1971 Minnesota Twins
Manager: Bill Rigney 16th Season (2nd with Minnesota 172-150)
74 W 86 L 654 RS 670 RA 5th AL West 26.5 GB (Oakland 101-60)
4.09 RPG (AL = 3.87) 3.81 ERA (AL = 3.46)
.703 DER (10th AL)
All Stars (5) Leo Cardenas, Rod Carew, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Jim Perry
Franchise (1901-1971) 5175-5680-109; 11-21 Post Season; 11-15 WS
Washington (1901-1960) 4214-4864-104; 8-11 WS
Minnesota (1961-1971) 961-816-5; 3-10 Post Season; 3-4 WS
After the Twins won four of their first six games it looked as though they might be on their way to a third straight division title. An extended losing streak in April, however, meant that this year’s version of the Twins would be fighting to stay above .500 for most of the first half of the season. By the break, the Twins were well out of contention and began to focus on playing some of their younger players.
As the Twins fell further and further out in the late summer months the talk shifted to Rigney’s future as the team’s manager. While Calvin Griffith held the line that he would not make any decisions until the end of the season, the speculation as to RIgney’s future was a daily topic in Minnesota. Despite an undercurrent of player displeasure with the manager, Griffith renewed Rigney’s contract for another year.
Bold = Player new to WAS/MIN in 1971
C George Mitterwald .250/.316/.389 13 HR 0.0 BFW 13 WS 19 FRAR 3.1 WARP3
Mitterwald played more in 1971 than he had in any of his previous four major league seasons. He also had more success at the plate, posting a 97 OPS+. If only he could have faced more lefties, Mitterwald had a pronounced split, batting .301/.370/.521 in 166 PA’s against left-handed pitching, though he was just .219/.282/.310 in 268 PA’s against right-handed pitching.
1B/3B Harmon Killebrew .254/.386/.464 28 HR 1.2 BFW 23 WS 0 FRAR 5.6 WARP3
1B Rich Reese .219/.270/.353 10 HR -2.4 BFW 5 WS 4 FRAR 0.2 WARP3
On August 10, 1971, Harmon Killebrew hit his 500th career home run. Killebrew was 35 years old and playing in his 1,955th game. He hit number 500 in his 8,067th plate appearance and 6,671st at bat. Later in that same game, hit hit number 501. Killebrew started his 18th major league season as the Twins’ primary third baseman, but shifted over to first to make room for rookie Steve Braun. A letter to the editor in the Star Tribune suggested that Griffith look to Killebrew as a player-manager over the unpopular Rigney. Griffith responded that managing is a full time job, but he would certainly consider Killebrew as skipper when the slugger’s playing career was over.
2B Rod Carew .307/.356/.380 2 HR -1.0 BFW 17 WS 14 FRAR 4.2 WARP3
After missing most of the 1970 season due to injury, Carew appeared in 147 games in 1971. Carew had a tough time out of the gate. It got so bad that at one point manager Bill Rigney moved Carew to third base for a couple of games in hopes that a change of scenery would jump start the perennial All Star’s bat. Carew bottomed out on June 13 when, after a 1-for-5 game, his line stood at .215/.258/.287. Rigney did not give up on Carew, however, and he was ultimately rewarded. From June 14th on, Carew batted .359/.410/.432, much more in line with the numbers that the Twins had come to expect.
SS Leo Cardenas .264/.321/.421 18 HR 2.4 BFW 22 WS 54 FRAR 8.5 WARP3
With all of the shifting in the Twins infield, the one constant in 1971 was Leo Cardenas at shortstop. The Cuban turned in another spectacular season in the field, measured both in traditional fielding stats (just 11 errors all season – a new major league record for shortstops), and newer fielding metrics (54 FRAR). That he was somewhat successful with the bat was just icing on the cake for the Twins. Cardenas performance in 1971 was good enough to be considered the team’s MVP. Despite that fact, he found himself on the trading block after the season. Cardenas, who turned 33 in December, was traded to the Angels in exchange for relief pitcher David LaRoche. Most in baseball said that the Twins should have gotten more for Cardenas, who batted .263/.325/.394 in three seasons as a Twin. In the same three seasons, he compiled 24.5 WARP3 and an amazing 175 FRAR.
3B Steve Braun .254/.350/.344 5 HR -0.8 BFW 10 WS 6 FRAR 2.0 WARP3
The New Jersey native jumped from single A to the majors in 1971. He wanted to pattern himself after Pete Rose, and found himself a Twins’ regular by May.
LF Cesar Tovar .311/.356/.368 1 HR 0.8 BFW 21 WS 20 FRAR 5.0 WARP3
Manager Bill Rigney on his lead off man in a June edition of TSN: “He’s a great leadoff man and reminds me of Eddie Stanky. He’s a great competitor too. He always wants to play and would play every inning, if you let him.”
CF Jim Holt .259/.292/.318 1 HR -1.7 BFW 5 WS 9 FRAR 0.5 WARP3
“Hustling Holt” didn’t get a lot of attention from the fans and the media, but he was well respected by Twins’ management. The Vietnam veteran was versatile and a favorite of Rigney in 1971.
RF Tony Oliva .337/.369/.546 22 HR 2.6 BFW 23 WS -5 FRAR 5.1 WARP3
On June 29, Oliva hurt his right knee while chasing a Joe Rudi fly ball in the ninth inning. He played the rest of the season, but it would be the same injury that would cause Oliva to miss all but 10 games of the 1972 season. Despite playing about half the season on the bad knee, Oliva won his third batting title. He credited some of his success in 1971 to a change in batting stance that he played with in the spring due to a sore heel.
SP Bert Blyleven 16-15 2.81 ERA 1.17 WHIP 2.2 PW 20 WS 8.8 WARP3
Blyleven, who turned 20 years of age just as the season started, improved upon his impressive rookie season. He gained 25 pounds in the offseason and reports were that his curveball, already considered one of the best in baseball, was even better in 1971. Despite his numbers, a problem emerged that would plague Blyleven for his entire career. Though he posted a 2.81 ERA in a league with a 3.46 ERA, Blyleven won just one more game than he lost in 1971. The Twins scored two or fewer runs in eight of his 15 credited losses.
SP Jim Kaat 13-14 3.32 ERA 1.24 WHIP 0.8 PW 15 WS 6.4 WARP3
Kaat won his 10th consecutive Gold Glove Award in 1971. Such was his defensive reputation that he will win the award a total of 16 times in a row between 1962 and 1977. Greg Maadux has since compiled 17 Gold Gloves, but Kaat is tied for second with Brooks Robinson for most Gold Gloves in baseball history.
SP Jim Perry 17-17 4.23 ERA 1.35 WHIP -2.0 PW 10 WS 3.9 WARP3
A year after winning the Cy Young Award, Perry struggled with an ERA+ of 84. His ERA was about a run and a half higher than Blyleven’s, but Perry managed to win one more game than the 20-year-old. The 35-year-old Perry was selected to his third and final All Star Game of his career, but he did not play.
SP Steve Luebber 2-5 5.03 ERA 1.62 WHIP -1.2 PW 0 WS -0.1 WARP3
The 21-year-old rookie joined the Twins in late June. He struggled in his first attempt to pitch in the majors, particularly with his control. Luebber walked 37 batters in 68 innings pitched. He wouldn’t return to the major league team for significant playing time again until 1976.
RP/SP Tom Hall 4-7 3.33 ERA 1.25 WHIP 0.5 PW 10 WS 4.2 WARP3
Hall was considered one of the hardest throwers in the majors by his fourth season. He did not have the success that he had a year earlier, and was traded to Cincinnati in the offseason. Hall had what was often considered his best career season with the Reds in 1972, but the fact is he was more dominant with the Twins in 1970.
RP/SP Ray Corbin 8-11 4.10 ERA 1.50 WHIP -1.2 PW 5 WS 2.6 WARP3
Corbin was another young pitcher called upon to get significant innings for the Twins in 1971. While he had a rough rookie season, he would become one of the Twins’ more reliable relief pitchers in 1972 and 1973.
RP Ron Perranoski 1-4 6.75 ERA 2.06 WHIP -2.3 PW 0 WS -1.4 WARP3
The Twins left Perranoski unprotected at teh July deadline and the 35-year-old reliever was claimed off of waivers by the Detroit Tigers. In four seasons with the Twins, Perranoski was one of the best left-handed relievers in the American League. He bounced around in 1972 and 1973, including a brief return to the Dodgers, before retiring.
RP Stan Williams 4-5 4.15 ERA 1.37 WHIP -1.0 PW 3 WS 0.8 WARP3
When Williams’ start to the 1971 season did not match his success of the previous season, he was traded to St. Louis for a player to be named. The Cardinals actually ended up sending two players to Minnesota to complete the trade, one of which was a minor league outfielder named Dan Ford.
RP Hal Haydel 4-2 4.28 ERA 1.33 WHIP -0.3 PW 2 WS 1.2 WARP3
Haydel did not pitch in the majors again after the 1971 season.