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…