tuned for the eighth day of Twinsmas! Thank you for reading, and Go Twins! Read Previous "12 Days of TwinsMas" articles here: #12 - Torii Hunter #11 - Chuck Knoblauch #10 - Jim Kaat #9 - Frank Viola #8 - Kent Hrbek #7 - Tony Oliva #6 - Johan Santana #5 - Coming Soon!
  2. This discrepancy is beautifully highlighted in Moneyball when Brad Pitt is talking with his scouts. “There are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there’s 50 feet of crap, and then there’s us. It’s an unfair game,” said Pitt. When the Twins last won the World Series in 1991, the Total MLB Payroll was just over $630 million. In 2021, the Total MLB Payroll was just south of $4 billion. This is an increase of over 500%. In 1991, the highest paid player in the league was Darryl Strawberry with a salary of $3.8 million (based on the ESPN film Doc & Darryl, he needed every penny). In 2021, the highest paid player was Mike Trout with a salary of over $37 million, an increase of over 870% from the highest paid player in 1991. So what if we found how salaries from Twins teams since 1961 translated to salaries today? More interestingly, what if we found the translated salaries and built a 26-man roster of the greatest players in Twins history but kept the translated budget under $130 million? I know WAR is a very basic advanced stat, but in my opinion is the best way to view a player’s total production between all phases of the game. Top executives in Major League Baseball agree, recently proposing arbitration salaries to be based off of players’ FanGraphs WAR calculation. With this being said, I looked at the Twins top 100 seasons for position players in terms of WAR, and I did the same thing with pitchers. I wanted to create an optimal roster while staying under the $130 million budget. My next step was to find each of these players’ salaries relative to the 2021 value. I did this by creating a “salary multiplier” for each season. I did this by using the formula below. Salary Multiplier = (2021 MLB Payroll) / (MLB Payroll of n Year) For example, if we wanted to find the multiplier for the 1991 season, we would take 2021’s payroll of $3.97 billion and divide it by the 1991 payroll of $630 million. We would get a multiplier of about 6.3, meaning we would multiply any salary in the year 1991 by 6.3. To find the payrolls of each season, I used information from The Baseball Cube, average salary data from Edmund Edmonds's research, player information from Baseball Reference, and for years I could not find, I estimated the payrolls by using Census Data on the average American salary after figuring out that the average MLB salary is usually right around 2.5 times as large as the average American salary. To find the player salaries, I used Baseball Reference’s information under each player’s salaries tab. If you look at Kirby Puckett’s 1991 salary, you would think $3.17 million is a bargain to be paid for a World Series hero. But using the multiplier, you would find that his salary in 1991 would be equal to about $20 million in 2021. To find a player’s 2021 translated salary, you simply use the formula below. 2021 Translated Salary = (Multiplier) x (Player’s Nominal Salary) Now we have to see how the player performed under the contract. To find this value, I used this fancy formula: Contract Efficiency = (WAR) / (2021 Translated Salary in Millions) To find Puckett’s contract performance in 1991, you would take his WAR of 4.3 and divide it by 19.9 to get a WAR/$M of 0.216, which is good but not even close to the value produced under some of these contracts. Taking the 77 top pitchers I could find salary data for, I constructed the figure below. It shows the relationship between equivalent 2021 salary and WAR. When creating our team, we want players with their data points on the bottom right part of this graph. This means that they will have a high WAR for a relatively low salary. The players’ names lie to the right of their data points. The five names I highlighted will be the starting rotation for this team, and below the figure I will be highlighting each of those players and telling you why they are a great fit for this championship team. SP1: 1973 Bert Blyleven - $4.37M translated salary, 9.8 WAR Most people think of him as a Twins broadcaster, but Bert Blyleven was a truly special pitcher with an elite curveball. After all, he is a Hall-of-Famer. Blyleven was surgical in 1973. Among all starting pitcher seasons with more than three WAR in Twins history, he had the best FIP (2.32), the fifth best ERA+ (156), the most innings (325!!!), and the second most strikeouts (258). He also posted an insane 9.8 WAR. In 1973, Blyleven’s age 22 season, he had a salary of $33,000. This translates to just under $4.4 million in 2021, meaning he was worth 2.24 WAR per million dollars. In 2021, the standard number to pay per WAR is $8 million, or 0.125 WAR per million dollars. Blyleven vastly outperformed his contract and recorded the best season by any pitcher in Twins history. SP2: 2004 Johan Santana - $3.06M translated salary, 8.7 WAR With one of the best changeups in baseball history, Johan Santana was nearly unhittable in the mid-2000’s and he should be in the Hall of Fame. In his first Cy Young season, 2004, Johan was phenomenal. He had an ERA+ of 182, a 30% strikeout rate, held opponents to a .565 OPS, and posted a FIP of 2.92. He also recorded 8.7 WAR In 2004, Santana’s age 25 season, he had a salary of $1.6 million. This translates to a salary just north of $3 million in 2021, giving him a WAR/$M of 2.84. Santana clearly outperformed his contract. In following years, Santana would continue to prove why he was one of the best pitchers in the league at a young age. He received a large salary boost soon after, making $13 million ($20.8M translated) in 2007. The Twins haven’t had a dominant starting pitcher since Johan and it will be hard to find a pitcher that successful. And come on, this changeup steals souls. SP3: 1987 Frank Viola - $10.8M translated salary, 8.1 WAR A devastating changeup is becoming the norm for this rotation. With a fastball in the mid to upper 80s (a power pitch in the 80’s…), Frank Viola needed a dominant off-speed pitch to truly perform to the best of his abilities. Reliever Jeff Reardon marveled at the changeup. “Frank will throw nine in a row, and they still won’t touch it,” said Reardon. Viola truly unlocked the changeup in 1987. In 1987, he posted an ERA+ of 159, a FIP of 3.66, only 2.36 BB/9, 8.1 WAR, and won the first World Series MVP award in Twins history. In that historic season, Viola earned a salary of $830,000. In 2021, this salary would be equivalent to about $10.8 million. He was worth 0.75 WAR/$M, significantly less than Blyleven and Santana, but still exceeded expectations and was a postseason hero. Additionally, he would significantly increase the team drip with his mustache. SP4: 1979 Jerry Koosman - $6.38M translated salary, 7.2 WAR Another World Series champ joins the team! Jerry Koosman was a fierce competitor on the mound who was beloved by his teammates. Koosman won the 1969 World Series with the Miracle Mets. The Minnesota-Morris legend featured a 90+ MPH fastball and a good slider to complement it. In 1979, Koosman won 20 games, had a 130 ERA+, a 3.46 FIP, and posted 7.2 WAR. These numbers are not remarkable but they are still very good, especially for our #4 starter. In his age-36 season, Koosman earned a salary of $150,000. In 2021, this salary would be worth $6.38 million. He had 1.13 WAR for every million dollars he would have made in 2021. This is great value for just 5% of our $130 million budget. Koosman is a good veteran addition to a staff with youngsters Blyleven and Santana. Plus, it helps to have a pitcher who recorded the final out of a World Series. SP5: 1991 Kevin Tapani - $1.24M translated salary, 6.8 WAR World Series champions seems to be the theme so far, and Kevin Tapani adds one to the total. The 1991 Game 2 winning pitcher was an efficient finesse pitcher, often working deep into games and refusing to issue free passes to opposing teams. In his third season, Tapani had one of the best seasons in franchise history. He posted a miniscule walk rate of only 4.1%, had a 143 ERA+, a 1.09 WHIP, and threw 244 innings on the way to a 16-9 record. In 1991, Tapani earned a salary of $197,500 which is equivalent to about $1.24 million in 2021. For every million dollars he would’ve made, he earned 5.47 WAR. This is the most efficient contract on the starting rotation. Tapani would be an outstanding fifth starter who can go deep into games and give the bullpen some much needed rest. Also, he was a big part of the infamous Kent Hrbek and Ron Gant play. Conclusion This dream team has some great starting pitching with many proven winners. For these five star pitchers, the Twins would only be paying $25.8 million total. However, although extremely important, starting pitching isn’t the only aspect of a team. Over the next week or so, I will be introducing the position players and relief pitchers of this dream team. Stay tuned to find out who else made the cut. Thank you for reading, and Go Twins!
  3. Inconsistent pitching and injuries have been just some of the issues for the 2021 Twins. There have been some positives as with any season, but it’s hard not to be disappointed as expectations were high this year. Here’s a look at some of the other disappointing teams from recent years. 2011 Twins (Record: 63-99) The 2010 Twins had opened Target Field with a bang, including winning the division by six games over the White Sox. It was the team’s second consecutive AL Central title, and there were many that thought the Twins would be fighting for a three-peat. It’s easy to find connections between the 2021 Twins and the issues faced by the 2011 squad. Justin Morneau struggled to return after a concussion ended his 2010 campaign. Joe Mauer dealt with bilateral leg weakness and back problems. Players like Danny Valencia, Alexi Casilla, and Tsuyoshi Nishioka were relied on to fill full-time roles. Minnesota’s starting staff struggled to reproduce their numbers from 2010, with Carl Pavano, Brian Duensing, Nick Blackburn, and Francisco Liriano all posting ERA totals of 4.30 or higher. 2007 Twins (Record: 79-83) The 2007 Twins didn’t implode like the 2010 season, but they were indeed a disappointment. Back in 2006, the Twins put together a magical season with Justin Morneau being named AL MVP, Joe Mauer winning his first batting title, and Johan Santana earning his second Cy Young. It was only the fourth time the team had won over 95 games since moving to Minnesota. During the 2007 season, Minnesota finished just under .500, but that was closer to last place than first place in the division. Outside of Johan Santana, the team left fans wanting more. Jason Bartlett finished with the highest WAR among position players, and the pitching staff took a step back. Terry Ryan stepped aside from the GM role in the middle of September. This left Bill Smith to trade Santana and watch Torii Hunter walk away in free agency. The franchise was heading in a new direction. 1993 Twins (Record: 71-91) Minnesota had won the World Series in 1991, and the club finished with 90-wins in 1992. Many of the core pieces of the championship club were still in the prime of their careers. There was hope the team could bounce back in 1993 and keep their winning window open. However, the club was entering a stretch of nine straight losing seasons. During the 1993 season, many of the team’s issues were on the pitching side of the ball. Out of the team’s regulars, six of the nine batters had an OPS+ of 100 or more, including Kirby Puckett and Kent Hrbek with 120 OPS+ totals. Every starting pitcher with over 100 innings had an ERA north of 4.00, with Willie Banks being the lone starter to post an ERA+ greater than 100. It was Hrbek’s last season of over 100 games, and Puckett was only two years away from being forced to retire. The end of an era came more quickly than many would have anticipated. Which of these seasons was most disappointing? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  4. Please, calm down. I’m not at all saying Berríos is, today, similar to what Santana was when the Mets acquired him from Minnesota. Nor that he will be nearly as good as the Venezuelan. But bear with me, while I look at what those two deals have in common. Their role in the Twins After the 2007 season, Santana was already one of baseball’s greatest pitchers, if not the best one. Mentioning his accolades up until that moment has no use here. They couldn’t afford him, so they found themselves forced to trade him. Berríos, right now, may not be the ace Johan was, but he is certainly one of baseball’s most reliable arms. Especially, you know, health-wise. So far in his career, Berríos hasn’t had any serious injury that cost him relevant playing time. His injury history is immaculate. Minus 2016, the year he got called up for the first time, and 2020, the 60-game season, Berríos has logged at least 145 innings in each season of his career. He’s having career numbers this year, which indicates that he’s only getting better. So he may not be as talented as Santana, but he’s a solid piece of this rotation. A player who could easily be a number three starter for the vast majority of MLB teams. And, at 27, which is two years younger than Santana when he was dealt, you just have to assume he’s just entering his prime. What if they stayed? My main point here is this. What could’ve happened if the Twins could afford Santana and signed him to an extension? And what may happen if they decide to hold on to José now? Everything from now on will be hypothetical, so get ready for many ‘what ifs.’ When Minnesota traded Santana, they knowingly gave up on a two-time Cy Young Award winner, the best starter they had since… Blyleven? Viola in ‘91? Or the best one ever? You decide. If he had stayed, he would’ve made that phenomenal Twins team even better. After a disappointing 79-83 record in 2007, Minnesota went on to win at least 87 games in each of the following three seasons, including a 94-win season in 2010, capping a second consecutive AL Central title. However good they were, those teams could never get past the Yankees in their trips to the ALDS. How much closer to winning a World Series would that particular team be, had Santana stayed? No one will ever know. But I think it’s fair to assume they would have much, much better odds. In conclusion, trading away Johan, even though it was the only logical solution given the club’s financial reality at that point, undeniably made the Twins a worse team. With that being said, let’s shift to Berríos’ case now. Realistically speaking, the Twins are a much better team with him around. No pitcher within the organization brings to the table, today, the same productivity from Berríos. Kenta Maeda bounced back very nicely, but there’s no way he’s had a better season than José so far. If you’re not looking at the prospect of a two or three-year rebuilding process, there’s no way you trade Berríos now. Minnesota’s chances of having a competitive rotation in 2022 are not better at all with the absence of Berríos. Unless, of course, they pull a huge free agent signing during the winter, which is very unlikely. Let me repeat myself: Berríos is no ace (yet), and he doesn’t bring to the table the same as Santana 13 years ago. But if you keep him, adding one or two good free agent arms during the winter could turn this rotation around next year. If you don’t, you’re considerably further along. What is the big difference? Like I said before, the Twins had no alternatives but to trade Santana. Revenue wasn’t the same, so it’s understandable. What you can question is how bad the return for Santana was. That deal turned out to be one of the worst in club history. But, yeah, trading him was a must. On the other hand, that certainly doesn’t seem to be the same case with Berríos now. First, a contract extension to José wouldn’t be nearly as expensive. Twins Daily’s Ted Schwerzler believes that a Berríos contract would look similar to those of Luis Severino, Aaron Nola, and Lance McCullers, ranging around the $12-15M AAV and going for four or five years. We don’t know the complete picture of Minnesota’s financial reality, but that doesn’t seem like a very expensive ask. The aftermath While the return for Santana was suboptimal, sadly, the remainder of Santana’s career was severely affected by injuries. While still a fine pitcher and pitching an amazing 2008 season, he needed to go through two season-ending surgeries in 2009 and 2010, the latter one also removing him from the entirety of 2011. Again turning to hypotheticals, if he had been healthy in New York, watching him pitch at a high level for a different team could be somewhat similar to watch David Ortiz slug his way into the Hall of Fame in a Red Sox uniform. What aggravates Ortiz’s case is the fact that no one saw that coming, unlike Santana. Still, it wouldn’t feel nice. Thinking about the comparison with Berríos, how frustrating would it be to see him actually become an ace for a different team? Many Twins fans don’t consider him ace material up until now. But are you willing to bet money that this will never change? How certain are you that he won’t be one of the league’s top starters two or three years from now? Offering a more optimistic perspective: how amazing would it be if Berríos actually becomes an ace and the Twins had already locked him up long-term with a ‘bargain’ of $15M AAV? He would not only be the cornerstone of the Twins rotation, but he would also serve as a mentor to all the exciting arms coming up from the farm. Just picture, three years from now, a rotation containing Berríos and names like Josh Winder, Jordan Balazovic, Griffin Jax, and Bailey Ober. Assuming the financial aspect isn’t an issue, the only thing standing between Berríos and a future with the Twins is whether the club wants him around or not – unlike Santana. A haul in exchange for him would obviously look nice. But keeping him may potentially be even more profitable. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  5. Bill Smith was in a no-win situation. In late-2007, He became the fifth general manager in Twins history, and he was immediately tasked with trading away baseball’s best starting pitcher. Minnesota had tried to work out an extension with two-time Cy Young award winner, but those conversations had stalled. The Twins were still multiple years away from a new stadium and the increased revenues they hoped it would provide, so the club looked to deal away one of the best pitchers in team history. During the offseason, there seemed to be three suitors for Santana’s services, the Yankees, Red Sox, and Mets. All three big market teams had the funds to meet Santana’s contract needs and they had the prospect capital to acquire a pitcher of his magnitude. Twins fans hoped to acquire some of the top talent available from these organizations. Boston had big-name prospects like Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, and Clay Buchholz. The Yankee’s system included Phil Hughes, Joba Chamerlain, Melky Cabrera, and Ian Kennedy. While some of the Mets top farm hands were Fernando Martinez, Carlos Gomez, Deolis Guerra, Kevin Mulvey, and Phil Humber. Rumors swirled for most of the offseason with many of the names mentioned above. Eventually, Minnesota settled on a package of players that included Gomez, Guerra, Mulvey, and Humber. Twins fans were disappointed, but maybe that was inevitable. Gomez, Guerra, and Humber had all been top-100 prospects during their professional careers, but it still didn’t feel like enough for the game’s best pitcher in the middle of his prime. The Mets were coming off a 2007 season where they collapsed at season’s end and they needed a boost to get them over the top in the NL East. Santana was a franchise altering player that could help them clear that bar. New York agreed to trade for Santana if they could sign him to an extension. He’d ink a six-year, $137.5 million and the rest is history. Santana’s first year in New York was his best as he led the league with over 234 innings pitched and a 2.53 ERA. He’d finish third in the Cy Young voting. In fact, his first three seasons were great for the Mets. He posted a 2.85 ERA with a 1.18 WHIP in 600 innings pitched, but injuries were starting to become a problem. Bone chips were removed from his elbow, he had rotator cuff surgery, and eventually shoulder injuries ended his career. From Minnesota’s perspective, things went from bad to worse. Gomez was rushed to the big leagues and hit .248/.293/.352 over two seasons. He’d be dealt to Milwaukee as part of the JJ Hardy trade, another bad Twins trade, and he’d become a two-time All-Star with the Brewers. The pitchers acquired in the deal struggled even more than Gomez in a Twins uniform. Guerra topped out at Triple-A in the Twins system and moved on to other organizations after 2014. He pitched in the big leagues last season with Philadelphia, but he has a career ERA of 4.81 with a 1.32 WHIP. Mulvey made two appearances with the Twins and allowed four earned runs in 1 1/3 innings. In 2009, he was sent to Arizona to complete the trade for Jon Rauch. Humber pitched in 13 games for the Twins with an ERA north of 6.00 and he was granted his free agency after two seasons. He’d go on to pitch for Kansas City, Chicago, and Houston and fans may remember his perfect game for the White Sox. Just a few years after the trade, none of the players Minnesota acquired were still on the roster. Santana’s time in New York didn’t end well, but he was able to pitch three very good seasons for the Mets before injuries shortened his career. At the same time, Twins fans are left wondering if a better deal could have been made with the Red Sox or Yankees. What are your thoughts after looking back at this trade? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. OTHER POSTS IN THE SERIES — Tom Brunansky MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  6. Case for Induction Santana isn’t the only player who had his career cut short due to injury and there are multiple examples of players like this in the Hall of Fame. Twins fans are well aware of the eye injury that ended Kirby Puckett’s career. Sandy Koufax retired at the age of 30 because of elbow problems and arthritis. Both players were first ballot Hall of Famers. Santana’s peak puts him near the same level as Koufax, who is considered one of the best pitchers all-time. According to JAWS, Santana ranks nearly a full point higher than Koufax. He also had more top five finishes in Cy Young voting and more top-5 finishes in player WAR. Santana finished with a higher ERA+, strikeout to walk ratio, and fewer walks per nine innings. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/937720911200968704?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw%7Ctwcamp%5Etweetembed%7Ctwterm%5E937720911200968704%7Ctwgr%5E%7Ctwcon%5Es1_&ref_url=http%3A%2F%2Ftwinsdaily.com%2F_%2Fminnesota-twins-news%2Fjohan-santanae28099s-cooperstown-case-the-koufax-argument-r6250 While Koufax pitched in an era of pitching dominance, Santana’s era was known for offensive dominance. Since the expansion era (post-1993), Santana’s 136 ERA+ ranks sixth among starting pitchers. Take a look at the names ahead of him: Clayton Kershaw, Pedro Martinez, Roger Clemens, Brandon Webb, and Chris Sale. Martinez is already in the Hall. Kershaw and Sale look well on their way. ERA+ has Santana ranked higher than Randy Johnson and Greg Maddux, two previous Hall of Fame inductees. Case Against Induction Much like with Tony Oliva, Santana didn’t have the longevity to accumulate many of the important cumulative stat totals that are associated with being elected to the Hall of Fame. He couldn’t pitch over 3,000 innings or strikeout 2,000 batter or accumulate a larger career WAR total. Even though he is ahead of Koufax according to JAWS, he is behind players like Chuck Finely and Kevin Appier who don’t exactly feel like they should be in Cooperstown. One of the biggest reasons Santana might have been overlooked is the controversial 2005 Cy Young Award. The Athletic wrote about it earlier this week and I have previously discussed the topic here at Twins Daily. During the 2005 season, he led the AL in WHIP, strikeouts, most strikeouts per nine and fewest hits per nine. He won the 2004 and 2006 Cy Young, so a three-peat would have put him in rare company with only 11 three-time Cy Young winners. Prediction Fans have been able to see how starting pitching has changed in recent years. Gone are the days of pitchers going deep into games and seeing a line-up for a third time. Hall of Fame voters might also have to change their expectations when evaluating who gets into Cooperstown. Now, Santana must wait until he appears on the Veterans Committee ballot. It’s going to take time, but Santana is a Hall of Famer in my book. Did Santana deserve to stay on the ballot for more than one season? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  7. The sound of a clanking spoon and jubilant laughs of a child resonate through the waves of Caleb Thielbar’s kitchen over Zoom. “Do I need to repeat anything or is he too loud? My wife’s at work and I got home a bit late so it’s lunchtime.” The 33 year old Randolph, Minnesota native has worn a wealth of hats over the years; St. Paul Saints standout, International League pitcher, DII pitching coach, a prospect that ‘shouldn't have made it,’ and most importantly, husband to Carissa and dad of Joshua. To Twins fans, he’s the pinnacle of feel-good stories in the franchise’s history. Coming off a stellar season in his second stint with his home-state team, baseball and the Minnesota Twins were staples in the Thielbar family since Caleb was a young boy. “Baseball was huge for my parents. Heck, my dad still played until I was 12 or 13 in various leagues,” Caleb recalled. “He was a pitcher.” Young Caleb took after his father Calvin, cementing his place on the mound in the youth leagues of south central Minnesota. Thielbar was a standout for the Randolph Rockets both on the bump and on the basketball court, scoring the second most points in school history. Courtesy of Caleb Thielbar “Growing up in a small town, if you could throw the ball hard and anywhere near the plate you were going to pitch,” Thielbar said. Thielbar and his father weren’t the only ones in the family who spent time on the diamond. Caleb’s mom Janet was the starting shortstop on her high school baseball team as a senior; an opportunity that connected her with assistant coach Calvin, her future husband. “The Greatest Place on Earth” Nestled just half an hour south of the Twin Cities, some of Caleb’s fondest childhood memories came from making the trek up to the Metrodome to watch his favorite team. Calvin would get tickets from work and the family would go to three or four games per year. Like most, Caleb knew that the Dome wasn’t the gold encrusted palace that other teams had to call home. That didn’t matter. “Going to the Metrodome, ears popping (through the doors), getting to the concourse where you couldn’t hear anything. All of a sudden you’d get into the stadium and start to hear the crack of the bat from batting practice.” For the wide-eyed Minnesota boy the Metrodome couldn’t have been more perfect. “I got to play in the Dome in college and we all kind of knew it wasn’t the nicest, but when you’re a kid and you're going to a Major League game you think it’s the greatest thing in the world,” Caleb recalled. Johan and Torii Growing up in the 90’s, the Twins were nothing to write home about. Yet when Caleb was striking out hitters on the bump for Randolph High School in the early 2000’s, Johan Santana was baffling hitters with his changeup and the Dome outfield was where homers went to die thanks to Torii Hunter. “Johan was my favorite pitcher growing up and all of us loved Torii, making those amazing catches,” Thielbar said. “Those were the two players I liked most because in high school when I wasn’t pitching I was playing centerfield.” Things came full circle for Thielbar this spring. Throwing his first bullpen of the year, a familiar face appeared behind the mound to watch and critique the crafty lefty. It was no other than Caleb’s childhood hero, Johan himself. “It was kind of surreal to have him there after growing up watching him your entire childhood,” Caleb said. Lifelong Learner There are few players in baseball that have seen their career evolve the way Thielbar has. From a blue-collar recruit who didn’t necessarily see himself being good enough to compete at South Dakota State to a big league pitcher who’s future seemed uncertain due to arm injuries, Caleb never gave up. “After having some arm problems with the Twins it did take a few years to get it back,” Thielbar said. “Luckily I was able to keep playing, most guys hang it up after that.” In between his time with the Twins, Thielbar spent two seasons across the Mississippi with the St. Paul Saints. He credits his time in the American Association towards where he’s at today. “I enjoyed my time with the Saints and was lucky to have a couple of good years with them,” Thielbar said. “I needed to learn how to stay healthy and the independent league was a really good place to do that.” A firm believer that there is always learning to do, regardless of the level, Thielbar’s grit was rewarded this year by achieving a goal that’s been in his mind since he was a boy in Randolph; winning an AL Central title. “Watching all of those (division titles) growing up, it became a goal of mine,” Thielbar said. “Not just winning it, but getting to do it with a lot of guys that I got to play with in the minors or that I already knew. They're a bunch of really good people and seeing them succeed is great.” MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  8. News broke on Sunday that Ron Gardenhire was retiring, effective immediately. The former Twins manager had been Detroit’s skipper for the last three seasons. He’s had a losing record in every season for the Tigers as they have been in full rebuild mode. Initially, his plan was to retire at the conclusion of the 2020 season, but a case of food poisoning and underlying health conditions pushed him into an early exit. In a press release, Gardenhire said, ““This is a bittersweet day for myself and my family. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank the countless players and coaches that I’ve had the honor of working alongside for the last 16 seasons as manager. I’d also like to thank the Detroit Tigers and Minnesota Twins for giving me the privilege of leading their clubhouses. While I’m stepping away from managing, I’ll be watching this group of Tigers closely in the next few years. There’s a lot of talent on this team, and a lot coming through the farm system. Tigers fans are going to enjoy the exciting times on the horizon.” Gardy’s Twins tenure started back in 1986 in his final year as a professional player. He played 117 games for the club’s Triple-A affiliate and hit .272/.347/.380 with 26 extra-base hits and a 70 to 45 strike out to walk ratio. He must have impressed the Twins, because he retired following the season and immediately started coaching in the Twins system. He quickly made his mark in his first three years as a minor league manager. He led teams in the Midwest League (Class A) and Southern League (Class AA) to one second place and two first place finishes. From there, he was promoted to being a coach on the big-league squad and he served as a coach for over the next decade (1991-2001). When Tom Kelly retired, Gardy took over with a flurry. In his first season as manager, he would lead the Twins to the AL Central crown and all the way to the ALCS before eventually losing to the eventual World Series champions, the Anaheim Angels. The Twins have yet to win a playoff series since that run, but Gardenhire’s impact was far from over. Minnesota would complete a three-peat of AL Central titles in 2004 before winning the title again in 2006. The club lost to the White Sox in Game 163 to end the 2008 season before coming back and winning a Game 163 against the Tigers to close out the Metrodome one year later. His final AL Central crown came in 2010 when he won his lone the AL Manager of the Year award. Many great players came to stardom under Gardenhire’s watchful eye. Johan Santana went on one of the greatest pitching runs in franchise history as he won two Cy Young awards before being traded to the Mets. Joe Mauer made his debut in 2004 and played a large portion of his potential Hall of Fame career under Gardenhire. Other players like Torii Hunter, Corey Koskie, Denard Span, Joe Nathan, Justin Morneau, and Michael Cuddyer would have long careers tied to Gardy’s tenure. Gardenhire’s personality was what separated him from previous Twins managers. He was able to connect with players and fans and he brought a passion that would overflow into the game. His club record 71 ejections would attest to that fact. If Twins teams were in contention, he pulled the right strings to be able to keep them in the race. Overall, he seemed to be able to get the best out of his players and to guide young players as they entered the league. Following the 2010 season, things went the wrong way in a hurry for Gardenhire and the Twins. For four straight seasons, the club lost over 90 games in the worst stretch of losing in franchise history. At his final Twins press conference, he said, “Sometimes people need to hear a different voice. They need a new face. I just want this organization to win; I’ll be rooting just like everybody else.” His 27 years in the Twins organization were over, but he was still part of the Twins family. Twins President Dave St. Peter said, “Baseball has always been better with Ron Gardenhire part of it. His legacy is highlighted by the hugely positive impact he made on players and staff. I will always remember his authentic connection to the fans. The Gardenhire family will always be part of the Twins family.” Twins fans might not have agreed with every on-field decision during the Gardenhire era, but his legacy will be felt throughout Twins Territory for years to come. Congratulations on retirement to Gardenhire and his family. May he stay healthy and enjoy the years ahead. What are some of your favorite Gardy memories? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. MORE FROM TWINS DAILY — Latest Twins coverage from our writers — Recent Twins discussion in our forums — Follow Twins Daily via Twitter, Facebook or email
  9. While the player names from the 1960s have a certain lore about them, the pitchers from the decade of 2000 were really good too. The staff was led by Brad Radke, a Twins Hall of Famer who was part of the Twins 1990s staff. Johan Santana came to the organization and immediately was good. Very soon after, he became the best pitcher in baseball for a dozen years. In addition, the bullpen you will see is very strong, led by a couple of Twins Hall of Famers. What you will see if a lot of strike throwers... which won't surprise you at all. So today, enjoy looking back at the top Twins pitchers from the first decade of the 21st century. SP - Johan Santana (2000-2007) 251 games, 175 starts, 93-44 with 1 save and a 3.22 ERA in 1,308 2/3 innings. 1,381 K. 364 BB. Santana was the left unprotected by the Houston Astros in the December 1999 Rule 5 draft. The Twins had arranged a trade with the Marlins to acquire Santana. They kept him around, working primarily out of the bullpen in 2000. He posted a 2.99 ERA in 108 1/3 innings in 2002. He went 12-3 with a 3.07 ERA in 158 1/3 innings in 2003. He increased his workload and made 18 starts. Finally in 2004 he became a full-time starter. He responded by going 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA and won his first Cy Young Award. He finished third in 2005 despite going 16-7 with a 2.87 ERA. He won his second Cy Young Award in 2006 when he went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA. He led the league in ERA in 2004 and 2006. He led the league in WHIP, FIP, strikeouts and K/9 each year between 2004 and 2006. He won another 15 games in 2007. He received Cy Young votes each season between 2003 and 2007. He was traded to the Mets before the 2008 season. SP - Brad Radke (2000-2006) 214 games, 214 starts, 82-71 with 0 saves and a 4.16 ERA in 1,366 innings. 803 K. 206 BB. The Twins eighth-round pick in 1991, he was the Twins top pitcher of the previous decade and still was a top starter in this century’s first decade. He fought some shoulder issues, but in five of his seven seasons this decade, he worked at least 200 innings. Even with his shoulder tendons barely hanging on in 2006, he pitched 162 innings. Blessed with impeccable control, Radke was consistent. In all but his injured seasons, he posted better-than-average ERA. SP - Scott Baker (2005-2009) 111 games, 109 starts, 43-33 with 0 saves and a 4.27 ERA in 653 innings. 499 K. 149 BB. Baker was the Twins second-round draft pick in 2003 out of Oklahoma State. He moved quickly and made his debut in May of 2005. He was a slightly better than average pitcher for the Twins through his seven seasons with the team. He went 11-4 with a 3.45 ERA in 172 1/3 innings in 2008. In 2009, he worked a career-high 200 innings and was 15-9 with a 4.37 ERA. After missing the 2012 season due to Tommy John surgery, he pitched for the Cubs, Rangers and Dodgers over the next three seasons. SP - Carlos Silva (2004-2007) 129 games, 124 starts, 47-45 with 0 saves and a 4.42 ERA in 773 2/3 innings. 306 K. 112 BB. In 2001 and 2002, Silva pitched in 130 games out of the bullpen for the Phillies. After that season, he was part of the trade that sent Eric Milton to Philadelphia. The Twins moved him into their starting rotation. He went 14-8 with a 4.21 ERA over 33 starts and a career-high 203 innings in 2004. In 2005, he went 9-8 in 27 starts, with a 3.44 ERA. As impressive, he had the same number of walks as Wins that season, over 188 1/3 innings. He struggled in 2006, but in 2007, he went 13-14 with a solid 4.19 ERA in 202 innings. Over his four seasons with the Twins, he struck out just 3.6 batters per nine innings. He survived by working fast, getting a lot of sink and throwing a ton of strikes. He left after the 2007 season for a four-year, $48 million deal with the Mariners. SP - Eric Milton (2000-2003) 100 games, 99 starts, 42-26 with 0 saves and a 4.60 ERA in 608 2/3 innings. 445 K. 136 BB. Milton came to the Twins from the Yankees before the 1998 season in the Chuck Knoblauch trade. He had been a first-round pick by the pinstripers. He debuted in 1998. In 2000, he won 13 games. In 2001, he made the All-Star team and won 15 games with a 4.32 ERA in 220 innings. He won 13 more games in 2002. He missed most of the 2003 season with injury but returned late in the season for three starts. It was enough to impress the Phillies who acquired him after that season. RP - Joe Nathan (2004-2009) 412 games, 0 starts, 22-12 with 246 saves and a 1.87 ERA in 418 2/3 innings. 518 K. 120 BB. Nathan came up with the Giants in 1999 and remained with them through the 2003 season. That final season, he was a very good set-up man. That offseason, the Twins acquired Nathan and two other pitchers in exchange for AJ Pierzynski. Nathan wasn’t handed the closer job, but he quickly earned it and he absolutely took off. That first year, he posted a 1.62 ERA and 44 saves. Over his first six seasons with the Twins, he posted an ERA over 2.10 just once (2.70). He had at least 36 saves each season and a career-high 47 saves in 2009. He never had a WHIP over 1.02. He pitched in four All-Star Games. The Twins all-time saves leader became a Twins Hall of Famer. RP - LaTroy Hawkins (2000-2003) 267 games, 0 starts, 18-13 with 44 saves and a 3.09 ERA in 296 2/3 innings. 233 K. 101 BB. Hawkins was the Twins seventh-round pick in 1991. He debuted with the Twins in 1995. He was tried as a starting pitcher through the 1999 season. He moved to the bullpen in 2000. He recorded 42 saves between 2000 and 2001 but he struggled in that role. When Eddie Guardado took over as the team’s closer, Hawk moved into the set up role and became a force. He went 6-0 with a 2.13 ERA in 80 1/3 innings in 2002. In 2003, he went 9-3 with a 1.86 ERA in 77 1/3 innings. He had struggled with control to that point, but he walked just 15 batters each season. He left after the season as a free agent… and then he kept pitching through the 2015 season. Pitching very well. RP - Eddie Guardado (2000-2003) 280 games, 0 starts, 19-14 with 107 saves and a 3.42 ERA in 268 1/3 innings. 254 K. 82 BB. Guardado was the Twins 21st-round pick in 1990 and was in the big leagues by 1993. By 1996, he earned the moniker “Everyday Eddie” because the southpaw was used so much. By the turn of the century, he had become very reliable. He saw his ERA drop from near-5, to mid-4s, to high-3s. Between 2000 and 2001, he won 14 games. By the end of the 2001 season, he took over the closer role. In 2002, he went 1-3 with a 2.93 ERA. He led the league with 45 saves and pitched in his first All-Star Game. He returned to the mid-summer classic in 2003. That season, he went 3-5 with a 2.89 ERA and 41 saves. After the season, he left for the Mariners via free agency. He returned to the Twins in September of 2008 and pitched in nine games. RP - Matt Guerrier (2004-2009) 319 games, 3 starts, 14-18 with 4 saves and a 3.41 ERA in 401 innings. 268 K. 125 BB. Following the 2003 season, the Twins claimed Guerrier after he had been DFAd by the White Sox. He pitched in nine games for the Twins in 2004, but he then became a mainstay in the Twins bullpen, eventually moving in to a high-leverage role. He led the AL in appearances in both 2008 and 2009. In 2009, he went 5-1 with a 2.36 ERA, which was 86% better than league average. He posted an ERA well above league average in four of his five full seasons with the Twins in the decade. He left via free agency after the 2010 season. Spent two years there, then one with the Cubs before returning to the Twins for about a half season in 2014. RP - Juan Rincon (2001-2008) 386 games, 3 starts, 30-26 with 3 saves and a 3.69 ERA in 441 innings. 412 K. 182 BB. Rincon signed with the Twins in 1996 out of Venezuela. He made his debut in 2001 and spent most of the next eight seasons in a Twins uniform. He became a regular in 2003, but 2004 was likely his best season. He went 11-6 with a 2.63 ERA. In 82 innings, he struck out 106 batters. The following year, he posted a 2.45 ERA with more than a strikeout per inning. In 2006, he was 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA in 74 games. He wasn’t the same pitcher after his PED suspension in 2007 and was let go midway through the 2008 season. He continued to pitch into the 2010 season. What are your thoughts? Agree with the choices? Previous Installments Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team, the '60s (The Pitchers) Episode 15: Get t o Know the 1960s Twins (with Dave Mona) Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team, the '70s (The Pitchers) Episode 16: Get to Know the 1970s Twins (with Patrick Reusse) Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team: the '80s (The Pitchers) Episode 17: Get to know the 1980s Twins (with Howard Sinker) Twins All-Decade Team: the '90s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team: the '90s (The Pitchers) Twins All-Decade Team: the '00s (The Hitters) Twins All-Decade Team: the '00s (The Pitchers)
  10. The Puckett Clause Twins fans are well aware of the legend of Kirby Puckett. His career tragically ended too soon at the young age of 35 after 12 seasons. Puckett was a dominant player during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s as the Twins won two championships in a five year span. For 10 straight seasons, he was named an American League All-Star and he won six Gold Gloves for his defensive prowess. Some would argue he willed the Twins to a Game 7 of the 1991 World Series with his heroic actions in Game 6. Puckett was on a path for the Hall of Fame before his career was cut short. He wasn’t able to compile the same type of careers numbers that would scream Hall of Fame player. He only had two seasons in the top 10 for WAR and his career WAR only places him as the 184th all-time position player. That ties him with Brian Giles. Heck, even Joe Mauer ranks higher. There are plenty of people who believe he shouldn’t be part of Cooperstown’s elite group. The members of the BBWAA thought differently about Puckett. He was elected on his first ballot with 82.1% of the vote which easily cleared the 75% needed for induction. By receiving 36 more votes than were needed, he joined Dave Winfield in the Class of 2001. Puckett was able to pack enough into 12 seasons and the writers honored him for being one of baseball’s best for the better part of a decade. Applying the Puckett Clause Much like Puckett, Santana saw his career ended too early because of injury. Santana wasn’t hit in the head with a Dennis Martinez fastball. Instead, his golden left arm was betrayed by an ailing left shoulder. Some Santana supporters will point to his no-hitter on June 1, 2012 as his Puckett-Martinez moment. On the way to the first no-hitter in Mets’ franchise history, Santana tossed 134 pitches. At the conclusion of that contest, his season ERA dropped to 2.38 but he posted an 8.27 mark over his final ten appearances. He would never pitch in another MLB game. With writers limited to 10 names per ballot, it could be easy for some to ignore what Santana was able to accomplish. From 2003 through 2008, he pitched at much more than a Hall of Fame level. In over 1400 innings, he posted a 2.86 ERA (156 ERA+) while striking out four times as many batters as he walked. Throw in two Cy Young Awards and a third award that was stolen from him and it looks like he has a solid case for Cooperstown. As with Puckett, Santana didn’t have the longevity to accumulate many of the numbers needed to be deemed Hall of Fame worthy. He couldn’t pitch 3,000 innings. He couldn’t strike out 2,500 batters. He couldn’t accumulate a large career WAR total. If he had been able to pitch four or five more seasons in the back-end of a rotation, he’d be a lock for the Hall. His ailing shoulder took those seasons away. The greatness of careers shortened by injury should be given the benefit of the doubt. When Twins fans examine Kirby Puckett, it is clear that he was a Hall of Fame player. One high and tight fastball from Dennis Martinez deprived Twins Territory of the end of his career. Santana fits the same mold as he dominated the game before an injury forced him off the mound. The Puckett Clause applies and only strengthens Santana’s case for Cooperstown. Should the Puckett Clause be applied to Santana? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion. Don’t forget to stop back in the coming weeks as I continue to make the Cooperstown Case for Johan Santana.
  11. Part 1: The Puckett Clause Part 2: The Koufax Argument Part 3: The Missing Cy Young The Cy Young Award is baseball’s highest pitching honor. Some pitchers are in the conversation for the award on a regular basis. For current baseball fans, names like Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander are regulars on the year-end balloting. In his prime, Johan Santana was in this elite group. When the 2018 Hall of Fame Ballot was released, one of the first items I noted was Santana’s high ranking on Baseball Reference’s Cy Young Award Share scale. His 2.72 shares rank him 13th all-time. This sandwiches him between Sandy Koufax and Justin Verlander. The only players in front of him who aren’t in the Hall of Fame are Roger Clemens (7.66 shares), Clayton Kershaw (4.56), Roy Halladay (3.50), and Max Scherzer (3.14). There’s a chance that all of those men eventually have a plaque in Cooperstown. Santana’s biggest resume flaw might be the Cy Young that was taken away from him. During the 2004 season, he posted a 20-6 record with a 2.61 ERA, 265 strikeouts and an 8.6 WAR on the way to his first Cy Young Award. He was nearly as good during second Cy Young season (2006) when he went 19-6 with a 2.77 ERA, 245 strikeouts and a 7.5 WAR. The season between his two Cy Youngs is the trophy that was stolen from him. Bartolo Colon was named the 2005 Cy Young Award winner. He went 21-8 that year with a 3.48 ERA, 157 strikeouts and a 4.0 WAR. Santana couldn’t match Colon’s win-loss record but he bested him in every other category. He finished that season with a 16-7 record including a 2.87 ERA, 238 strikeouts and a 7.2 WAR. Winning a third Cy Young is an elite resume item. There are ten three-time Cy Young winners and all of them are likely to eventually end up in the Hall. The list includes Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Greg Maddux, Clayton Kershaw, Steve Carlton, Pedro Martinez, Tom Seaver, Jim Palmer, Max Scherzer and Sandy Koufax. Had the voters picked the correct winner in 2005, Santana would have joined this elite group and even furthered his Hall of Fame resume. Ryan Romano at Beyond the Box Score wrote a piece in 2015 called “Cliff Lee and Johan Santana belong in the Hall of Fame.” He examined the peak value of these two players by looking at their WAR per 200 innings pitched and seasons of 5+ WAR. Santana ranks 10th all-time ahead of players like Greg Maddux, John Smoltz, and Bert Blyleven. This is just another measurement that puts Santana into elite company. Is Santana likely to be a first ballot Hall of Famer? The answer is no but there are very compelling arguments as to why he should eventually be enshrined. If the voters applied the Kirby Puckett Clause, Santana’s case gains some steam. After comparing Santana to Sandy Koufax, it’s easy to see how their peaks were similar. Lastly, his missing Cy Young would have lofted him into the elite group of sure-fire Hall of Fame pitchers. He was a master on the mound. A once in a generation pitcher. A pitcher who deserves his place in Cooperstown. Case closed.
  12. With an 11:30 announcement at Hammond Stadium opened by Minnesota Twins Hall of Fame broadcaster John Gordon, the Twins' Class A-Advanced affiliate became the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels. photo of John Gordon by Steve Buhr Known as the Miracle since their final years in Miami before moving to Fort Myers in 1992, the organization was bought by Andrew Kaufmann's Zawyer Sports before last season. The Mussels' Broadcast and Media Relations Manager, Marshall Kelner, explained the change after the announcement ceremony. "We just wanted to start a new era of baseball in Fort Myers," Kelner said. "It doesn't take away from all of the great history of the Miracle, as we covered today with all of the former Twins players like Torii Hunter, Michael Cuddyer and Joe Mauer, who played for the Miracle on their way to the big leagues and the current core of the Twins all came through here. We also had a Twins Hall of Famer, Johan Santana here, so pretty cool all these Twins legends and local community leaders here." photo of Johan Santana by Steve Buhr In a press statement released in conjunction with the rebranding announcement, the Mussels indicated that the mascot, Mussel Man, would be sharing mascot duties with Sway, the palm tree mascot that's been roaming the stands at Fort Myers games since 2015. Graphic from Fort Myers Mighty Mussels
  13. Twins fans (at least those who read Twins Daily) have known about Jon Gray and his pitching talents since before the Colorado Rockies made him the third overall pick in the 2013 MLB Draft. The Twins Geek wrote up a Draft Profile on the flame-thrower from Oklahoma. That year, Gray was taken after the Astros took Mark Appel and the Cubs selected Kris Bryant. One pick after the Rockies drafted Gray, the Twins used the fourth overall pick on Kohl Stewart. Gerrit Cole, of course, was the first overall pick in the 2011 MLB Draft by the Pittsburgh Pirates out of UCLA. Cole is listed at 6-foot-4. Gray is listed at 6-foot-4. Cole is listed at 225 pounds. Gray is listed at 227 pounds. Of course, height and weight are important in scouting, but in this analysis, it means nothing. There are dozens of MLB (and minor league) pitchers that are 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds or so. I thought it would be interesting to compare more to see how similar the two might be. To do so, I looked at Gerrit Cole in 2017. He was 26 years old and had two more years of arbitration remaining. In 2019, Jon Gray was 27 years old, and as we look forward, he has two more years before he can become a free agent. So let’s take a look at how Gerrit Cole performed for the Pirates in 2017 and compare it to how Jon Gray pitched for the Rockies in 2019. And hey, just for fun, let’s throw Cole’s 2019 numbers in there too. What does it show us? Obviously we know that Win-Loss record doesn’t tell us anything. Gray’s ERA was better, but Cole held a slight advantage in xFIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). Cole had the better WHIP. It might surprise people to see that Gray actually struck out more batters, though it’s statistically close enough, especially when strikeouts continue to increase across the league. Cole had better control. The biggest difference is that Cole topped 200 innings in 2017 while Gray pitched just 150 innings in 2019. Gray went on the injured list in mid-August with a fractured left foot. He had surgery and should be ready in advance of spring training. He had a similar foot/ankle injury in 2017 that cost him two-and-a-half months. Gray gets more ground balls, though I can’t help but wonder if that’s due to how he chooses to pitch in Colorado.The two had very similar strikeout rates. Again, comparing those numbers to what Cole became in 2019 is more just fun than anything else, something to dream on. Some will say that Gray isn’t as good as Cole was in 2017. I think that the numbers above show that they are more similar statistically than we may have even thought. But I think it’s more important to look at how they pitch to see whether or not they are similar. Is their stuff comparable? Here are some numbers, again comparing Gray in 2019 with Cole in 2017. And, of course, I needed to add Cole in 2019 to the chart for fun, but also for a point. (SETH CORRECTION: Jon Gray threw 33.5% sliders, not 13.5% Sorry if that created confusion.) I happen to think this chart is really interesting. Again, comparing Gray in 2019 with Cole in 2017, there are a lot of similarities. They both had an average fastball of 96 mph. They both throw 88 mph sliders. Gray’s curveball came in just a little slower, and so did his changeup. Cole threw more fastballs. Gray threw a lot of sliders and didn’t throw many changeups. Cole gave up less contact and got a higher percentage of swing-and-misses on strikes. It all speaks to his stuff being right on par with Garret Cole’s in 2017. The Big Question In my mind, the big question is - and should be with any pitcher the Twins consider with trades or free agency: Do the Twins pitching coaches, coordinators and evaluators think that Jon Gray can take it a step up from his 2019 numbers the same way that Cole’s performance jumped from 2017 to 2019? Cole added one mph on his fastball and on his slider. He did so while throwing a fewer fastballs and changeups and a few more sliders and curveballs. Can Jon Gray add a tick or two to his velocity? Can his pitch mix be altered in such a way to reduce his contact rate and improve his swing-and-miss stuff? Ultimately that’s what the Twins brass needs to consider. What Might it Take? If they do consider Gray to be a guy that could take a step forward in performance and possibly be an elite starting pitcher, well, then they need to figure out what they are willing to give up to acquire him from the Rockies. So again, let’s look at Gerrit Cole for a comparison. The Houston Astros acquired Gerrit Cole from the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for four players: RHP Michael Feliz - He was 24 years old and spent two-plus seasons with the Astros before the trade. He had a 5.13 ERA over that time period before the deal. OF Jason Martin - He was a 22-year-old at the time of the deal. He split 2017 between High-A and AA and hit 35 doubles and 18 home runs that season. 1B/3B Colin Moran - He was 25 and had been a high draft pick. He was a Top 100 prospect in previous years but no longer at the time of the deal. RHP Joe Musgrave - He was a 24-year-old, a first-round pick in 2011. He spent time as a part-time starter with the Astros in 2016 and 2017. So what might a similar deal look like for the Twins.Obviously this is a hypothetical, but I think it would take something similar to the below. I think that the package should be similar, but still a little less than what was required to acquire Cole. RHP Fernando Romero - Romero is currently 24-years-old and has spent parts of 2018 and 2019 in the big leagues. While his numbers in 2019, his first year as a bullpen arm, didn’t do great, his potential is still high. IF Travis Blankenhorn - He was just added to the 40-man roster, but like Martin, he split 2019 between High-A and AA and hit 19 home runs despite missing a bit more than a month with a broken finger. OF/1B - Brent Rooker - Can you imagine what Brent Rooker could do to baseballs in the Mile High City? Rooker had been in the Top 100 prospects last year but injuries cost him time in 2019. But his power is legit. RHP Griffin Jax - Now, when I put this together, I wasn’t sure if Jax would be added to the 40-man roster. The Denver (area) native wasn’t added to the 40-man roster, so he’s less likely to be tradable until after the Rule 5 draft. But there are any number of similar pitchers in the organization that the Rockies might have an interest in as well. If I were to keep the theme of Denver-area people, Bailey Ober might be a candidate. Or, might it take a pitcher with some big-league service time like a Devin Smeltzer or even Lewis Thorpe to be a sufficient final piece? Let’s be honest. There’s no way to know what the Rockies would ask for. Maybe instead of four similar prospects, they may ask for one big prospect with one lesser prospect, or maybe the fourth player in this deal could be two other players. SUMMARY The Twins - and every team in baseball - want to find the next Gerrit Cole. Rockies ace Jon Gray has a lot of similarities to Gerrit Cole pre-trade, both statistically and in terms of stuff. The Twins - and every team in baseball - will need to attempt to evaluate if they have ways that could make Gray take the next step toward becoming an elite starter. Determine how much your team is willing to trade in exchange for Jon Gray (and then go-ahead and try to convince the Rockies that it is enough). Hope! Hey, just because there are similarities between pitchers (age, size, stats and stuff) does not necessarily mean that they will have the same success. There is a lot of luck involved. But Derek Falvey has a reputation for developing pitchers. Wes Johnson got a lot of credit for some of the Twins pitching successes and improvements in 2019. If nothing else, it’s fun to think about. Finding the next Gerrit Cole is half the battle. Helping him develop into that pitcher is another thing. Maybe there are red flags, concerns about Jon Gray specifically. Maybe there are other issues that the Twins need to factor and consider. We can’t know it all, but as fans, we’ve been waiting for a true Ace since Johan Santana.
  14. This season has been the best yet for Berrios in the big leagues. He was named to his second straight All-Star Game (despite some unnecessary finagling) and has posted strong tallies across the board. What he hasn’t done though, is maintain a consistent level of dominance required to take that next step and claim the title of “ace,” coveted by many and held by few. Viewing the year in small snapshots provides plenty of interesting talking points. Here are a few of the interesting outliers already in the books. 1. Better but Maybe Worse Through 25 starts Berrios has posted a 3.37 ERA which is a career low by nearly 0.5 runs. Beyond the surface though, we find a 3.92 FIP (in line with the 3.90 2018 mark) and a bit gaudier 4.43 xFIP (compared to 3.89 in 2018). In terms of regression, we could see more before the dust settles. The 8.4 H/9 is a full-season career worst, and the HR/9 has risen after giving up 7 in his past eight starts. The long ball is harder to control in 2019 than ever before, and for a guy with a short stature the downward plane on each pitch is less advantageous. 2. Oh Whiff Have You Forsaken Me Last season Berrios reached the 200-strikeout mark for the first time in his career. Pitching 192.1 innings he tallied a K/9 of 9.5. Owning a minor league career 9.6 K/9, something above 9.0 at the big leagues would be a great outcome for who has always expected to be a strikeout pitcher. In 157.2 IP this season, Berrios has just 150 strikeouts which breaks down to an 8.6 K/9. That’s the exact same ratio he posted in 2017 across 145.2 IP while turning in a 3.89 ERA. Major league baseball is on pace to set another record in strikeouts this season, but Jose hasn’t yet been the benefactor of that trend. 3. Wins Will Ever Matter The short answer is no, and the longer answer is heck no. Even still, the Twins are in the midst of a nearly 100-win campaign and Jose has exactly 10 wins through 25 turns. Despite posting a better ERA than both Jake Odorizzi and Kyle Gibson, each of his counterparts trump him in the wins category. The 2017 Twins won just 83 games and made the wild card game during the last week of the season. Berrios made 26 appearances (25 starts) and won 14 games that year. Now he should make something like seven more turns in the regular season, and conceivably could finish with 17 wins and a new career high, but that would throw the pace and ratio all out of whack on furthering the idea that pitcher wins are fickle and dumb. 4. Bruising Body Blows You may have heard that the Athletics' Khris Davis is a fan of the .247 batting average (though he’s going to be stretched to make it five consecutive years this season). What you probably didn’t know is that Jose Berrios has a small run of his own going. After leading the big leagues in HBP during 2017, he totaled the same number (13) a year ago. In 2019 he’s plunked eight opponents, which puts him on pace for just 10 when all is said and done. There’s nothing wrong with pitching inside, and the two-seam action on his secondary fastball has been a main culprit in getting in on hitters in the past. If we’re going for a trifecta here though, knuckles and gluteus maximus’ (maximi?) will need to be on the lookout. 5. Bump it With the Booty Much has been made down the stretch about Jose Berrios and his fastball velocity. Having pumped 95 and 96 mph at times, he’s worked more in the 91-93 mph range as the summer has worn on. His overall velocity is just a tad off at 93.4 mph (93.8 mph in 2018), but there was a clear decline to start August. Wes Johnson has been noted as a velocity guru, and much of a pitcher’s strength comes from sitting back in his hips and driving with your butt. There could be mechanical issues going on, or it could be nothing more than wear and tear. Fangraphs had three starts from July 31 to Aug 11 in which Jose averaged 90.8, 91.8, and 91.7 mph on his fastball. His last outing against the Rangers was back up to 93.0 mph and that’s virtually where he’s sat all year. We’ll see where it goes from here. 6. An Emerging Offering Zack Pierce wrote a piece for The Athletic back in March that highlighted the emergence of Jose Berrios’ changeup. The Twins starter was fresh off a 10-strikeout Opening Day performance against the Cleveland Indians. Fast forward to today and the pitch has been thrown a career high 14.9% of the time. Over a 5% increase from 2018, Berrios has utilized an offering once perfected by Minnesota starter Johan Santana. Needing something to pair with the fastball/curveball combo, Berrios has gotten 2.1% of his 11% swinging strike rate from the offering. Nearly 20% from an offering not intended to fool or overpower, it’s an admirable step in the right direction. 7. Summer Sorrows Show Sun on Horizon For whatever reason Jose Berrios and his repertoire is not a fan of August. Over the course of his career he owns a 5.92 ERA across 19 starts during the month. His K/9 remains strong but the WHIP gets ugly and things go awry. With an 8.44 ERA (mainly due to the worst start of his career) during three starts this month, the trend has continued. Thankfully he’ll make just two more starts before the calendar turns, and both come against the hapless Detroit Tigers. September has generally represented a reprieve (4.77 ERA), and even if that’s because of watered down competition, getting right for the postseason should be the lone remaining focus.
  15. First World Series Run Since the club moved to Minnesota, the 1965 squad was the lone team to win over 100 games. With a 102-60 record (.630 W-L%), the team also has the highest winning percentage of any Twins team. During the 2019 campaign, the Twins have a .692 W-L%. It seems unlikely for the club to continue on that pace but it seems like they could get to 103 wins. Minnesota’s line-up that season featured greats like Harmon Killebrew, Tony Olivia, Bob Allison, and Earl Battey. Shortstop Zoilo Versalles would be named the AL MVP. The rotation consisted of some strong arms as well. Mudcast Grant, Jim Kaat and Jim Perry all had sub-3.30 ERAs, while Kaat and Grant combined to pitch over 534 innings. The Twins ran into the Dodgers and Sandy Koufax in the World Series, which stopped the club from being a champion. Still the 1965 team, might be one of the best teams from top to bottom. Baltimore Blues Teams Two of Minnesota’s best team contenders also fell short of their World Series goal. Both the 1969 and 1970 squads were able to qualify for the ALCS. Unfortunately, the Baltimore Orioles made quick work of the Twins in both years. Jim Perry was in quite the two-year stretch for being in his age-33 and age-34 seasons. He led the team in WAR in 1969 but he was actually awarded the AL Cy Young in 1970. In these two seasons, he combined to have a 44-18 record with a 2.93 ERA and 1.16 WHIP. He averaged 270 innings pitched and along with 160 strikeouts per season. Tony Oliva’s best professional season was in 1970. He 7.0 WAR led the team. He also led the American League in hits and doubles. Killebrew was also in the prime of his Hall of Fame career. Between the two seasons, he hit 90 home runs. Killebrew would take home the 1969 MVP. Oliva would finish second in the MVP voting one year later. World Series Wins Minnesota’s first World Series winning club didn’t exactly have a stellar regular season. The 1987 Twins finished the regular season at 85-77, which was two games better than the Royals. If the Twins were in the AL East that year, their record would have placed them fifth. The Tigers had trounced through the AL East that year with a 98-64 record, but the Twins were able to dispose of them in five games. Minnesota had to go to seven games against the Cardinals, but they won every game in the Metrodome to clinch the title. Frank Viola was the MVP and a poor regular season record was long forgotten. Minnesota’s second World Series winning club managed a better regular season than the first. They finished the year at 95-67, which was the best record in the American League. Do you know who lead the team in WAR that year? According to Baseball Reference, Kevin Tapani, Shane Mack, and Scott Erickson were the team’s top three players. For many, the 1991 World Series is considered the best Fall Classic of all-time. There were three extra-inning games including both games six and seven. Five of the seven games were decided by one run or less. All Twins fans know how this one ended. Puckett ended Game 6 and Morris dominated in Game 7. Metrodome Era Minnesota won the division five times from 2002-2009 with Ron Gardenhire at the helm. The 2002 club was deemed “The Team that Saved Baseball.” While that club shocked many by making the ALCS, the 2006 club might have been the best club in the Metrodome era. On the mound, Minnesota had the best one-two punch in the game. Johan Santana was in a stretch of being the best pitcher in the game. To join him, a young Francisco Liriano was showing he had the stuff to be among the league’s best. Liriano tried to pitch through pain in August but by November he was scheduled for Tommy John surgery. It’s hard to imagine any team that would have been able to beat Santana and Liriano multiple times in a seven-game series. Not to mention, Joe Nathan was anchoring the backend of a solid bullpen. At the plate, Joe Mauer was putting it all together at the big-league level. He won his first batting title, his first Silver Slugger, and he was an All-Star for the first time. Justin Morneau would be named the American League MVP as he beat out the likes of Derek Jeter, David Ortiz, and Frank Thomas. For many, Liriano’s injury cost the Twins a shot at World Series title. How good is the current team? Is it better than the 2006 squad? Is it better than the World Series clubs? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  16. Maybe fans shouldn’t have doubted the Twins front office. Thad Levine was very familiar with Perez from his own days in the Rangers front office. Before joining the Twins, Derek Falvey might have been best known for what he was able to do with the Cleveland pitching staff. Everything’s Bigger in Texas Perez was a regular part of the Ranger’s rotation from 2016-2017. During that time, he averaged over 190 innings per season, but he struggled to get consistent outs. He ranked near the top of the league in earned runs allowed and walks. Also, he wasn’t striking out batters on a consistent basis. He averaged just over five strikeouts per nine innings pitched. Statcast paints an even bleaker picture of what he was doing on the mound. His XBA ranked in the bottom 6% in the league for three consecutive seasons. In his last full season as a starter, his XSLG was in the bottom 7% of the league and his WOBA was in the bottom 1% of league. His strikeout percentage was also in the bottom 7% of the league for three straight seasons. Moving to the bullpen in 2018 didn’t help many of his numbers. His WHIP ballooned to 1.78, a career high. His strikeout and walk rates also stayed nearly the same. Perez’s hits per nine and home runs per nine average jumped to twice his career average. It was time for a change. The Birth of a Cutter During spring training, Perez got some advice from Johan Santana and Jake Odorizzi. From this advice, he was able to add a cut fastball that has kept batters off-balance. This pitch has become a secret weapon as hitters have been unable to solve this new addition to his pitching repertoire. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/1126214757931986944 Perez has thrown his new found pitch 34.8% of the time this season. He has 39 strikeouts and 13 of them have been as a result of the cutter. When facing Houston’s potent line-up, he limited the Astros to four hits over eight shutout innings. In that start, he threw his cutter on 43 of his 100 pitches. https://twitter.com/NoDakTwinsFan/status/1126167665347833856 Perez seemed to put it all together on Monday night against Toronto. He collected a season high nine strikeouts in seven shutout innings. Five of his nine strikeouts came on the cutter. Out of his 102 pitches against the Blue Jays, he threw his cutter 34 times. Blue Jays hitters only managed one hit against the cutter. Will Perez be able to keep this up in the months and weeks ahead? Will the league eventually be able to figure him out? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  17. Let’s back up a little. Minnesota agreed to a one-year contract with Sánchez on Feb. 16 of last year, worth $2.5 million, with $500,000 guaranteed. Back then, that deal was a thinker. Why were the Twins chasing after a pitcher who appeared to be way past his prime? They weren’t getting the Cy Young candidate version of Sanchez who once led the AL in ERA and FIP (2.57 ERA and 2.39 FIP in 2013). They were getting a pitcher who had had an ERA of 5.67 in the three previous seasons combined and saw the velocity of his primary pitch, the Four Seamer, drop from 92.4 mph to 90.7 in the same span. The main explanation given at the time was the coaching staff and Sánchez were willing to reinvent his pitch selection and make adjustments to his mechanics, as stated by the player himself in this Rhett Bollinger report last year. The club believed if he relied more on his varied offerings, he would miss more bats. And that made a lot of sense. Even during 2017, perhaps his worst season, Sánchez's most effective pitches were extremely underused. His cutter, which struck out batters 33.3% of time and had a .235 BA, was used only 7.3% of time. During that same season, his sinker was used 23.4% of the time despite that pitch having a .311 batting average against and giving up a leading nine home runs. His first impression couldn’t have been better. Sánchez's first outing with the Twins came Feb. 27 against the Red Sox. He pitched two perfect innings and struck out one batter. Four days later disaster struck, as he gave up six earned runs on five hits, in two innings of work against the Pirates. Nothing out of the ordinary, especially because we’re talking about spring training. There would have been plenty of time to figure things out. But plans changed. On March 10, the Twins announced the signing of Lance Lynn to a one-year, $12 million contract. Two days later, Sánchez was released by Minnesota and four days after that, signed a minor league contract with the Braves. He went on to find redemption in Atlanta, by having his best season since 2013. He pitched 136 2/3 innings for the Braves, posting a fantastic 2.83 ERA and a 3.62 FIP. He struck out 8.9 batters per nine, which was slightly above his career average of 8.0 through 2017. Coming back to his pitch selection, here is a breakdown of how different his pitch usage was in 2018 in comparison with the year before, per Baseball Savant: 2017 pitch usage Four Seamer – 26.2% (.340 BA, 6 HR, 21 SO) Sinker – 23.4% (.311 BA, 9 HR, 24 SO) Split Finger – 18.1% (.239 BA, 4 HR, 34 SO) Slider – 12.4% (.471 BA, 4 HR, 3 SO) 2018 pitch usage Four Seamer – 33% (.262 BA, 5 HR, 22 SO) Cutter – 20.2% (.206 BA, 5 HR, 34 SO) Split Finger – 19% (.165 BA, 2 HR, 33 SO) Curve – 9.3% (.379 BA, 1 HR, 6 SO) So, Sánchez found success by relying more on pitches that had been proven effective previously, while also working on his mechanics. Can Pérez be the new Sánchez? Exactly like Sánchez last year, there’s absolutely no way to know for sure if Pérez is going to have a good season or not. It’s like the Twins are on the eve of a blind date right now. But one thing is certain: he has to make major changes. Thanks to this beautifully written story by Dan Hayes, of The Athletic, we can see a glimpse into how the coaching staff is approaching Pérez to achieve such changes. Hayes writes that “the Twins asked the left-hander to make a moderately significant mechanical change in which he incorporates his hips more into his delivery”. That has already had a huge impact. Not once in his career has Pérez had a pitch that averaged more than 93.4 mph in a season (four seamer, 2016). This spring, he's touched 97 mph multiple times and has maintained an average of 95 mph in his fastball. Hayes also writes that during his spring outings so far, Pérez abandoned the slider, by far his worst pitch last year (.467 batting average and .867 slugging against). In its place, he has adopted a cutter, which has been admired by everybody watching the games. Going back to his best season in the majors, 2013, it’s easy to notice how drastically Pérez's pitch selection changed in comparison with 2018, arguably his worst in the majors. 2013 pitch usage Four Seamer – 35.2% (.338 BA, 3 HR, 12 SO) Changeup – 23.7% (.174 BA, 4 HR, 45 SO) Sinker – 22.4% (.291 BA, 4 HR, 15 SO) 2018 pitch usage Sinker – 50.6% (.291 BA, 4 HR, 33 SO) Changeup – 17.5% (.348 BA, 3 HR, 12 SO) Four Seamer – 16.4% (.400 BA, 3 HR, 2 SO) Better quality fastballs with increased velocity could do the trick. If he could also manage to recover the changeup he had in 2013, things could get even better. That was his only season with a sub-4.00 ERA (3.62 in 124 1/3 innings of work). Per Twins beat reporter By Do-Hyoung Park, Pérez is getting advice on his changeup from fellow countryman and Twins Hall of Famer Johan Santana. Park writes that the soon-to-be 28 year-old “is trying to emphasize attacking hitters inside with his fastball and utilizing his changeup.” And you can tell how comfortable Pérez is feeling with all theses changes by looking at this quote from him on that same story: “Before, I just used my arms. Now, I’m using all my body, and you guys can see the results. I don’t miss inside anymore”. His most recent outing wasn’t nearly as good as the previous three, but that’s part of spring baseball. He gave up five earned runs in four innings of work Thursday against the Pirates. It’s wait and see time. Pérez being brought in meant valuable youngsters expecting their shot in the rotation were made to wait a bit longer. I’m talking about Adalberto Mejía and Fernando Romero, both moved up to the bullpen. So, there’s a lot at stake for Pérez here, and the front office appears to have foregone other free agents in order to give him an opportunity. If he manages to pull the Aníbal Sánchez this year and/or more, Minnesota will have hit jackpot.
  18. For most of the past decade, the Twins have taken their lumps in the starting rotation. Top prospects have flamed out or materialized on a slower trajectory. Free agents have largely been overpaid while underproducing, and only Ervin Santana has shown a glimpse of the Johan that came before him. It’s now though, that a 32nd overall pick from Puerto Rico, could be looking at as good of an opportunity as ever. Jose Berrios is coming off his best season as a big leaguer, and the first in which he pitched in the majors from the beginning. Tallying 192.1 IP, the Bayamon native posted a 3.84 ERA to go along with a 9.5 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9. He earned his first All Star appearance and posted a career best 3.3 fWAR to lead all Minnesota pitchers. There’s no denying the 2018 campaign was a good one for the 24-year-old, but there’s also avenue for improvement. Over the course of the offseason, one of the most impressive developments for the organization has been the infusion of coaching talent. Specifically relating to Berrios, Wes Johnson and Jeremy Hefner will have a significant impact on a young and moldable arm in the years ahead. While Johnson doesn’t have the big-league track record, he’s got a list of accolade at the amateur level that doesn’t stop. His teaching along with the delivery of former big-leaguer Hefner, should go far to help the Twins staff unlock a new level of potential. Although Johnson is known as a velocity guru, I’d assume there’s plenty of other knowledge he may be able to impart on Berrios. Jose has shoved right around 94 mph on average over the course of his career. His ridiculous bender is a great strikeout pitch, and his pitchability has improved while learning the tendencies of major league hitters. If there’s a middle ground to be found in looking for the next step, it’s probably in quality of contact allowed. Berrios gave up a career worst 34.2% hard hit balls last season, while allowing 12.8% of fly balls to leave the yard. His stature has always provided pause on his downward plane, and questions regarding how often pitches will result in homers. On the flip side, Berrios generated a career best 11.2% swinging strike rate and got opposing batters to chase almost one-third of the time last year. There’s really no avenue to suggest that Berrios does anything poorly. He’s well above average across the board, but it’s the smaller tweaks that may help to unlock that next tier. A year ago, he finished 11th in fWAR among American League starters. Based on betting prognostications, that’s roughly where he’s viewed going into the 2019 season. Given the assumption for continued growth from talented youth, I’m betting on another step forward being taken. As someone who has suggested an idea that the Twins are in for a great year, and Byron Buxton’s emergence will pace the offense, it’s Berrios having a coming out party that should be a blast on the bump.
  19. Why do the Twins need to make a determination on Fernando Romero so quickly? We’ll get to that, but first, let’s take a look at his background, why he should remain a starter, and why the bullpen could be an option for him as well. Regardless, it will be interesting to see what Derek Falvey, Thad Levine, Rocco Baldelli, Wes Johnson and Jeremy Heffner end up doing with Fernando Romero and the pitching staff in 2010. BACKGROUND Fernando Romero burst on the prospect scene way back in 2013 when he debuted stateside with the GCL Twins. Over 45 innings, Romero posted a 1.60 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP, and struck out 47 batters while walking just 13. In 2014, he was quickly promoted to Cedar Rapids. However, after just three starts he was shut down and had to undergo Tommy John surgery. He missed the rest of 2014 and all of 2015. His return was slowed by a knee injury in 2015. Early in 2016, Romero returned and went to the Kernels. However, he made just five starts and went 4-1 with a 1.93 ERA. In 28 innings, he walked just five and struck out 25 batters. He moved up to Ft. Myers and continued to pitch well. In 11 starts, he went 5-2 with a 1.88 ERA and a 0.93 WHIP. Over 62 1/3 innings, he walked 10 and struck out 65 batters. With the strong showing and his prospect status, it was an easy decision to add him to the 40-man roster in November of 2016. Twins Daily named him the #1 Twins Prospect heading into the 2017 season. In 2017, Romero spent the season at Double-A Chattanooga. He pitched 125 innings over 24 games (23 starts). He went 11-9 with a 3.53 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. He walked 45 and struck out 120. Prior to the 2018 season, he was ranked by Twins Daily as the #2 Twins Prospect. (It took having the #1 overall draft pick to move Romero down to #2.) For the second straight year, Romero began the season by impressing the Twins coaching staff and front office with a strong spring training. He began the season in Rochester. On May 2nd, Romero was called up to make his major league debut. He tossed 5 2/3 scoreless innings against the Toronto Blue Jays to earn his first win. His next outing was in St. Louis and he threw six shutout frames to improve to 2-0. After making ten starts, he was optioned to Rochester and made just one start for the Twins the rest of the season (mid-July). Overall with the Twins, he went 3-3 with a 4.69 ERA, a 1.42 WHIP. At Rochester, he went 5-6 with a 3.57 ERA but a 1.29 WHIP. Combined, he worked 146 1/3 innings. STARTER So why should the Twins continue to give him an opportunity to start? There are several reasons. First, he had a pretty good showing early in his big-league career as a starter. In his first five starts, he went 2-1 with a 1.88 ERA. In 28 2/3 innings, he struck out 29 batters. Not only did he put up solid numbers, he showed really good stuff. His fastball sat between 92 and 95 mph and touched 96 and even 97 at times, and he maintained that through the first five innings. He did show a good breaking ball early, something that those who watched his Triple-A didn’t see consistently. He also showed a solid changeup most of the time. He spent the full season at age 23. One thought would be to continue the development as a starter, hoping that he could find more consistency with his breaking pitches and changeup. Despite missing two years, Romero was able to reach 146 1/3 innings in 2018. Ideally, with a 20% increase, he could jump up to 175 innings, a real solid number for a mid-to-late, young starting pitcher. Over Romero’s final six starts with the team, he went 1-2 with a 7.67 ERA and a 1.74 WHIP in 27 innings. BULLPEN 2019 is a crucial season for this decision to be made thanks to the rules of the Rule 5 draft. The Twins had to add Romero to their 40-man roster in November of 2016, so he used up option years in 2017 and 2018. If optioned in 2019, he would be out of options starting in 2020. At Twins Fest, Derek Falvey would not commit to Romero being moved to the bullpen, even after the addition of Martin Perez. “I wouldn’t say that’s a definite at this point, but I would say that he is definitely an option (for the bullpen).” There are several factors that go into this kind of decision, but the eye test tells people that Romero could be a force in the bullpen. And that’s something that Falvey acknowledged as well. “Fernando is someone who you watch the first few innings and you think, ‘that could be pretty special out of the bullpen.’ That’s something we’ve always talked about.” There are varying opinions on what is best for pitchers who have had Tommy John surgery, so that’s another factor according to the Twins Chief Baseball Officer. “It’s a balance. You want to think about what’s best for his health. What’s best for his long-term? He is somebody who has history with Tommy John surgery. Is there some benefit to him working out of the bullpen?” That’s part of it, but Falvey continued with the other part of the balance. “Certainly developing third pitch and getting some more variation to his repertoire is important if he is going to continue being a starter.” Don’t forget, as so many Twins fans recall, the Johan Santana spent a couple of seasons in the Twins bullpen, used in a variety of roles, before joining the starting rotation in 2004 (his first Cy Young season). There is a lot of truth to the old saying that most of the best relief pitchers in baseball were starters early in their career. A look at some of the top relievers in Twins history certainly shows that. Joe Nathan, Rick Aguilera, Eddie Guardado and Glen Perkins were all starting pitchers early in their careers. Even top relievers such as JC Romero, Juan Rincon, LaTroy Hawkins and others made starts early in their big league years. THE FIFTH STARTER SPOT I think most would agree that Jose Berrios, Kyle Gibson, Jake Odorizzi and Michael Pineda are at least penciled into the Opening Day starting rotation. They may not need a fifth starter for a little while either, but at some point, they will need one. Martin Perez will most likely be on the Opening Day roster and is the favorite for the fifth starter spot as we speak. But there are several candidates for that spot. Some will certainly head to Rochester to start the season, but the bullpen just might be an opportunity for some of the pitchers as well. As the Twins CBO, Falvey needs to think about the big picture to the 2019 season and beyond. He needs to factor in a lot of things such as contracts, options, injuries and more. He notes, “We don’t know exactly what our team will look like on Opening Day. The reality is we’ll have injuries - hopefully less than last year - but we’ll have injuries. We’ll have struggles. We’re going to have to find ways to get those guys to step up. I think about someone like Stephen Gonsalves, or Kohl Stewart, or Fernando Romero, or Zack Littell, or Adalberto Mejia. All those guys will compete to be potential starting options for us, but if we stay healthy, maybe there’s an opportunity for those guys in the ‘pen.” YOUR TURN What will happen? How do you foresee this situation playing out. Consider what might happen as well if there is an injury. Who would you think would be the next in line? Specifically, what would you do with Fernando Romero? Clearly he’s got good fastball velocity and the potential to have three good pitches. We likely all agree that getting 175 innings out of a pitcher is probably more valuable than getting 60 to 70 innings from a reliever. Obviously Adalberto Mejia being out of options factors into decisions on him. Does Romero having just one option remaining force their hand and push a decision more quickly? Should it? What other factors would be instrumental in your decision?
  20. Snapshot (chart via FanGraphs) Jose Berrios: 66 Game Score, 7.0 IP, 2 ER, 6 K, 3 BB, 66.0% strikes Home Runs: Eddie Rosario (20), Max Kepler (14), Logan Morrison (15) Multi-Hit Games: Max Kepler (3-for-3, HR, BB), Logan Morrison (2-for-4, HR) WPA of 0.1 or higher: Kepler .318, Berrios .166 WPA of -0.1 or lower: None. Berrios ran into some control issues in the third inning. He walked three of the first four batters he faced that frame, then surrendered a two-run single to Alex Gordon. That was the only blip on the evening, as Jose went on to give up just those two runs over seven innings. It had to have been pretty cool for Berrios to have the opportunity to perform with Cy-tana in the building, and he stepped up to the occasion. The Twins hit three home runs in support of their ace. Eddie Rosario, Max Kepler and Logan Morrison all went deep, LoMo’s was particularly impressive. https://twitter.com/Twins/status/1025943723631411200 Here are the numbers on that mamoth shot: Recent waiver wire pickup Oliver Drake made his Twins debut, setting a new MLB record by appearing with his fifth different team this season. He struck out one batter over a perfect inning of work. Postgame With Molitor Bullpen Usage Here’s a quick look at the number of pitches thrown by the bullpen over the past five days: Next Three Games Sun vs. KC, 1:10 pm CT: Ervin Santana vs. Danny Duffy Mon at CLE, 6:10 pm CT: Kyle Gibson vs. Trevor Bauer Tue at CLE, 6:10 pm CT: Adalberto Mejia vs. Carlos Carrasco Last Three Games MIN 6, KC 4: Long Day at the Office CLE 2, MIN 0: Carrasco Stars in Dominant Performance CLE 6, MIN 2: Deadline Day Ends in Defeat
  21. Miami left Kinley unprotected this offseason following an up and down minor league season. He posted a 1.98 ERA at High-A but struggled to a 5.19 ERA after being bumped up to Double-A. There were some control issues as he averaged 3.7 walks per nine innings but his 12.7 strikeouts per nine was tough to ignore. Over the winter, Kinley pitched in the Dominican Winter League. In 14 appearances, he posted a 0.47 ERA with a 0.84 WHIP and a 32 to 11 strikeout to walk ratio. During one stretch, he had an 18-inning scoreless streak. It’s hard not to be impressed with those numbers even if it is a limited sample size. Kinley knows his time with Minnesota could be fleeting. “I really try not to think about it. I try to just think about preparing myself the best I can and trying to go out and execute the plan,” he told the Associated Press. “Just to establish myself as a reliable bullpen arm, not only to the coaching staff and front office’s eyes, but to the players as well.” Twins bullpen coach Eddie Guardado likens Kinley to a former Rule 5 pick. “Johan [santana] was willing to work and get better. Kinley reminds me of that. I’m not saying starting-wise, but he wants to learn, works hard, [a] very good person.” Control issues have continued to follow Kinley this spring. In the 10 innings pitched, he has six walks and a hit-by-pitch. According to the Star Tribune, Kinley’s fastball was clocked at 99 miles per hour earlier in the spring. Pair that with his 91 mile per hour slider and he could provide a power arm the Twins need in the bullpen. Minnesota’s addition of Lance Lynn added another wrinkle to fitting Kinley on the roster. The Twins were expected to start the season with a four-man rotation because of additional off-days worked into the schedule. This could allow for an eight man bullpen. Phil Hughes might be pushed to the bullpen to make way for Lynn in the rotation. As far as starters go, the Twins are looking at Jake Odorizzi, Kyle Gibson, Jose Berrios and Lance Lynn. Hughes could serve as a fifth starter or a long-man out of the bullpen. Some of the locks in the bullpen are Fernando Rodney, Addison Reed, Tayler Rogers, Zach Duke and Ryan Pressly. Trevor Hildenberger has struggled this spring so he could be sent down to start the year. He was critical to the Twins in the second half of last season so this might be enough to keep him on the roster. Players like Alan Busenitz, John Curtiss, Tyler Duffey and Gabriel Moya all have at least one option remaining. Things might have been made clear on Thursday with multiple bullpen pieces being optioned to Rochester. This could make Kinley the last player to fit into the bullpen. For the Twins and Kinley, the clock is ticking. One way or another a decision needs to be made. Do you think Kinley stays with the Twins? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.
  22. For the first time in his professional career, Fernando Romero found himself on multiple national prospect rankings. Jonathan Mayo of MLB.com ranked Romero as the 68th best prospect while Baseball Prospectus saw him sneak into the top-100 at number 97. ESPN’s Keith Law has him just inside his top-50. Most of this buzz is coming off of his potential to be a starting pitcher but he’s done very well this spring as a relief pitcher. Entering play on Sunday, Romero had yet to surrender a hit in five innings pitched. He continued that streak and added three more hitless innings to his resume. https://twitter.com/MikeBerardino/status/972921086634549254 One of the knocks on Romero has been his command. During his breakout 2016 campaign, he seemed to put it all together. He posted a 0.90 WHIP and a 1.5 BB/9. Last year, his WHIP bumped up to 1.35 and his BB/9 more than doubled (3.2 BB/9). This spring he has been focusing on attacking hitters. Even with that focus he was only successful on getting ahead of three out of the nine batters he faced on Sunday. When Seth interviewed Romero earlier this off-season, he made it clear that fastball command is where it all starts. “That’s all we do. Try to command the fastball and get them out with the slider or change up. Doesn’t matter.” With a fastball in the mid to upper 90s and a devastating slider, one has to wonder if Romero could help the Twins this season in a bullpen role. Former Cy Young winners like Johan Santana and David Price got their starts as relief pitchers. Romero has only pitched over 100 innings once in his career. If the Twins are in the playoff hunt, a shift to the bullpen could be one way he helps the club in 2018. Obviously, the ultimate goal is to have Romero near the top of a rotation. A one-two punch of Jose Berrios and Romero could be quite the homegrown tandem. Twins coaches, including Ivan Arteaga, have been working with Romero to refine his delivery. During the 2017 campaign, Romero was getting into the habit of falling off toward the first base side of the mound. This impacted his control as one can see from the numbers listed above. Coaches like Arteaga have helped him to focus on finishing with his momentum heading toward home plate. “He doesn’t need to overthrow,” Arteaga told the Pioneer Press. “He’s got velo. He’s got power. He just needed to understand that, which I think he did over time. Watching some video and working in the bullpen, he put a lot of effort into following the plan that we have for him.” Romero has impressed this spring and it seems like he could be destined for Target Field this season. Will it be as a starter or as a reliever? Only time will tell…
  23. March 11, 1961 First Game in Twins History 1950 Winona graduate and 2x All-American Golden Gopher tailback Paul Giel starts the first game in Twins history, an exhibition against the Tigers at Tinker Field in Orlando. The Tigers won 4-1. Pedro Ramos started the first regular season game in Twins history, pitching a three-hit shutout versus Berra, Mantle, Maris, and the gang at Yankee Stadium on April 11. Camilo Pascual started the Twins' first home game on April 21, a 5-3 loss to the new expansion Washington Senators. March 12, 2006 Puckett Memorial Service 15,000 fans, family, and friends including Cal Ripken Jr., Dave Winfield, Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Dan Gladden, Al Newman, Ron Gardenhire, Tom Kelly, and more pay tribute to Kirby Puckett in a moving memorial service at the Metrodome. Mudcat Grant sang “What a Wonderful World.” March 13 Happy 39th Birthday, Johan Santana It's the birthday of Twins all-time great Johan Santana, born in Tovar, Venezuela in 1979. With the first pick in the 1999 Rule 5 draft, the Twins selected Cleveland pitcher Jared Camp. The Marlins selected 20-year-old Santana from the Astros with the second pick. In a prearranged deal, Twins GM Terry Ryan then traded Camp to the Marlins for Santana plus cash money. Camp never made it to the majors. Santana, on the other hand, posted a 93-44 record over eight seasons with the Twins, winning the American League Cy Young Award in 2004 and 2006, the latter unanimously. Santana was part of a remarkable stretch for Twins baseball, during which they won the Central Division four out of five seasons from 2002 to 2006 (and again in 2009 and ‘10, after Santana’s departure). That great run of baseball, of course, was made possible by great pitching. From July 5 to 7, 2004, Brad Radke, Santana, and Kyle Lohse threw three consecutive shutouts versus the Royals at the Metrodome. The Twins outscored the Royals 25-0 over the three-game series. Santana entered the record books three times on September 24, 2004, winning his 13th straight decision, breaking the team record set by Radke in 1997. He also became the first Venezuelan 20-game winner in major league history, and broke Bert Blyleven’s team single-season strikeout record. Bert K’ed 258 in 1973. Santana took a no-decision in his final start of the season, finishing with a league-leading 2.61 ERA, 0.921 WHIP (walks + hits per inning pitched), and 265 strikeouts en route to winning his first Cy Young Award. The Twins lost the 2004 Division Series 3-1 to the Yankees, but it certainly wasn’t Santana’s fault. He pitched seven shutouts innings in Game 1, as the Twins beat Mike Mussina and the Yankees 2-0. He gave up one run over fine innings in Game 4, leaving with the lead, but the Twins eventually lost 6-5 in 11 innings. In 2005 Santana went 16-7 with a 2.87 ERA, led the league with a 0.971 WHIP, led the majors with 238 strikeouts, and finished third in Cy Young balloting to 21-game winner Bartolo Colón and Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. For the sabermetrically inclined, Santana’s WAR (wins above replacement) was 7.2, whereas Colón and Rivera’s were each 4.0 (per Baseball Reference). In 2006 Santana led the majors with a 2.77 ERA, 0.997 WHIP, 245 strikeouts, and 19 wins (tied with Chien-Ming Wang), and won his second Cy Young Award, this time by unanimous decision. It was his third consecutive season leading the league (or majors) in strikeouts and WHIP. Santana set a team record on August 19, 2007, striking out 17 Rangers in just eight innings on a Sunday afternoon at the Metrodome. He did not issue a walk or allow a run, and gave up only two hits, both to steroid-addled Sammy Sosa. Joe Nathan pitched the ninth as the Twins won 1-0 on a Michael Cuddyer home run leading off the second. Twins GM Bill Smith did the prudent thing on February 2, 2008, trading Santana to the Mets, who promptly signed him to a six-year, $137.5 million extension. In return the Twins received Carlos Gomez, and pitchers Philip Humber, Kevin Mulvey, and Deolis Guerra. Gomez hit for the eighth cycle in Twins history on May 7, 2008, and scored one of the most exciting runs in team history in the bottom of the 12th of Game 163 on October 6, 2009. Humber pitched a perfect game for the White Sox on April 21, 2012. After three very good seasons in New York, Santana missed all of the 2011 season with a shoulder injury. He came back in 2012, and pitched the first no-hitter in Mets history on June 1 versus the Cardinals at home in Queens. He pitched his final major league game just over two months later on August 17 at age 33. Plenty of people, including Mets manager Terry Collins, have wondered if it was wise to let Santana complete his 134-pitch no-hitter. Santana, for his part, has no regrets. On January 19, 2018, Twins president Dave St. Peter announced that Santana had been elected to the team Hall of Fame. He will be inducted on August 4. He appeared on just 2.4% of Hall of Fame ballots in 2018, his first year of eligibility. Because failed to garner at least 5% of the vote, he will not appear on future ballots. March 14, 1880 Birthdate of Lou Polchow It's the birthdate of Lou Polchow, born 138 years ago in Mankato, MN. Polchow pitched one major league game for the Cleveland Bronchos on September 14, 1902 at age 22, giving up five runs on nine hits and four walks over eight innings in a 5-3 loss to the St. Louis Browns in the second game of a doubleheader. The Bronchos lost the first game 2-1. Polchow pitched 10 seasons in the minors (1900–1904, 1906–1910). He passed away on August 15, 1912 in Good Thunder, MN. He was just 32 years old. March 14 Happy 62nd Birthday, Butch Wynegar It’s the birthday of 2x Twins All-Star catcher Butch Wynegar, born in York, PA in 1956. He became the youngest Twin to appear in an All-Star game as a 20-year-old rookie in 1976, pinch-hitting for former Twins pitcher Luis Tiant. Wynegar drew a walk in the 7-1 American League loss. Wynegar finished second to Detroit’s Mark Fidrych in 1976 AL Rookie of the Year balloting. The Twins traded Wynegar and pitcher Roger Erickson to the Yankees for diddly squat on May 12, 1982, just one day after trading bona fide big leaguers Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong to the Angels for minor league pitcher Mike Walters, an unproven Tom Brunansky, and $400,000 cash. Though the Brunansky deal worked out very well in retrospect, both trades were seen at the time as cheap cost-cutting measures taken by Twins owner Calvin Griffith. March 14, 1960 Birthdate of Kirby Puckett It's the birthdate of Ten-time All-Star and six-time Gold Glove winner Kirby Puckett, born 58 years ago in Chicago. He grew up in Robert Taylor Homes, the same Chicago public housing project as Mr. T. Puckett was an All-American third baseman at Calumet City High School in Chicago. After high school he got a good job at a local Ford plant, installing carpeting in Thunderbirds. After unexpectedly losing that job, however, he attended a free agent tryout in Chicago, and was offered a scholarship to play at Bradley University in Peoria, IL, where he was converted to an outfielder. Puckett's father passed away during his year at Bradley, and he transferred to Triton Junior College for the next season to be nearer to his widowed mother. Meanwhile, he played in a collegiate league that summer, where he caught the attention of Twins assistant farm director Jim Rantz, who was at a game watching his son playing for the other team. The Twins selected the stocky, 5-foot-8 outfielder in the first round (3rd overall) of the January 1982 draft, but he did not sign. That spring he hit .472 with 16 home runs (including four in one game) in 69 games for Triton, en route to being named Region IV Junior College Player of the Year. His performance convinced the Twins to up their offer. He signed and reported to Elizabethton where he hit .382 and was named Appalachian League Player of the Year by Baseball America. Not a bad year! In 1983 he played for the Single-A Visalia Oaks where he was named California League Player of the Year. He skipped Double-A and started the 1984 season with the Triple-A Toledo Mudhens. He made his major league debut in Anaheim on May 8, 1984 at age 24, going 4-for-5 with a run scored as the Twins beat the first-place Angels 5-0. Frank Viola pitched a four-hit shutout. Puckett was the sixth player in American League history to debut with a four-hit performance. He went 16-for-33 (.485) with one walk over his first seven games. Twins catcher Wilson Ramos also went 4-for-5 in his major league debut on May 2, 2010. He went 3-for-4 the next day, making him just the third player in major league history with seven hits in his first two games, and the first since the Cubs' Coaker Triplett in 1938. Puckett led the Twins with 14 stolen bases, and tied for the lead with 5 triples his rookie season. In 1985 he led the team with 21 stolen bases and 13 triples. On May 2–3, 1986, Puckett led off back-to-back games in Detroit by homering on Jack Morris and Walt Terrell's first pitch of the game. He hit for the sixth cycle in Twins history in a 10-1 win versus Oakland at the Metrodome on August 1, 1986. Bert Blyleven had a decent day, too, pitching a two-hitter, tying a team record with 15 strikeouts (since broken), and becoming the tenth player in major league history to reach 3,000 strikeouts. The next Twins cycle wouldn't come until Carlos Gomez in 2008 (22 years later). After not homering his rookie season, and hitting only four in 1985, Puckett hit a career-high 31 home runs in 1986. He would hit 83 from 1986 to 1988. According to Stew Thornley's SABR BioProject essay, Puckett was the first player in major league history to go homerless in a season (minimum 500 at-bats) and later hit 30. On Opening Day 1987, Puckett went 3-for-5 with a home run, double, two RBI, two runs scored, and robbed Oakland's Mickey Tettleton of a home run in the top of the tenth of a 5-4 Twins win. After being lectured by Tony Oliva to be more aggressive with his bat (per Stew Thornley's essay), Puckett had a weekend for the ages on August 29-30, 1987 in Milwaukee, going 10-for-11 with four home runs, two doubles, six RBI, and seven runs scored. He went 6-for-6 in the August 30 game, and robbed Robin Yount of a grand slam in the bottom of the fifth. He also collected six hits in an 11-inning game on May 23, 1991, becoming just the fourth player in major league history with two six-hit games, and the first since 1935. After struggling in the 1987 ALCS, Puckett went 10-for-28 (.357) with two walks, one double, one triple, three RBI, and five runs scored in the World Series. He scored four runs in Game 6, tying a World Series record. On September 16, 1988, Puckett doubled home Tommy frickin' Herr and Randy Bush to become the fourth player in major league history to reach 1,000 hits in his first five seasons. He had eight four-hit games in 1988, tying the Twins record set by Rod Carew in 1977. Puckett finished the season with a career-high .356 batting average, the highest American League batting average for a right-handed hitter since Joe DiMaggio hit .357 in 1941. Left-handed hitting Wade Boggs won the AL Batting Championship that year with a .366 average. Puckett set a team record with four doubles on May 13, 1989. He set another team record with his 74th multi-hit game on the final day of the 1989 season, finishing with a major league-leading .339 average with 215 hits, making him one of eight players to lead their league in hits for three consecutive seasons (Tony Oliva led the AL in hits from 1964 to '66). 1989 was Puckett's third season with 215+ hits, making him the ninth of eleven players in major league history with three such seasons. That offseason the Twins signed Puckett to an epic new three-year, $9-million contract. He went 9-for-21 (.429) with a walk, two home runs, five RBI, and four runs scored en route to being named the Most Valuable Player of the 1991 American League Championship Series. He had one of the most memorable performances in baseball history in Game 6 of the World Series, going 3-for-4 with a stolen base, three RBI, and two runs scored in a dramatic 4-3, 11-inning win. He tripled home Chuck Knoblauch and scored on a Shane Mack single to give the Twins a 2-0 first-inning lead. He made one heckuva catch in the third inning, put the Twins up 3-2 with a sacrifice fly in the fifth, driving in Dan Gladden, and singled and stole in the eighth. He led off the bottom of the 11th with probably the most famous walk-off home run in baseball history off Charlie Leibrandt. "Touch 'em all, Kirby Puckett!" He went a combined 7-for-8 with four RBI and six runs scored in World Series Game 6's. Overall, he hit .309 with five home runs in 24 postseason games. He tied a team record with three grand slams in 1992, including two over a six-day span (May 29, and June 3). The other Twins to hit three grand slams in a season were Bob Allison (1961), Rod Carew (1976), Kent Hrbek (1985), and Torii Hunter (2007). Puckett finished the 1992 season with a 7.1 WAR (wins above replacement), second only to his 7.7 in 1988, and finished runner-up to Oakland closer Dennis Eckersley in AL MVP balloting. (Kent Hrbek finished runner-up to Detroit closer Willie Hernandez in 1984). Puckett tested the free agent market following the '92 season, but chose to resign with the Twins at a discount. Puckett finished the 1992 season with a major league-leading 210 hits, becoming the 15th of 19 players in major league history with five or more 200-hit seasons. Puckett started the 1994 season with a 15-game hitting streak, and hit safely in 24 of the first 25 games. He went 5-for-6 in the fourth game of the season (April 8) to join the 2,000 Hit Club. His 1995 season was ended prematurely when he was struck in the face by a 2-0 Dennis Martinez fastball in the bottom of the first on September 28. The 36-year-old superstar appeared poised for a big year in 1996, hitting .344 in Spring Training, when, on the last day of camp, he woke up unable to see out of his right eye. He was diagnosed with glaucoma and placed on the 15-day disabled list for the first time in his career. Four surgeries did nothing to improve his vision, and he official announced his retirement on July 12. At the time of his retirement his .318 career average was the highest for a right-handed batter since Joe DiMaggio. He is still the Twins' all-time hits (2,304) and doubles (414) leader. The Twins named Puckett executive vice president of baseball on November 16, 1996. Puckett was elected to the Hall of Fame along with 1969 St. Paul Central graduate, Golden Gophers all-time great, and former Twins teammate Dave Winfield on January 16, 2001, both on their first ballots. They were inducted in Cooperstown on August 5 alongside Veterans Committee selections Bill Mazeroski and Negro League pitcher Hilton Smith, who, following his legendary Kansas City Monarchs career, played semi-pro ball in Fulda, MN in 1949 and '50. In early 2002 it was revealed that Tonya Puckett (who Kirby married following the 1986 season) was seeking a divorce, citing disturbing instances of abuse over the years. In September 2002 a woman accused Puckett of dragging her into the men's room and groping her at a suburban Twin Cities restaurant. He was acquitted of felony charges in early 2003, but with all the ugly news piling up, his sterling reputation was irreparably tarnished. Puckett, whose weight had reportedly ballooned to well over 300 pounds, suffered a massive stroke at the home he shared with his fiancé in Scottsdale, AZ on March 5, 2006. Old friend Ron Washington, in camp with the Athletics nearby, was one of the first at his bedside, while former teammates including Shane Mack and Kent Hrbek made their way to Arizona. After unsuccessful emergency surgery to relieve pressure on his brain, Puckett passed away on March 6. Ken Griffey Jr. was reportedly at his bedside when he passed. Kirby Puckett was just 45 years old, the second-youngest person to pass away after having already been elected to the Hall of Fame. Lou Gehrig, elected by a special vote following his final season, was just 37. March 15 Happy 63rd Birthday, Mickey Hatcher It’s the birthday of former Twins outfielder Mickey Hatcher, born in Cleveland, OH in 1955. The Twins acquired Hatcher from the Dodgers along with a pair of minor leaguers for Ken Landreaux near the end of Spring Training on March 30, 1981. Hatcher went 4-for-5 in a 10-1 Twins win over Oakland at the Metrodome on April 28, 1985. He had gone 5-for-5 the previous day, giving him nine consecutive hits, tying Tony Oliva’s team record established in 1967. Todd Walker matched the feat in 1998. The Twins released fan-favorite Hatcher on March 31, 1987 to make room for Dan Gladden, who they had acquired in a trade with the Giants for two minor league pitchers and a player to be named later, who would turn out to be Bemidji native and 2x Gophers Dave Winfield Pitcher of the Year Bryan Hickerson. Hatcher was still owed $650,000 for 1987 and a $100,000 buyout clause for the ‘88 season. It was the most expensive contract the Twins had eaten up to that point. Hatcher returned to Los Angeles where he played four more major league seasons. March 16 Happy 74th Birthday, Rick Renick It’s the birthday of former Twins player and coach Rick Renick, born in London, OH in 1944. Renick was the first of six Twins to homer in their first major league at-bat, doing so off Detroit's Mickey Lolich at Met Stadium on July 11, 1968. The Twins won the game 5-4. The five Twins to homer in their first big league at-bats since Renick are Dave McKay, Gary Gaetti, Andre David, Luke Hughes, and Eddie Rosario, who homered on the first pitch. Renick hit one of twelve pinch-hit grand slams in Twins history on June 30, 1970. It was the Twins' second pinch-hit grand slam of the season, the most in team history. Rich Reese hit the first one on June 7. Reese, in fact, hit 25% of the pinch-hit grand slams in team history, one each in 1969, 1970 and ‘72. Rick Renick was the third base coach for the Twins' 1987 World Series champion team. March 17, 1906 Birthdate of Hy Vandenberg It’s the birthdate of Minneapolis Roosevelt and South alumnus Harold "Hy" Vandenberg, born 112 years ago in Abilene, KS. When Hy was four his father died from tuberculosis, and his mother the surviving members of the family to Minneapolis. Vandenberg would appear in 90 major league games, going 15-10 with five saves during seven seasons spread out over an 11-year period with the Red Sox, Giants, and Cubs. According to Bill Nowlin's SABR BioProject essay, the 6-foot-4 right-hander began his professional career with the Minneapolis Millers right out of high school, though he does not appear in the statistical record until pitching for the Bloomington, IL Cubs in 1930 at age 24. He bounced around the minors, going back and forth between Bloomington, Minneapolis, and elsewhere before ending up in Syracuse in 1935 where he caught the attention of the Boston Red Sox. He made his major league debut with the Red Sox on June 8, 1935 at age 29. He gave up 12 runs in just 5 1/3 innings overall. Vandenberg didn't exactly think it was a fair audition, however, as those 5 1/3 innings came in three relief appearances spread out over a six-week period. Vandenberg next appeared in the majors in 1937, making one start with the New York Giants, giving up seven runs over eight innings in a 7-4 loss to the Dodgers at Ebbets Field. He appeared in six games for the Giants in 1938, and two in 1939, spending most of his time with their Jersey City farm team. He finally earned his first major league win on April 24, 1940 (almost five years after his MLB debut), allowing just two runs on five hits and three walks in a 5-2 Giants win in Philadelphia. The New York Times described the complete game victory as an "elegant mound triumph." He made three starts and ten relief appearances in total in 1940. Vandenberg did not pitch in the major again until re-emerging with the Cubs in 1944, going 7-4 with two saves and a 3.63 ERA over 35 games (nine starts). He had only accumulated 25 appearances over his first five major league stints combined. Vandenberg held out into the 1945 season, training at the University of Minnesota. Once he did report to the Cubs, however, he matched his success from the year before, going 7-3 with two saves and a 3.49 ERA over 30 games (seven starts). The Cubs made it to the World Series, losing to the Tigers in seven games. Vandenberg provided solid relief pitching in Games 4, 5 and 7, holding the Tigers scoreless on just one hit and three walks in six innings pitched. Despite coming off his two most successful seasons, the Cubs released Vandenberg during Spring Training 1946. Possibly dispirited, he performed poorly in the minors with Oakland and Milwaukee. In 1947 his contract was purchased by Oklahoma City, but he chose instead to leave professional baseball and pitched for the Springfield, MN team in the amateur Western Minor League. Following his playing career, Vandenberg worked as an engineering technician for the Hennepin County Highway Administration (per biographer Bill Nowlin). Hy Vandenberg died from cancer at his home in Bloomington, MN on July 31, 1994. He was 88 years old. March 17 Happy 41st Birthday, Robb Quinlan It’s the birthday of 1995 Hill-Murray graduate and 3x Gophers MVP Robb Quinlan. As a junior in high school, Quinlan set a state record by reaching base in 86 consecutive plate appearances, attracting national media attention. Quinlan attended the University of Minnesota where he hit .325 as a freshman, .363 as a sophomore, .408 as a junior, and .413 as a senior. He earned first-team All-Big Ten honors and was named the Gophers’ Richard "Chief" Siebert Most Valuable Player in 1997, '98, and '99. His 92 total bases in 1998 is still a Big Ten record. He was the Big Ten player of the year as a senior in 1999, graduating as the conference's career hits leader. As of last check (March 2018), he was still the Gophers' career leader in at-bats, hits, home runs, doubles, triples (tied), total bases, RBI, and runs scored. The summer after his junior year, Quinlan played for the St. Cloud River Bats of the Northwoods League, hitting .353 with 11 home runs and 47 RBI en route to being named the league’s Most Valuable Player. Quinlan was drafted by Angels in 10th round in 1999. He was a stud in 2002, his fourth professional season, being named the Angels’ Minor League Player of the Year after hitting .333 with 31 doubles, 13 triples, 20 home runs, and a league-leading 112 RBI for Triple-A Salt Lake. From May 29 to June 20 he went on a 21-game hitting streak during which he hit .440. On May 12, 2002 he went 5-for-5 with two home runs and eight RBI vs. Edmonton. On July 28 he went 5-for-6, hitting for the cycle with two home runs and eight RBI vs. Colorado Springs. The Angels won the World Series in 2002. Quinlan, however, would not make his major league debut until July 25, 2003 at age 26. He played in 458 major league games over eight seasons (2003-2010), all with the Angels. Despite being a career .276 hitter, he never played in more than 86 games in a single season. He went 9-for-41 (.220) with two walks in 20 career games versus the Twins. He hit his 25th and final major league home run off Francisco Liriano in a 6-3 Angels win in Anaheim on July 24, 2009. Robb’s older brother Tom Quinlan was drafted by the Blue Jays in the 27th round out of Hill-Murray in 1986 (he was also drafted by the Calgary Flames in the fourth round). He went 9-for-58 (.155) with five walks and 26 strikeouts in 42 major league games spread out over a seven-year period with the Blue Jays (1990 and '92), Phillies (1994), and Twins (four games in 1996). Joel Rippel wrote a great essay on Robb Quinlan for the SABR BioProject (click here). March 17, 1992 Twins Trade for Smiley Having lost 1991 World Series MVP Jack Morris to Toronto, the Twins trade former Golden Gopher Denny Neagle and Midre Cummings to Pittsburgh for 1991 All-Star John Smiley. I was in third grade at the time and remember being pretty excited about the Twins picking up Smiley, whose 20 wins in 1991 matched Tom Glavine, Scott Erickson, and Marshall, MN-born Bill Gullickson for the major league lead. Smiley, who finished third in NL Cy Young balloting in '91, went 16-9 with a 3.21 ERA and a career-high 5.0 WAR (wins above replacement) for the Twins in 1992. But after just the one season he was off to Cincinnati where he would make a second All-Star team in 1995. Denny Neagle, meanwhile, put together a respectable thirteen-year major league career, making All-Star teams in 1995 as a Pirate, and 1997 as a Brave. He led the National League with 20 wins in 1997, and finished third in Cy Young balloting to Pedro Martinez, and teammate Greg Maddux. Midre Cummings spent parts of 11 seasons in the majors, including 77 games with the Twins in 2000. Keep in touch with the @TwinsAlmanac on Facebook and Twitter.
  24. Interestingly enough, after I compiled my list Seth Stohs wrote about the "Top 15 Minnesota Twins Players". You'll see a lot of overlap here, but I put it in the form of a 25-man roster. Here is how I constructed the 25-man team. The roster had to be realistic. This specifically pertains to the bench and bullpen. The player had to spend over half their career with the Twins, The player had to play for the Twins for at least 5 years, The player had to play for the Twins between 1961 - current. The player had to play at that particular position for a majority of his career. The exception to this rule is the DH. Hitters Catcher - Joe Mauer Not a lot to say here. By far, Joe Mauer is the best offensive and defensive catcher in franchise history. He will go down as one of the best catcher to ever play the game, and arguably the best hitting catcher to ever play. Don't let the contract and the latter part of his career overshadow his impact on the field when he was at his best. First Base - Kent Hrbek When choosing between Hrbek and Killebrew I had to consider the defensive numbers. Hrbek was not a great defender himself but he was much better than Killebrew, so he gets slotted here. Behind Killebrew, he and Justin Morneau were the two players to consider here and Hrbek was an easy choice over Morneau. I mean who can pull a guy off first better than Herbie? Second Base - Rod Carew I wasn't around to watch Carew play but his number is retired for a reason. With the Twins he played mostly 2B, but later in his career he became a full time 1B for the Angels. Other than Knoblauch and Dozier, there really aren't any other options here. As much as he is known for his offense, he was an okay defender as well. Third Base - Corey Koskie This was a toss-up between Koskie and Gary Gaetti. From my perspective, Koskie was the better overall player and thus garnered the starting job. The former Canadian hockey goalie was a superb defender and also a good guy to have in the middle of a line up. It's too bad concussions limited his career as he could have been a solid player for a long time. Shortstop - Roy Smalley In the entire history of the Twins franchise, there are only three guys to even consider for this spot. Smalley, Zoilo Versalles and Greg Gagne. Smalley wins the job and it's not even close. The other two were better defenders but were non-factors at the plate. I'm the kind of guy who prefers a player who can contribute to both aspects of the game rather than one aspect really well. Left Field - Shane Mack Behind even shortstop, this is probably the weakest position in franchise history. Bob Allison would have been the shoo-in here but he spent a majority of his career in right field. Mack was the de facto left fielder. Hey, at least he brings some championship pedigree to the team. Center Field - Kirby Puckett Was there ever a doubt? Torii was great, but Kirby was greater. I was a little too young to watch much of his career before his unfortunate early retirement, but he may be the most popular and adored Twin of all time. I've never heard it live, but I can still hear Bob Casey announcing Kirby's name in the Dome. Right Field - Tony Oliva This one was easy. Obviously, Oliva was one of the best Twins of all time, as his number is retired. Bob Allison was the only other true contender at this spot. Oliva is one of only a few Twins to finish his career with a batting average above .300, was the Rookie of the Year in 1964 and finished second in MVP voting twice ('65 & '70). DH - Harmon Killebrew This is the perfect spot for him. He wasn't a good defender at all and he is one of the best hitters of all time. He is the best Twins hitter, probably even player, in franchise history. Pitching Staff I used innings pitched to determine if the player spent more than half his career as a Twin. Ace - Johan Santana This was a tough call. Arguably, he was the most dominant pitcher in Twins history but that was only for a stretch of five or so years. The two behind him weren't so much dominant, but were able to maintain consistently solid production over a longer period of time. Nonetheless, Johan is the ace. Over the five or so years he was the best pitcher in baseball winning two Cy Young Awards ('04 and '06) while garnering some MVP votes in those seasons as well. If I needed to win one game, I'd choose Johan in his prime. Starting Pitcher No. 2 - Bert Blyleven Excluding Steve Carlton, who didn't qualify for my list anyway, Bert is the only Twins pitcher to be elected to Cooperstown who also qualified for this list. When choosing between him and Jim Kaat that HoF honor was what gave Blyleven the edge. Bert spent just over half (51.6% IP) as a Minnesota Twin. In all, he pitched for 22 big league seasons. Never truly dominant but almost always a reliable pitcher. Starting Pitcher No. 3 - Jim Kaat If Bert is in the Hall of Fame, then Kaat needs to be. Their statistics are practically the same, although Kaat won only one World Series back in '82 with the Cardinals and he wasn't much of a contributor for them. That said, he holds the major league record for winning 16 consecutive Gold Gloves. Most pitchers' careers don't last 16 years. Starting Pitcher No. 4 - Camilo Pascual Camilo is another guy who wasn't too dominant, but was able to consistently produce over a long career. He was the franchise's first "ace" and deserves to be in the rotation. To be fair, the candidates drop off pretty quick after the top 3 or 4. Starting Pitcher No. 5 - Frank Viola Viola was key to the 1987 World Series championship (he was the MVP) and followed that up by winning the Cy Young in 1988. If it wasn't for being traded, he probably would have been slotted as the No. 4, but it hurt his Twins resume a little bit that he wasn't here longer. That said, we did end up getting a key piece back who will show up later in this list. Long Relief - Jim Perry Admittedly, I just took the Twins starting pitcher who just missed the cut and put him here. Honestly, I think Pascual, Viola and Perry could all be put in whatever order you wanted. He fits the description of most Twins pitchers, which is not dominant but consistently solid. The two best years of his career were in '69 and '70 where he finished third and first in Cy Young voting, respectively. Middle Relief No. 1 - Tom Hall Hall spent the Twins portion of his career bouncing back and forth between the bullpen and the rotation. He had a very nondescript career, never garnering an award vote of any kind and never making an All-Star Game. That said, as a reliever Hall could give you multiple innings and averaged over a strikeout per inning. Middle Relief No. 2 - LaTroy Hawkins If you can last as long as LaTroy did in the era that he did it, then you are one of the best to do it. He pitched for 21 seasons in the big leagues and was solid all the way through his retirement season in 2015 with the Blue Jays. Hawkins was converted to a relief pitcher after five largely unsuccessful seasons as a starter. As with Hall, he never garnered an award vote of any kind and never made an ASG. Set up No. 1 - Glen Perkins The Twins second-best closer of all time would be my first choice as the set up guy. Perkins was unsuccessful as a starter, but found his niche as a fire-throwing closer. It's unfortunate that injuries derailed the last few years of his career and forced him into an early retirement. I have to imagine the highlight of his career (for himself and Twins fans) was seeing him close out the 2014 All-Star Game in his home stadium. Set up No. 2 - Rick Aguilera Aguilera came to the Twins in the trade that sent Viola to the Mets in '89. Although he made 11 starts that year, he made 460 relief appearances as a member of the Twins. He did well with the Twins as he made the ASG three times, garnered MVP votes in 1991, and was a key contributor to the '91 World Series title. Set up No. 3 - Juan Rincon Rincon had a pretty good stretch from 2004 - 2006. When in a crunch, the Twins could relied upon Rincon to get them out of a jam. Obviously, a key skill to have as a set up guy. Closer - Joe Nathan Not much to say here. He is the best Twins closer of all time, finished his career with the most saves in Twins history and was one of the best in the game when he was in his prime. In '04 and '06 he was actually in the Cy Young and MVP talks a little bit. In all of baseball, there aren't many closers that were as good as he was. Honorable Mentions (Bench) OF/1B - Bob Allison He primarily played right field, which disqualified him from the left field spot. I feel like he is one of the overlooked Twins greats. No, his number isn't retired, but he spent all of his 13 years in a Senators/Twins uniform and hit 256 home runs in that time. If it wasn't for injuries I think his career could have been longer and he could have passed the 300 HR plateau. C - Early Battey Any realistic roster needs a back-up catcher. Battey is the guy. While with the Senators/Twins franchise he won three Gold Gloves, made four ASGs and finished top 10 in MVP voting three times. 2B/SS - Chuck Knoblauch A key cog to the 1991 World Series and a good player for the Twins over 7 years. He'll be a good guy to have off the bench when we need speed on the base paths. Utility - Gary Gaetti He was Nick Punto before Nick Punto was Nick Punto. The only two positions he didn't play throughout his career were CF and C. He wasn't necessarily a great player, but was solid for the Twins. He was another important piece in the '87 World Series team. In my eyes, my biggest "snub" was Torii Hunter. When constructing a realistic 25-man roster I needed to have a back-up catcher which is where Battey made the list over Hunter. Another area I struggled with was the bullpen construction. After Perry, Nathan, Aguilera, and Perkins the pickins' got slim and I ended up having to consider individual seasons over career stats. Carl Willis was a name that almost made the cut. So what do you think? Who did I miss? Let the debate begin!
  25. This list is obviously subjective, but I’d love to hear from you. What are your favorite ads produced by the Twins or featuring Twins players? Laurel Krahn (@wintwins on Twitter) has a wonderful playlist on YouTube with more than 100 Twins commercials. But even the Internet has its limitations. I’m sure there are some great older ones that aren’t out there on YouTube. 10. Joe Mauer Mean Joe Green Tribute 9. Sorta Deep Thoughts With Bert Blyleven and Carl Pavano https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zT4jCLoxWYk&feature=youtu.be 8. Ron Gardenhire on TC’s Natural Habitat 7. Kent Hrbek’s First Base Lessons for Joe Mauer 6. Get to Know Em: Cristian Guzman 5. Sorta Deep Thoughts With Justin Morneau and TC https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jqY5E_FDIUM&feature=youtu.be 4. Johan Santana/Joe Nathan Carpool 3. Torii Hunter Birthday party pinata 2. Michael Cuddyer’s Magic Show 1, Get to Know Em: Corey Koskie There were some tough choices, and I shared another 10 spots I really enjoyed on Twitter outside of this batch. A few of these are from the same ad campaigns, but they were so good I couldn’t narrow down to just one per year. The Twins renaissance in the early 2000s had more to do with the players on the field and their success than any ad campaign, but the Get to Know ‘Em commercials were brilliant. The Twins were a developing club packed with young talent, but the players were still mostly anonymous even in a lot of parts of Twins Territory. The team had been an afterthought for several years. In 2000, they averaged just 12,355 fans per game, topping only the Montreal Expos in attendance that season. To put that into some more perspective, the Tampa Bay Rays were dead last in attendance in 2017, but they drew 15,477 fans on average. Hunt Adkins was the agency behind those Get to Know ‘Em commercials that put the focus on the players, their stories and their backgrounds. They had a great four-year relationship with the Twins. The team has has been partnered with Periscope the past 13 years — I especially appreciated their Sorta Deep Thoughts commercials — but a new agency will be at the helm in 2018: Carmichael Lynch. Here’s a link to some of the agency’s work, which includes the Jack Link’s Beef Jerky Messin’ With Sasquatch ads. OK, now it’s your turn. What are your favorite Twins commercials?
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