The All Franchise Team (1991-2000)

July 3, 2014

C Brian Harper 1991-1993 .307/.343/.426/.769 109 OPS+ 6.7 WAR
As in the previous decade, Harper might have been overshadowed because his career was split between two arbitrary decade markers. The Twins got some surprising production out of Terry Steinbach late in the decade, but the last three years of Harper’s Twins career was better.

1B Kent Hrbek 1991-1994 .260/.361/.442/.803 116 OPS+ 0 WAR
These were the decline years for Hrbek and still, excluding his final season, he was productive for the Twins. From 1995 to the end of the decade, the Twins searched in vain to fill Hrbek’s “spot” at first base, which may be the best tribute to T-Rex.

2B Chuck Knoblauch 1991-1997 .304/.391/.416/.807 114 OPS+ 37.9 WAR
The MVP of the decade and one of the best players in franchise history.

SS Pat Meares 1993-1998 .265/.301/.381/.682 76 OPS+ 6.0 WAR
Meares gets this sport over two seasons of Gagne at the beginning of the decade and two seasons of Guzman at the end. Meares was a consistent performer and provided decent offensive production considering his solid defense up the middle.

3B Corey Koskie 1998-2000 .298/.388/.495/.833 109 OPS+ 5.1 WAR
Third base was a bit of a revolving door for the Twins until Koskie locked down the job late in the decade. He was probably the team’s best hitter in 1999 and 2000 but did not get much recognition. His defensive reputation as a rookie was poor, but he worked hard and became a very good defensive third baseman as well.

LF Shane Mack 1991-1994 .306/.372/.483/.855 130 OPS+ 17.2 WAR
Mack played right field for the World Series team but was moved primarily to left the following season. The Twins got five prime seasons from Mack, who was not the same player when he returned from Japan.

CF Kirby Puckett 1991-1995 .315/.363/.492/.856 127 OPS+ 19.4 WAR
Was primarily a right fielder in his last couple of seasons, but played more center field in the decade. Puckett, like Hrbek, was in his autumn years. Unlike Hrbek, he was productive right the the end, though the end came more suddenly for Puckett.

RF Matt Lawton 1995-2000 .274/.377/.426/.803 105 OPS+ 9.1 WAR
Lawton took over for Puckett in right field. Though he was up and down, he had some very good seasons and held down the position for the last half of the decade.

DH Chili Davis 1991-1992 .282/.385/.476/.862 136 OPS+ 5.3 WAR
Davis started a revolving door of veteran designated hitters including Dave Winfield and Paul Molitor. Only played with the team for two seasons, but was a huge power threat in the middle of the lineup in a decade in which the team had very few of them.

SP Brad Radke 1995-2000 4.32 ERA 4.39 FIP 1.290 WHIP 114 ERA+ 27.7 WAR
Radke was a very good pitcher for a very bad team for a very long time. The good news for him is that the team’s fortunes would turn for the better in the next decade.

SP Kevin Tapani 1991-1995* 4.12 ERA 3.74 FIP 1.287 WHIP 106 ERA+ 15.6 WAR
Tapani’s name often gets forgotten among the World Series rotation because of Jack Morris and Scott Erickson, but he was not only a better pitcher for the Twins after 1991, he might have been the best pitcher on that team.

SP Scott Erickson 1991-1995* 4.34 ERA 4.14 FIP 1.425 WHIP 102 ERA+ 12.6 WAR
Erickson was a but maddening to follow with some very high highs and low lows throughout the early 90′s.

SP Eric Milton 1998-2000 4.96 ERA 4.61 FIP 1.325 WHIP 101 ERA+ 9.7 WAR
Milton came to the Twins in the Knoblauch trade and had three solid seasons to kick off his career.

CL Rick Aguilera 1991-1999* 3.59 ERA 3.80 FIP 1.183 WHIP 130 ERA+ 12.5 WAR
Held down the closer role for the vast majority of the decade. Aggie was considered one of the best closers in the game for a period.

RP Carl Willis 1991-1995 3.65 ERA 3.08 FIP 1.268 WHIP 120 ERA+ 3.8 WAR
The veteran had his best seasons with the Twins and was a throwback in how versatile he was.

RP Eddie Guardado 1993-2000 5.06 ERA 4.84 FIP 1.456 WHIP 96 ERA+ 4.5 WAR
Guardado makes this list more due to longevity than quality, but towards the end of the decade he improved and was a very good pitcher, foreshadowing his success as a closer in the early 2000′s.

*Stats aside from WAR include partial seasons with other teams.


The Franchise 2000 (Position Players)

June 29, 2014

C Matt LeCroy -1.1 WAR
C AJ Pierzynski 0.6 WAR
It seems at though the organization wanted to give LeCroy every chance to be the starting catcher. The 24-year-old had power potential that was unique in an organization that had largely not participated in the power surge of the late 1990′s. LeCroy had a miserable 56 games, ending with a .174/.254/.323/.577 line. LeCroy was sent back to the minors by the middle of June, but the Twins had problems finding a successful catcher the rest of the season. Marcus Jensen and Chad Moeller both got some time. In Mid-August, Tom Kelly turned to AJ Pierzysnki, who had enough success that he finished out the regular season and remained the team’s starting catcher well into the 2000′s.

1B Ron Coomer -0.2 WAR
Coomer became a free agent after the season. The Twins had hoped that he would show some major league power, but after six seasons with the Twins he never hit more than 16 home runs in the majors. Coomer played for the Cubs, Yankees, and Dodgers in 2001-2003, and was finished his major league career at the age of 36.

2B Jay Canizaro 0.0 WAR
The Twins felt they needed a bridge at second for a year to move away from Todd Walker, who the organization thought needed a change of scenery, to Luis Rivas, who was considered the second baseman of the future. Jay Canizaro, who had made his major league debut in 1996 with the Giants but had been largely a minor league player since, signed as a free agent with the Twins in the offseason. His solid play, particularly on defense, created some rumors that perhaps Rivas would not be the starter by 2001. His offensive numbers tailed off as the season wore on, and injury prevented him from playing in 2001 and pushing Rivas’ debut back. Canizaro appeared in 38 games in 2002, but did not see any more major league action. He is probably most remembered for his role in the Barry Bonds story.

SS Cristian Guzman 1.2 WAR
20 triples put Guzman in some rare company. While major league history is full of 20+ triple season (19 triples in a season puts you in 113th place on the all time single-season triples list), most of them are from the dead-ball era or before. Guzman was only the 5th player since 1945 to hit 20 more more in a season (Willie Mays, George Brett, Willie Wilson, and Lance Johnson were the others).

3B Corey Koskie 2.8 WAR
The rap on Koskie when he first came up with the Twins was that he had a shaky glove at third base. Over the course of a few years, Koskie worked, reportedly in the snow in Minnesota, at his defense until it became a strength of his. He also became a consistent major league hitter, but never seemed to get the recognition, including in 2000 when he was the team’s best hitter. In acknowledgements of this fact, adjectives like a “quiet” .300 hitter were used. The Twins organization seemed to want more power from Koskie, and his name was more often mentioned for disappointing power than for the positives that Koskie was bringing to the team.

LF Jacque Jones 1.3 WAR
A year after challenging Hunter for the center field job, Jones settled in as the team’s regular left fielder in his second season in the major leagues. The shift down the defensive spectrum made his offensive numbers less valuable, but he was still the team’s power hitter with 19 home runs in 2000.

CF Torii Hunter 0.2 WAR
Hunter struggled early and spent June and July in the minors after posting a .207/.243/.300/.543 line through the first two months of the season. Many speculated that Hunter’s struggles were related to his relationship with manager Tom Kelly, which was somewhat strained. Whatever the reason, at Salt Lake City he found his swing and started hitting again, and by the end of the season he was at a more respectable .280/.318/.408/.726 line. Hunter already was developing a reputation as a very good center fielder, but he was a -6 run defender in 2000.

RF Matt Lawton 2.3 WAR
After a poor showing in 1999, Lawton returned to the Twins and declared that his eye socket had fully healed. It seemed he was right because Lawton had another good season in 2000. After the season, Terry Ryan attempted to squash trade rumors, saying that he did not envision Lawton being traded away.

DH David Ortiz 0.7 WAR
DH Butch Huskey -1.0 WAR
Butch Huskey was brought in on s minor league deal in the hopes that the Twins would get some veteran power. That did not pan out, and Huskey would not see more major league action after 2000. 24-year-old David Ortiz hit 10 home runs, which was disappointing, but got on base at a .364 rate, which made him the OBP leader among the regular players.

UT Denny Hocking 1.0 WAR
His age 30 season was, by the numbers, the best of Hocking’s career.


The Franchise 1999 (Pitchers)

June 15, 2014

SP Brad Radke 6.5 WAR
Radke’s 1999 is exhibit “A” in terms of great seasons that might be overlooked due to a pitcher’s win-loss record. Though he set a career best in WAR (6.5) and his 2nd best season according to ERA+ (135), Radke finished the season with a 12-14 record. At the age of 26, Radke had his best statistical season, almost two full wins (according to WAR) ahead of his 20-pitching-win 1997 season.

SP Eric Milton 4.2 WAR
After taking his lumps as a rookie, Milton had a solid sophomore season. Jim Souhan relayed a story about Milton’s turn around. According to Souhan, a “guy” who coached Milton years before in the Cape Cod League called the left-handed pitcher at some point during the 1998 season and told him to pay attention to where his right foot was landing. Milton discovered that his foot was landing to the left of the mound, sapping velocity and snap off of the curve ball. Milton adjusted his landing spot four prints to the right and discovered another 4 mph on his fastball and a much sharper curve. Whether the story is true or not, there was clearly more success for Milton in major league year two, including a no-hitter.

SP LaTroy Hawkins -0.4 WAR
Hawkins took another step back after showing improvement in the 1998 season. Though the team was thin in starting pitching, he was moved to the bullpen the next season.

SP Mike Lincoln 0.0 WAR
The fact that Lincoln, a 13th round draft pick of the Twins in 1996, got 15 starts in is an indication of how difficult it was for the Twins to find starting pitching. Though he struggled through his rookie year, Lincoln had a few decent seasons as a relief pitcher, mostly for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Interestingly, Lincoln had two elbow surgeries in 2004, but returned to some success after four years out of the majors in 2008.

SP/RP Joe Mays 3.0 WAR
It would be a nice story to say that Joe Mays pitched so well out of the bullpen that he earned a starting job, but the truth is that the rookie’s ERA after his final appearance as a regular relief pitcher on June 17 was 5.72. By the time the season ended, Mays’ ERA was 4.37 (116 ERA+). In 20 starts (118.2 IP), Mays struck out 82 to 43 walks, allowed .700 OPS to opponents, and compiled a 3.72 ERA.

CL Rick Aguilera 1.3 WAR
Aguilera pitched very well in the first month and a half of the season, which simply made the 37-year-old a more valuable trade chip for the Twins who desperately wanted to drop his salary. The deal with the Cubs occurred on May 21 and netted the team pitchers Kyle Lohse and Jason Ryan. Aguilera left the Twins after 11 seasons. His line: 490 G, 694 IP, 3.50 ERA, 130 ERA+, 254 SV, 3.58 FIP, 1.182 WHIP, 3.27 SO/W. When he left the team in May of 1999, he was the last playing link to the 1991 World Series.

CL Mike Trombley 1.9 WAR
Though he was not Aggie, Trombley filled in admirably for the best closer in team history. It was enough closer experience to effectively price Trombley out of the Twins’ range. He became a free agent after the season and joined the Baltimore Orioles.

RP Bob Wells 1.9 WAR
Wells was already a veteran of five major league seasons when he joined the Twins as a free agent. The 32-year-old was a different pitcher for the Twins, setting career highs in appearances (76) and improving his ERA+ from 75 in 1998 with Seattle to 133 with the Twins.

RP Travis Miller 1.5 WAR
RP Eddie Guardado 1.1 WAR
Lefties Miller and Guardado also had very good seasons as Loogys, with Miller being dominant at times. The two of them rounded out a bullpen that was a quiet strength of the 1999 team.

 


The Franchise 1999 (Position Players)

June 10, 2014

C Terry Steinbach 1.2 WAR
C Javier Valentin 0.9 WAR
Steinbach came back for one more year in his age 37 season. The expectation out of spring was not great for his bat, but his value was felt to be in the way he handled the young pitching staff. It was also felt that, though he had experience for the last several years, Javy Valentin was not yet ready to be an every day catcher. The buzz was that if Steinbach wasn’t able to play the Twins might turn to prospect Matt LeCroy. As it turned out, when Steinbach went down with an injury, the team brought A.J. Pierzynski up for 9 games. Steinbach was only out of for a short stint, and had a better-than-expected season at the plate. He performed so well that he mulled playing again in 2000, but ultimately retired in the winter. In three seasons with the Twins, Steinbach batted .256/.321/.391/.748 with 30 home runs.

1B Doug Mientkiewicz -1.7 WAR
IF Ron Coomer 0.8 WAR
Mientkiewicz was considered the team’s most polished prospect heading into the season. He won the Eastern League batting title in 1998 and earned a starting job with the Twins out of spring training in 1999. Mientkiewicz was known mostly for his glove and hitting for average. He was often compared with Mark Grace. The rookie found major league pitching to be a giant step up from AA ball, and struggled offensively most of the season. By June, Ron Coomer was getting more and more playing time at first base (and less at third due to Koskie’s success).

2B Todd Walker 0.3 WAR
After getting off to his typical slow start, Todd Walker slowly brought his hitting numbers up as the season went on. He ended at .279/.343/.397/.740. Tom Kelly and the organization were pretty public with the idea that if Walker was not going to be a 20 home run guy (he hit 9 in 1999), that they would like to see his batting average above .300. Walker was also not a favorite of the organization due to the fact that he didn’t run fast and defensively, according to Jim Souhan “his range is limited and he doesn’t have soft hands.” Ultimately Walker was traded to the Rockies in the summer of 2000.

SS Cristian Guzman -2.5 WAR
While the company line was mostly positive, it’s hard to look at Cristian Guzman’s rookie year as anything but an extended time for the young man to take his lumps, particularly at the plate. His final OPS+ was 38. A switch hitter, Guzman showed a large split at the plate (.470 OPS vs right-handed pitching, .736 vs left-handed pitching). The Twins, at least publicly, were very impressed with his defense and speed. Despite a tough year, Guzman returned as the starter in 2000.

3B Corey Koskie 2.6 WAR
Koskie started the season as a part-time third baseman whose glove was considered shaky and offense was questionable at the major league level. By June, he had established himself as the cream of the young crop of Twins. He worked hard at his fielding and ended the season as a +8 third baseman. Koskie was also the best hitter on the team in 1999. The plan out of spring training was for Koskie to platoon with veteran Ron Coomer at third base, but Koskie’s success meant Coomer ended up spelling Mientkiewicz at first base more often.

LF Chad Allen -0.8 WAR
The Twins drafted Allen in the 4th round of the 1996 draft. He made his debut in 1999. Allen’s rookie year would be his busiest major league season, accounting for almost half of his game appearances over the course of a 7-year major league career.

CF Torii Hunter 0.8 WAR
OF Jacque Jones 1.8 WAR
Hunter was among those Twins rookies who fought to keep their heads above water in a difficult 1999 season. Hunter’s performance was pretty good, and the team was hoping that he would continue to improve. There was already some buzz surrounding the 23-year-old’s defense in center field, but in the late summer months the Twins brought Jacque Jones up to challenge Hunter for the center field position. Jim Souhan was among those who felt Jones had the inside edge because of his versatility.

RF Matt Lawton 0.5 WAR
Lawton missed a month in the early part of the season due to a fractured eye socket as a result of a Dennys Reyes pitch to the face. When he went down on June 8 Lawton had on OPS of .741 – down a bit from the standards Lawton had set in the previous two seasons. By the end of the season Lawton’s OPS was .708, well down from his standards.

DH Marty Cordova 0.9 WAR
At the age of 29 Cordova was on the outside looking in of the team’s youth movement. Though his numbers were up slightly from the previous two seasons, it was clear that there was little room on the team for the former rookie of the year. He became a free agent after the season and landed with the Toronto Blue Jays in 2000 where he struggled. Cordova had a monster year with Cleveland in 2001, and finished his career with Baltimore in 2002 and 2003.

IF Denny Hocking -0.6 WAR
IF Brent Gates 0.9 WAR

 


1999: Milton’s No Hitter

June 3, 2014

Most of this is taken from something I originally wrote in 2008. I did do some updating, however.

Just about everything was negative for the Twins in 1999. They were well on their way to a seventh consecutive losing season, and hadn’t really had anything to get excited about in recent memory. On a Saturday morning in September, Eric Milton gave the Twins’ organization and its fans something to cheer about.

The game started at 11 AM local time due to a scheduling conflict with the University of Minnesota football team. The early start, combined with the Twins’ performance over the past few years added up to an announced crowd of just over 11,000, despite the fact that the game was not being televised due to MLB rules. The early start had an effect on the game as well. The Angels, who were far from an offensive juggernaut in 1999, had most of their best players watching from the bench, including Mo Vaughn, Tim Salmon, Garret Anderson, and Jim Edmonds. Even the middle-of-the-road starters were getting a break. Gar DiSarcina and Randy Velarde were not used on this day either. While they weren’t world beaters, they were better than the replacement level or below players that were in the lineup.

Starting Lineups

Anaheim Angels Minnesota Twins
1 Jeff DaVanon RF 1 Jacque Jones CF
2 Orlando Palmeiro CF 2 Denny Hocking SS
3 Todd Greene LF 3 Matt Lawton RF
4 Troy Glaus 3B 4 Terry Steinbach C
5 Steve Decker DH 5 Todd Walker DH
6 Matt Luke 1B 6 Corey Koskie 3B
7 Bret Hemphill C 7 Torii Hunter LF
8 Trent Durrington 2B 8 Doug Mientkiewicz 1B
9 Andy Sheets SS 9 Cleatus Davidson 2B
Ramon Ortiz P Eric Milton P

Troy Glaus may be a recognizable name now, but in 1999 he had yet to make a name for himself.

The Twins’ offense did its part early, scoring four runs off of Anaheim starter (and future Twins) Ramon Ortiz in the first two innings. Milton walked Orlando Palmiero in the first inning, and walked Jeff Davanon in the third, but worked around those walks and was looking pretty good with five strikeouts through three innings.

In about the sixth inning, catcher Terry Steinbach got a feeling, quoted here by LaVelle E. Neal III in the Star Tribune:

I was sitting there and I had this feeling that anything can happen,” said Steinbach, who was with Oakland in 1990 when he caught Dave Stewart’s no-hitter. “You don’t want to get too carried away with it. Just keep doing what you’re doing, keep moving the ball in and out and see where it goes.”

The sixth inning was when the crowd began to buzz as well. When Milton finished off a pesky at bat against Andy Sheets by blowing him away with a high fastball for the strikeout, the Metrodome crowd started to get the same feeling as Steinbach.

Neal noted that Milton’s fastball was in the low 90’s the entire game, and that his control was near perfect throughout. Denny Hocking’s two-run home run in the fifth had given the Twins a 6-0 lead, so the drama rested solely on Milton’s shoulders.

Milton sent down the Angels in order in the seventh inning, including two more strikeouts to bring his game total to 11. The eighth was another quick inning, and Milton added one more strikeout to the total when he caught Matt Luke looking.

In the middle of the eighth inning, the Twins did their regular trivia promotion. The question: “Who threw the first no-hitter in Twins history?” The bit gave Tom Kelly some negativity for the post game.

“That was quite upsetting,” Twins manager Tom Kelly said. “I know it was for the players. I don’t know if [Milton] saw it, but the players were very upset. I don’t know what possessed them to do that today of all days, unless it was a coincidence.”

If Milton saw it, the question didn’t seem to bother him, as he went about his business of getting Angels out. The lefty recorded the first two outs of the ninth inning, and only Jeff Davanon stood between Milton and a no-hitter.

With the count full, Milton blew his money pitch by Davanon, a fastball for strike three to end the game.

Box

Minnesota Twins            IP     H   R  ER   BB  SO  HR    ERA    
E Milton, W (7-11)          9     0   0   0    2  13   0   4.64
		           BF  Pit-Str   GB-FB  GmSc  IR-IS
			   28  122-78     4-9     98    -

Anaheim’s interim manager Joe Maddon was the subject of a lot of criticism for leaving his big bats on the bench late in the game. To his credit, he managed to the best interests of his team, rather than to break up a no-hitter. Down 7-0, he didn’t feel that bringing in the starters who were supposed to have a day off was the best move for the team.

Milton took care of those batters he did face, however, and recorded the top Bill James Game Score in team history, a 98. Still, its considered one of the least impressive no-hitters in history.


The Franchise 1999 (Part 1)

June 1, 2014

1999 Minnesota Twins

Manager Tom Kelly 14th season (14th with Minnesota 986-1074)
63 W 97 L 1 T 686 RS 845 RA 5th AL Central 33.0 GB (Cleveland 97-65)
4.26 RPG (AL = 5.18) 5.00 ERA (AL = 4.86)
.684 DER (7th AL)

All Stars (1) Ron Coomer

Franchise (1901-1999) 7266-7990-111; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1999) 3048-3126-7; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS

While prospects had started trickling onto the major league roster starting in 1997, the team didn’t really experience an all out youth movement until 1999. The average age for hitters on the Twins dropped from 29.8 in 1998 to 26.8 in 1999; for pitchers it dropped from 28.7 to 26.3. Overall, the Tom Kelly played 17 rookies in 1999.

For the Twins 1999 was a case of history repeating itself. The team lost 97 games, the most losses for the franchise since 1982, another year in which a number of rookies and young players were thrown into the major leagues. It took that team – the Gaettis and Hrbeks and Violas, two seasons to get to the .500 mark, and five total to get to the World Series. It would also take this version of the Twins two seasons to reach .500, and three to become the dominant team in the AL Central.

While 1999 was clearly a down season for the team, it was not without its highlights. Eric Milton threw a no-hitter in September. Corey Koskie had a very good season at third base, winning the job from the team’s lone all star representative.

The season ended on an odd note, when a 1-1 game against the White Sox was called due to rain, wind, and cold in the middle of the 7th inning. Mercifully, the umpires put the season out of its misery a few innings early.


The Franchise 1998 (Pitchers)

May 27, 2014

SP Brad Radke 5.2 WAR
Most of Radke’s 1998 numbers weren’t too far off the pace he set for himself in 1997. The major difference was 12 wins in 1998 versus 20 in 1997, which is also the difference between gaining Cy Young and MVP votes and not being considered at all for post season awards. It was also the difference between an organization that felt comfortable they had a top of the line starter and one that was in near-panic mode because Radke was struggling. During a long stretch in which Radke won only a pair of games, there was speculation that hitters had learned how to deal with Radke, and that the 25-year-old was having more 19 and 20 pitch innings than in the past. That talk quieted a bit when Radke finished the season with a few strong outings. Radke had enough success that he was a subject of trade talks and rumors during the offseason, and the speculation was that Terry Ryan might be able to get several prospects for Radke. In the end, Radke remained a Twin.

SP LaTroy Hawkins 2.1 WAR
The Twins were hoping that, given a secure starting spot, LaTroy Hawkins would turn a corner. Instead, he had an up and down season that, while an improvement over his 1997 performance, left more questions about his long term role than answers.

SP Eric Milton 2.0 WAR
Milton, the lefty who came over in the Chuck Knoblauch trade at a time he was considered the top pitching prospect in the Yankee organization, made his major league debut in April of 1998. Milton created quite a buzz early with a 1.75 spring training ERA and two very good starts in his first two games. He came back to earth a bit in his third start, allowing 7 earned runs to the Seattle Mariners in 3 2/3 innings pitched. Milton had spells where he was very good, and spells in which he was very bad. Overall, there was a lot of hope after his rookie season.

SP Bob Tewksbury 3.3 WAR
SP Mike Morgan 3.7 WAR
When 37-year-old Bob Tewksbury and 38-year-old Mike Morgan went down with injuries in the middle of the season, the Twins were in second place in the AL Central, 11.5 games out (as of July 14). By the end of the season, they were in 4th place and 19 games back. Morgan was traded to the Cubs in August, and Tewksbury retired following the season.

CL Rick Aguilera 2.0 WAR
On April 21, a 37-year-old Rick Aguilera blew his 3rd save of the season. With only two successful saves under his belt at the time, he had an ERA of 4.97 and there was a lot of speculation that he had nothing left in the tank. By the end of the season, his ERA was still high by his standards (3.65 – 113 ERA+), but he had converted 38 saves in 47 opportunities.

RP Mike Trombley 2.8 WAR
Trombley became a different pitcher after he learned the forkball in 1996. He went from being below average in relief to very solid. He had another very good season in 1998.

RP Greg Swindell 1.9 WAR
Swindell continued to be an effective reliever, and the Twins dealt him for prospects at the July trade deadline. He came to the Twins on the heels of a five year slump in which he wasn’t a particularly effective pitcher. He left as one of the better relievers in baseball and pitched effectively for the Red Sox and Diamondbacks until he retired after the 2002 season.

RP Eddie Guardado 1.2 WAR
Guardado appeared in 79 game in 1998 and had another solid season.

RP Hector Carrasco 1.5 WAR
Carrasco was drafted by the Diamondbacks in the 1997 expansion draft but ended up being available for the Twins on waivers just prior to the start of the 1998 season.


The Franchise 1998 (Position Players)

May 22, 2014

C Terry Steinbach 1.4 WAR
C Javier Valentin -1.0 WAR
Following the season, the Twins decided not to pick up Steinbach’s $1.8 million contract option for the 1999 season. Steinbach flirted with the Cardinals and a potential reunion with former manager Tony LaRussa, but ultimately returned to his hometown team for a bargain price of $800,000 plus bonuses. Javier Valentin struggled as a rookie backup for Steinbach, but remained in the teams plans for the future. Also waiting in the wings was 21-year-old AJ Pierzynski.

1B David Ortiz 0.7 WAR
1B Orlando Merced -0.2 WAR
Between the time that Kent Hrbek retired after the 1994 season and the start of the 1998 season, the Twins had tried 19 different players at 1B, the most successful of which was Scott Stahoviak. David Ortiz, like Kent Hrbek, jumped from Single A ball to the majors in a single season. 31-year-old Orlando Merced figured on getting the most playing time at first base out of spring training, but lost his job to Ortiz early in the season. The Twins were hoping that the Ortiz would become the next Hrbek based on his performance in the 1998 season.

2B Todd Walker 1.9 WAR
With Knoblauch playing in the Big Apple, the Twins gave Todd Walker another chance as an everyday player, this time athis natural position of second base, after the prospect had a rough time in 1997. Perhaps the experience in 1997 was helpful, because Walker had a monster start for the Twins, and was one of the most valuable second basemen in the league in 1998. Walker was in the race for the AL batting title until August, though he ended the season out of the top 10 in that category.

SS Pat Meares 0.2 WAR
Meares’ value always came from his fielding. In 1998, he was a minus short stop and still didn’t hit. At the time, he still had a defensive reputation, and was expected to win a fairly significant raise in arbitration. The Twins passed due to a tight financial sitation, and Meares became a free agent after the season. He finished his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

3B Ron Coomer -0.3 WAR
3B Brent Gates -0.1 WAR
Coomer had difficulty with various injuries throughout the season, meaning free agent acquisition Brent Gates got a lot of playing time at third base.

LF Marty Cordova -1.0 WAR
Marty Cordova continued his yearly decline following his rookie of the year effort in 1995. There was speculation that his problems hitting were mental, though some suggested he couldn’t catch up with a major league fastball anymore. Tom Kelly grumbled to the media that Cordova wasn’t completely receptive to coaching. All in all, it was a forgettable season for a number of reasons. Cordova would rebound in 1999.

CF Otis Nixon 0.2 WAR
Otis Nixon was entering his 39 year old season when he joined the Twins as a free agent prior to the 1998 season. It was a risky move for an aging player who derived much of his value from his speed on the base paths. Nixon did not disappoint, getting on base often (.361 OBP) to cause some problems in the speed department (37 of 44 in stolen bases).

RF Matt Lawton 3.9 WAR
Matt Lawton established himself as the most productive player on the team with a very good season at the plate in 1998. He set career highs in most offensive categories, including 21 home runs which remains his career high for home runs in a season. Lawton got off to a rough start, but turned things around in the summer after hitting coach Terry Crowley suggested that he drop his hands and begin to keep a diary of all of his plate appearances.

DH Paul Molitor 0.1 WAR
41-year-old Paul Molitor played his final season in 1998. The first ballot Hall-of-Famer still had some baseball left in him, with a .281/.335/.382/.718 line in his final season.

OF Alex Ochoa -1.8 WAR
Ochoa came from the Met to the Twins in the Rich Becker trade. The outfielder struggled through his one season in Minnesota and was traded to the Brewers for a minor league player following the season.

UT Denny Hocking -0.3 WAR
Hocking’s OPS+ of 42 was overshadowed by the fact that he could play any position on the field except pitcher and catcher.

 


The Franchise 1998 (Part 1)

May 13, 2014

1998 Minnesota Twins

Manager Tom Kelly 13th season (13th with Minnesota 923-977)
70 W 92 L 734 RS 818 RA 4th AL Central 19.0 GB (Cleveland 89-73)
4.53 RPG (AL = 5.01) 4.75 ERA (AL = 4.65)
.678 DER (11th AL)

All Stars (1) Brad Radke

Franchise (1901-1998) 7203-7893-110; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1998) 2985-3029-6; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS

The 1998 Twins are probably best known for this game. It is probably fitting. While David Wells’ perfect game is an accomplishment against any lineup, its difficult to say that the Twins offense wasn’t one that was ripe to be no-hit.

Around baseball, 1998 was the year of the home run. Balls were flying out of ballparks left and right. It was, of course, the summer of McGwire and Sosa. The season win which Roger Maris’ mark of 61 home runs in a season was destined to be broken while baseball made a comeback from the lingering fan frustration surrounding the 1994 strike.

Home run fever, however, was not a worry for the Twins. In a year in which the average AL team hit 176 home runs, the Twins managed just 115. The only team that was worse was the expansion Devil Rays.

The team limped to their sixth consecutive losing season while the stadium fight continued to draw out. Things did not look good for Minnesota baseball.

Of note, however, were four players in their early 20′s who made their debuts in September. Corey Koskie, Doug Mientkiewicz, AJ Pierzynski, and Torii Hunter (who actually had one plate appearance in 1997).


1997: Radke’s Streak

May 8, 2014

From June 7 to August 4, Brad Radke did not lose a game.

Prior to the streak, Radke had the distinction of being a bright spot in a starting rotation that was low on success. He was the team’s best starter from his debut in 1995, and was considered the staff ace following that season. Still, being the best pitcher on a league-worst pitching staff does not necessarily get one noticed. This was particularly true for Radke, who was known more for his tendency to allow home runs than for his success on the mound. Additionally, he was a control pitcher who pitched in an era where strikeouts were more common than ever in baseball.

Radke did get some national attention, however, thanks to the winning streak.

Over the course of the streak, Radke had a lot of run support. That season the Twins averaged 4.77 runs per game. In Radke’s 12-game winning streak, the team averaged 6.75 runs per game. Radke’s best game during the streak was also an outlier, a 1-0 victory at the Oakland Coliseum. His Bill James game score for that game was 87.

Radke’s worst outing during the streak came on June 28. It was an 11-5 victory over the Chicago White Sox. Radke was credited with all 5 opposing runs in 6.2 innings pitched, a game score of 43.

During the entire streak (91.1 innings pitched), Radke allowed just five home runs. Interestingly, there were two games in which he allowed multiple home runs to the opposition, June 23 in Cleveland, and July 25 against the Orioles.

The streak ended on August 9 in a game against the New York Yankees. Radke allowed just two runs in 8 innings pitched, but the team lost 4-1. His gamescore of 68 in that game was higher than all but 3 out of the 12 wins during the streak.


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