August 25, 2009

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #39 Scott Erickson


155 153 979 61 60 4.22 103 14.8 56

Scott Erickson's career got off to one of the fastest starts in Twins history. A fourth-round pick out of the University of Arizona in 1989, he posted a 2.97 ERA in 78.2 innings at Single-A after signing, went 8-3 with a 3.03 ERA in 101 innings at Double-A to begin the 1990 season, and then found himself in the big leagues at the age of 22. Erickson's debut came against the Rangers on June 25, 1990 and he got a win with six innings of four-hit, one-run ball at the Metrodome.

Rafael Palmeiro's first-inning single was the first hit allowed by Erickson, a 31-year-old Julio Franco played second base for Texas that day, and Kirby Puckett and Shane Mack each homered to provide the run support in a 9-1 victory. Despite finishing 8-4 with a 2.87 ERA in 113 innings, including 5-0 with a 1.35 ERA in September, Erickson failed to garner a single vote in the Rookie of the Year balloting that saw rotation-mate Kevin Tapani finish fifth with a 12-8 record and 4.07 ERA in 159.1 innings.

For his sophomore campaign Erickson helped lead the Twins into the postseason by going 20-8 with a 3.18 ERA in 204 innings, including a 12-game winning streak that lasted from April 21 to June 24 and a 30.1-inning scoreless streak that tied Frank Viola's team record. He led the AL in wins and finished second to Roger Clemens in the Cy Young balloting, but battled some arms problems in the second half before struggling in both the ALCS and World Series as Jack Morris stole the show.

At just 23 years old Erickson was a 20-game winner with a championship and had a 28-12 record with a 3.07 ERA. Unfortunately, it was all downhill from there. He had a solid 1992 season, going 13-12 with a 3.40 ERA in 212 innings as the Twins narrowly missed the postseason, but as was the case with the entire franchise things began to fall apart in 1993. While the Twins dropped to 71-91, he won just eight games and led the league in losses (19), hits allowed (266), and runs allowed (138).

Improbably, in his fifth start the next season Erickson became the third pitcher in Twins history to toss a no-hitter, blanking Milwaukee at the Metrodome as Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch combined for seven hits and Kent Hrbek launched a homer. Sadly, that was just about the lone bright spot that year. He finished 8-11 with a 5.44 ERA in 144 innings for a fourth-place team and the season ended more than two months early when the players went on strike.

The strike dragged on into the 1995 season and when Erickson finally hopped back on a mound in late April he was a mess. After going 4-6 with a 5.95 ERA in his first 15 starts, the last-place Twins traded Erickson, who was still only 27 years old, to the Orioles for prospects Scott Klingenbeck and Kimera Bartee. He never found the success from his first few seasons, but Erickson became a workhorse for Baltimore, throwing 220-plus innings in four straight seasons before arm injuries eventually did him in.

He was Baltimore's starter and threw a complete-game shutout when Cal Ripken Jr. tied Lou Gehrig's record for consecutive games played on September 5, 1995 and was also on the mound the next year when Roberto Alomar spit on umpire John Hirschbeck. Oh, and he had a cameo on Baltimore-based Homicide: Life on the Street with teammate Armando Benitez when the storyline involved a Yankees fan being murdered at Camden Yards.

Erickson's last effective season was 1999, when he won 15 games for the Orioles, yet he managed to stick around until 2006 despite going 7-20 with a 5.87 ERA over his final 254.1 innings while spending more time on the disabled list than the field and marrying former Monday Night Football reporter Lisa Guerrero. Meanwhile, like most of the prospects acquired by the Twins in the mid-90s, Klingenbeck and Bartee were complete flops who combined for one win and zero hits in Minnesota.

In many ways Erickson's career in Minnesota mirrored the whole team's story in the 1990s. He peaked in 1991 as the most effective pitcher on a championship team at 22 years old, but that success was short-lived with sub par strikeout rates and strikeout-to-walk ratios perhaps foreshadowing the decline. Even the players the Twins received in return for Erickson were among the many prospects who turned out to be busts as the team failed to return to respectability throughout the last half of the decade.

Like the Twins, when Erickson was good he was very good. An extreme ground-ball pitcher who wore black shoes with black socks, a black glove, and an intimidating stare, he was a lot of fun to watch and remains my mom's all-time favorite player. And like the Twins, when Erickson was bad he was very bad. When the sinker wasn't sinking, the right elbow was barking after some very heavy workloads, and those grounders were finding holes and skipping through the infield turf, things got ugly.

Had you told someone in 1991 that Erickson would win just 61 games in a Twins uniform they never would have believed you, but he ended up staying in Minnesota for just six years and split them evenly between three very good seasons and three very bad ones. The end result is a Twins career that could have been a lot better, yet for a brief time shined brighter than just about anyone and still makes him one of the dozen most successful starters in team history.


Shutouts 7 10th
Wins 61 11th
Starts 153 11th
Innings 979 12th
Quality Starts 73 12th
Strikeouts 527 18th

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