The Franchise 1996 (Part 1)

April 1, 2014

1996 Minnesota Twins

Manager Tom Kelly 11th season (11th with Minnesota 785-791)
78 W 84 L 877 RS 900 RA 4th AL Central 21.5 GB (Cleveland 99-62)
5.41 RPG (AL = 5.39) 5.28 ERA (AL = 4.99)
.694 DER (1st AL)

All Stars (1) Chuck Knoblauch

Franchise (1901-1996) 7065-7707-110; 27-29 Post Season; 19-21 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1996) 2847-2843-6; 19-18 Post Season; 11-10 WS

I found a Baseball Prospectus report on the 1996 Twins in a corner of the internet. Of interest was the author’s profile of Tom Kelly:

Tom Kelly has nothing to say to you, and if he did, he wouldn’t tell you. TK has a well-earned reputation for being close-mouthed, but there seems to be a method behind the taciturn demeanor. I think of him as Buck Showalter’s media doppelganger, in that like Showalter, he has no time to waste on rehashing the same tired old generalizations and observations that managers have been spouting for the public’s benefit since Cap Anson. Unlike Showalter, who’s known for his thoughtful insights and fresh responses to tired questions, Kelly simply doesn’t say anything, and why blame him? If you’ve been asked for the twelve thousandth time what your team has to do to win, you wouldn’t be human if didn’t want to tell the reporter to look up what you said last year or remember what you said fifteen minutes ago.

There’s more at the link, but the gist of the report is that the 1996 Twins had only one remaining tie to the World Series teams (Kirby Puckett, who actually wouldn’t be on the team) but were in rebuilding mode.

These Twins have a solid farm system, some good major league talent, and some genuine opportunities for young pitchers; opportunities created by the worst pitching staffs in Twins/Senators history. The horrors of the last few seasons have let Ryan and manager Tom Kelly get ambitious in their use of minor league pitchers, in the wake of the profound incompetence of the team’s veterans.

Expectations were not high for that season, but the feeling was that the Twins would be contenders again before the new millennium.

Unfortunately, the rebuilding process took a hit when the Twins, with the second overall pick in the draft, landed exactly nobody. They selected Travis Lee, but agent Scott Boras found a technical loophole and claimed the Twins did not offer Lee a contract within 15 days of the draft, so Lee was declared a free agent and ultimately signed with the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks.

The 1996 version of the team ended up 78-84. As expected, the offense was league average and the pitching was bad, though not quite as bad as the previous two years. What is interesting is the defensive improvement from 1995. The 1996 Twins could field with very few exceptions. Chuck Knoblauch (+11 Runs TZ) was among the league’s best at second base, and Rich Becker (+ 12) graded out as a top center fielder. Dave Hollins was very solid at 3B (+9) and despite a poor reputation Matt Lawton had a good season in right field (+5). The rest of the every day players were average or slightly above average. There were no actively bad defenders on the 1996 team.

Of course, the story of the 1996 team ended up being the sudden and surprising retirement of Kirby Puckett, who was tearing it up in spring training when he woke up one morning in late March and could not see out of his left eye. More on that later…

Opening Day

March 31, 2014

“If baseball is a narrative, an epic of exile and return, a vast, communal poem about separation, loss, and the hope for reunion—if baseball is a Romance Epic—it is finally told by the audience. It is the Romance Epic of homecoming America sings to itself. Where does America sing this poem, say this story? Wherever baseball gathers.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti from “Baseball as Narrative”

Baseball again gathers today* with the 145th version of professional baseball’s Opening Day. The day of eternal optimism. Next year is here, and there is at least some hope for fans of all 30 major league teams (including the Twins).

*Well, there was a game last night, and a couple of games in Australia last week, but lets not let the facts get in the way of a good celebration.

It’s a funny holiday that baseball fans celebrate. It is the first of 162 games; a game that has as much impact on the standings as the second game; or about as much meaning a mid-June get-away day game against a last place team. Save the possibility of an injury, no team will be any more out of the pennant race after today’s results than they were before.

Still, it marks the return of the daily ritual of summer. Once again there will be triples, stolen base attempts, and box scores. But, like Giamatti writes in the above mentioned essay, there is always something new. This year the new includes expanded instant replay, the possibility of Byron Buxton’s major league debut (plus a long-shot chance of seeing Sano), and Paul Molitor using advanced defensive statistics to position Twins fielders.

As usual, people like me will discuss meaningless facts and statistics, such as the Twins’ five-game losing streak on opening day. Last year’s opening day starter, Vance Worley, cleared waivers, was outrighted, and ultimately traded to Pittsburgh for cash. This year’s opening day starter, Ricky Nolasco, represents the most money the Twins have ever spent to bring in a free agent.

Tomorrow will be just another game, and the 2014 season will be with us for another seven months, but today is the Opener.

Twins Opening Day History

Date – Result – Starting Pitcher

4/11/1961 W @ NYY 6-0 Pedro Ramos
4/10/1962 L @ KCA 2-4 Jack Kralick
4/9/1963 L vs CLE 4-5 Mudcat Grant
4/14/1964 W @ CLE 7-6 Camilo Pascual
4/12/1965 W vs NYY 5-4 (11 innings) Jim Kaat
4/12/1966 W vs KCA 2-1 Mudcat Grant (2)
4/11/1967 L @ BAL 3-6 Jim Kaat (2)
4/10/1968 W @ WAS 2-0 Dean Chance
4/8/1969 L @ KCR 3-4 (12 innings) Tom Hall
4/7/1970 W @ CHW 12-0 Jim Perry
4/6/1971 L vs MIL 2-7 Jim Perry (2)
4/15/1972 L @ OAK 3-4 (11 innings) Bert Blyleven
4/6/1973 W @ OAK 8-3 Bert Blyleven
4/5/1974 W @ KCR 6-4 (11 innings) Bert Blyleven
4/8/1975 W @ TEX 11-4 Bert Blyleven (2)
4/9/1976 L @ TEX 1-2 (11 innings) Bert Blyleven (3)
4/9/1977 L @ OAK 4-7 Dave Goltz
4/5/1978 L @ SEA 2-3 Dave Goltz (2)
4/6/1979 W @ OAK 5-3 Dave Goltz (3)
4/10/1980 W @ OAK 9-7 (12 innings) Jerry Koosman
4/9/1981 L vs OAK 1-5 Jerry Koosman (2)
4/6/1982 L vs SEA 7-11 Pete Redfern
4/5/1983 L vs DET 3-11 Brad Havens
4/3/1984 L vs DET 1-8 Albert Williams
4/9/1985 W @ CAL 6-2 Frank Viola
4/8/1986 W @ OAK 3-2 Frank Viola (2)
4/7/1987 W vs OAK 5-4 (10 innings) Bert Blyleven (4)
4/5/1988 L @ NYY 0-8 Frank Viola (3)
4/4/1989 L vs NYY 2-4 Frank Viola (4)
4/9/1990 L @ OAK 3-8 Allan Anderson
4/9/1991 L @ OAK 2-7 Jack Morris
4/6/1992 W @ MIL 4-2 Scott Erickson
4/6/1993 W vs CHW 10-5 Kevin Tapani
4/5/1994 L vs CAL 2-8 Kevin Tapani (2)
4/26/1995 L @ BOS 0-9 Scott Erickson (2)
4/1/1996 W vs DET 8-6 Brad Radke
4/1/1997 W vs DET 7-5 Brad Radke (2)
4/1/1998 L @ TOR 2-3 Bob Tewksbury
4/6/1999 W vs TOR 6-1 Brad Radke (3)
4/3/2000 L vs TB 0-7 Brad Radke (4)
4/3/2001 W @ DET 3-2 Brad Radke (5)
4/1/2002 W @ KC 8-6 Brad Radke (6)
3/31/2003 W @ DET 3-1 Brad Radke (7)
4/5/2004 W vs CLE 7-4 (11 innings) Brad Radke (8)
4/4/2005 L @ SEA 1-5 Brad Radke (9)
4/4/2006 L @ TOR 3-6 Johan Santana
4/2/2007 W vs BAL 7-4 Johan Santana (2)
3/31/2008 W vs LAA 3-2 Livan Hernandez
4/6/2009 L vs SEA 1-6 Francisco Liriano
4/5/2010 L @ LAA 3-6 Scott Baker
4/1/2011 L @ TOR 3-13 Carl Pavano
4/6/2012 L @ BAL 2-4 Carl Pavano (2)
4/1/2013 L @ DET 2-4 Vance Worley

Overall Record on Opening Day: 25-28




July 5, 1966

March 27, 2014

Cleveland Stadium
Twins 4, Indians 3

Pete Cimino 0.41
Ted Uhlaender 0.20
Rocky Colavito 0.16 (CLE)

Bottom WPA
Tom Kelley -0.25 (CLE)
Pedro Gonzalez -0.24 (CLE)Max Alvis -0.15 (CLE)
Rich Rollins -0.15

Top Play
In the top of the seventh inning, the Twins were down by a score of 3-2 and had two men on and one out when Ted Uhlaender stepped to the plate against Cleveland starter Tom Kelley. Jimmie Hall and Zoilo Versailles had reached with back-to-back singles prior to Uhlaender’s plate appearance. Uhlaender ripped a double to left field, plating Hall to tie the score and pushing Zorro to third base.

After the magical 1965 season, the Twins had gotten off to a slow start in 1966, coming out of a July 4 win over the Tribe with only a 36-43 record. Still, the middle of the ’66 season found Calvin Griffith talking up his team in The Sporting News. Calvin was beaming over the middle fielders – Zoilo Versalles and Cesar Tovar at SS and 2B respectively, and Ted Uhlaender in center field. Because of the middle defense, Griffith said, the ’66 version of the Twins was the best defensive squad the Twins had fielded since they moved to Minnesota in 1961.

Two of those three were on display in the Twins’ win over the Indians on July 5. Versailles went 2-for-4 and Uhlaender provided the game’s biggest hit. Tony Oliva also hit a solo home run in the 4th inning, his 16th of the season.

The top player according to WPA, however, was Pete Cimino. Cimino, a 23-year-old who had one major league appearance prior to 1966, came on in the bottom of the 7th inning after the Twins had taken the lead. He pitched an old-fashioned three inning save. After two of the first three batter he faced singled, Cimino pitched out of trouble, ultimately retiring eight in a row to finish the game for the Twins.

The Franchise 1995 (Pitchers)

March 25, 2014

SP Brad Radke 1.6 WAR
Brad Radke was drafted in the 8th round of the 1991 draft. He wasn’t a highly regarded prospect when he was drafted, and hadn’t played any higher than double-A ball when he broke camp with the Twins in 1995. Radke was a pleasant surprise for a team that needed something. By the end of the season he had a reputation that followed him his entire career: he threw a lot of strikes and worked fast. By the end of the his rookie year, Radke had already established himself as the ace of the Twins pitching staff.

SP Scott Erickson 0.1 WAR
When Scott Erickson was traded to Baltimore on July 7, he had some parting shots for the organization: “I feel bad for the guys. It’s like the organization has given up on the team. It’s a joke.” Specifically aimed at owner Carl Pohlad: “I think they should turn the team over to somebody who wants a winning team. Somebody who likes baseball.” Erickson pitched for six season with the Twins. He left with a 61-60 record and a 103 ERA+. Erickson stayed in Baltimore until 2002, and pitched pretty well, going 79-68 in 7 seasons. He bounced around the majors after that, and finally retired in 2006. Erickson also predicted after his trade that teammate Kevin Tapani would be the next to go…

SP Kevin Tapani 1.5 WAR
The Tapani trade was made within hours of the trading deadline. Unlike teammate Erickson, Tapani didn’t have any parting shots “I’ve got nothing negative to say at all about the Twins organization.” When Tapani left the Twins, he had played 7 seasons. During that time, he had a 75-63 record with a 108 ERA+. Tapani was traded to the Dodgers for the remainder of 1995, then moved on to the White Sox in 1996, and finally landed with the Cubs from 1997 until his retirement after the 2001 season.

SP Mike Trombley 0.1 WAR
In three previous seasons with the Twins, Trombley started 17 games. In 1995, he started 18 games. Trombley kept the job primarily due to lack of other options after Tapani and Erickson were traded away. After this season, Trombley became a full time relief pitcher.

SP Frankie Rodriguez 0.0 WAR
Rodriguez came to the Twins as part of the Rick Aguilera trade. Rodriguez was 22 at the time and it was hoped by the Twins that his upside would show in the next couple of years.

CL Rick Aguilera 1.2 WAR
Even though his 1995 season was split between two teams, based on the numbers it may have been Aguilera’s best. His ERA+ in 22 appearances with the Twins was 193. Aguilera pitched nearly as well with the Red Sox for the final half of the season. Unlike Erickson, Aguilera didn’t burn any bridges on the way out and made it clear that he wanted to return to the Twins as a free agent at the end of the season.

RP Pat Mahomes -1.6 WAR
Mahomes moved from his role as a starter to the bullpen in 1995. While he improved his K/BB ratio from 0.85 in 1994 to 1.43 in 1995, it didn’t translate into better overall numbers.

RP Eddie Guardado 0.5 WAR
Guardado made 51 appearances and pitched 91 innings in 1995. He wasn’t quite “everyday” yet, but well on his way.

Favorite Drive-By Truckers Albums

March 24, 2014

DBT is playing at First Ave next week. As a countdown to the show, I offer my five favorite albums. I am not a music critic, so these are just based on my preferences.

5.The Fine Print (A Collection of Oddities and Rarities)
This may be the spot for their new offering English Oceans, but I think I need to listen to it more before I am sure where exactly it fits. The 2009 release TFP is a collection of previously unreleased tracks. It lacks the flow of most of their albums, but I really like the good stuff. There are some really good covers on this album, including my favorite track “Mama Bake a Pie (Daddy Kill a Chicken)” and a  cover of Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone” that a lot of people don’t like but I think is enjoyable.

4.Brighter Than Creation’s Dark
There is a lot on this 2008 album. It’s all very good, but there don’t seem to be the standout tracks that are in the top three albums. Highlights for me are “I’m Sorry Huston” (love Shonna Tucker’s lead vocals), “Bob” (“Robert ain’t exactly scared of women, he’s just got his own way of living”), and “The Righteous Path.”

3. The Dirty South

There is, I think, a significant gap between #4 and #3. I also generally find the top three interchangeable in order, so this list is a little fluid in my mind. The top three, though they were consecutive releases, each has a distinct feel. TDS highlights the alt-country side of the Truckers. The album has some good rockin’ tracks like “Where the Devil Don’t Stay” and “Lookout Mountain,” but the real strength to me is the story telling in tracks like “Tornadoes” and “The Sands of Iwo Jima.” Bonus for having the best cover art.

2. Decoration Day
So many good tracks, it’s hard to choose. 2003′s Decoration Day includes the best of Jason Isbell’s brief run with the Truckers (“Outfit” and “Decoration Day”), Mike Cooley at his song-writing best (“Marry Me”), and Patterson Hood doing what he does (“My Sweet Annette” and “(Something’s Got To) Give Pretty Soon”). Topics covered on this album include marriage, divorce, suicide, and incest. There isn’t a bad track on the album, and its the one I listen to when I’m feeling the most country.

1. Southern Rock Opera
A double album released in 2001, Southern Rock Opera combines the real-life story of Lynyrd Skynyrd with a fictional southern-flavored coming-of-age story based in the late 70′s. I knew the concept before I listened to the album and was skeptical, but it works. The three-guitar sound works perfectly throughout, and the ongoing theme of the duality of “The Southern Thing” is a history lesson on all things from a southern perspective, spanning historically from Hood’s great-great-grandad who was wounded at Shiloh to George Wallace’s death (sung by the devil welcoming Wallace to hell in “Wallace”). Other highlights include “Ronnie and Neil” – an attempt to offer some perspective on the “rivalry” between Ronnie Van Zandt and Neil Young; “72 (This Highway’s Mean)” – a beautifully depressing country song; “Life in the Factory” – a bio of Lynyrd Skynryd with just the perfect guitar riff for it; “Shut Up and Get on the Plane” – the best of a trilogy of songs about the plane crash that killed Van Zandt; and my favorite DBT track “Zip City” – the perfect combination of guitar solos and lyrics that captures the teenage mind:

I got 350 heads on a 305 engine
I get ten miles to the gallon
I ain’t got no good intentions

April 25, 1985

March 21, 2014

Twins 5, A’s 4

WPA Leaders
Kirby Puckett 0.31
Dwayne Murphy (OAK) 0.21
Greg Gagne 0.19

WPA Goats
Tom Tellman (OAK) -0.29
Dave Kingman (OAK) -0.13
Bill Krueger (OAK) -0.13

Big Play
With the score tied at four and one out in the ninth, Kirby Puckett singled home Tim Teufel to walk the Twins off the field with the win.

This game was the fifth in a string of ten consecutive wins for the Twins, just two short of the club’s biggest winning streak to that point. Over the course of the ten games, the Twins outscored the Mariners, A’s, and defending World Series champion Tigers 74-30.

Unfortunately for the 1985 Twins, the streak came immediately after a nine game losing streak, effectively making it a wash.

An interesting note: two of the four Oakland pitchers in this game, Keith Atherton and Bill Krueger, were future Twins. Atherton came on board in a trade just over a year later, and of course stuck around for a World Series ring. Krueger made a few other stops before joining the Twins in 1992.

The Franchise 1995 (Position Players)

March 19, 2014

C Matt Walbeck -0.1 WAR
C Matt Merullo -0.2 WAR
It wasn’t difficult for Walbeck to improve on his 1994 numbers. He improved greatly (from 37 OPS+ to 61 OPS+) but still managed to be one of the worst-hitting regular players in the league. Matt Merullo was Carlton Fisk’s back up in Chicago in the early part of the 90′s, and became Scott Erickson’s personal catcher for much of the 1995 season.

1B Scott Stohoviak 0.2 WAR
1B Dan Mastellar -0.9 WAR
1B Dave McCarty -0.2 WAR
Kent Hrbek left some big shoes to fill, and the organization didn’t have much to fill them with at first base in 1995. The hope was that 1991 1st round draft pick McCarty would pan out, but after struggling early in the season he was traded to Cincinnati where he played a few weeks in the minor leagues before being traded to San Francisco.

2B Chuck Knoblauch 6.7 WAR
Against the backdrop of a terrible team, Chuck Knoblauch quietly had his breakout season at the age of 26. It was hands down his best season so far, and is likely only surpassed by his 1996 numbers in Knoblauch’s career. Yet, when covered in the media, Knoblauch was either the subject of trade rumors, or asked to comment on where he thought Kirby Puckett would play in 1996.

SS Pat Meares 2.8 WAR
SS Jeff Reboulet 2.6 WAR
Both of these players had career years with the Twins in 1995, Meares at age 26, Reboulet at 31.

3B Scott Leius 0.4 WAR
Leuis had his greatest success as a Twin when he was platooned with Mike Pagliarulo in 1991. Throughout his six seasons with the Twins, Leius was consistent in that he didn’t hit right-handed pitching well, but was very good against lefties.

LF Marty Cordova 3.3 WAR
Cordova followed up his ROY season with an impressive sophomore effort. Unfortunately for the Twins he wouldn’t see success like this again until he was in an Indians uniform in 2001.

CF Rich Becker -0.7 WAR
Becker played a handful of games the previous two seasons, but got his first shot as a regular in 1995 after Alex Cole broke his leg early in the season. His first full season was pretty bad.

RF Kirby Puckett 3.1 WAR
Puckett was still the face of the Twins at the age of 34 and had another very good season. His announcement that he would be fulfill his two option years with the Twins was expected, and only slightly shared the spotlight with the broken jaw that Puckett had suffered from a Dennis Martinez fastball at the end of the season. All signs pointed to another productive season from the team’s star in 1996. As it turned out, that Martinez pitch was the last regular season pitch that Puckett would see.

Even though his career was cut short, Kirby Puckett was enshrined in Cooperstown in 2001. He died in 2006 at the age of 45. There were a lot of post-playing career issues that tend to tarnish Puckett’s reputation, but on the field he was the star player on a team that won two World Series, and one of the most enjoyable players for a fan to watch.

DH Pedro Munoz -0.1 WAR


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