October 26, 2010

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #39 Scott Erickson

Scott Gavin Erickson | SP | 1990-1995 | Career Stats

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 found himself in the big leagues at age 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.

Erickson allowed his first hit to Rafael Palmeiro, a 31-year-old Julio Franco started at 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 get a single vote in the Rookie of the Year balloting that saw rotation-mate Kevin Tapani rate fifth with a 12-8 record and 4.07 ERA in 159 innings.

For his sophomore campaign Erickson helped lead the Twins to the playoffs 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-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 arm problems in the second half before struggling in the ALCS and World Series as Jack Morris stole the show.

At just 23 he was a 20-game winner with a championship and had a 28-12 record with a 3.07 ERA, but it was all downhill from there. He had a strong 1992, 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 started 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 the Brewers at the Metrodome as Puckett and Chuck Knoblauch combined for seven hits and Kent Hrbek homered. 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 into 1995 and when Erickson finally got back on the 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 the 27-year-old righty to the Orioles for prospects Scott Klingenbeck and Kimera Bartee. He never rediscovered the success from his first few years, but Erickson became a workhorse in Baltimore, throwing 220-plus innings in four straight seasons before arm injuries 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 Erickson 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, yet he managed to stick around until 2006 despite going 7-20 with a 5.87 ERA during his final 254.1 innings while spending far 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, but that success was short-lived with poor strikeout rates and K/BB ratios perhaps foreshadowing the decline. Even the players received in return for Erickson were among the many prospects who turned out to be busts as the Twins failed to return to respectability in the last half of the decade.

Like the Twins, when Erickson was good he was very good. An extreme ground-ball guy with black shoes, black socks, a black glove, and an intimidating stare, he was a lot of fun to watch and remains my mom's 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 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've believed it, 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.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
Shutouts                7    10th
Wins                   61    11th
Starts                153    11th
Batters Faced        4244    11th
Innings               979    12th
Quality Starts         73    12th
Home Run Rate        0.76    13th
Complete Games         24    15th
Strikeouts            527    20th
  • greg

    Erickson missed a couple of starts with an elbow issue in the middle of 1991 and was never the same after that. I don’t know if it was related or if he was just on a fluke hot streak, but I think he lost some movement off his sinker. The league might just have figured him out or learned to lay off the sinker. It’s still disappointing thinking about what might have been.

  • chris

    at least he wo a championship with and for minnesota
    trading him was a bad thing and one piece of the bad downfall after it

  • jordan

    My first Twins game was that no-hitter against the Brewers. By the 8th inning, my dad leaned over to me and asked “Do you know what’s happening right now?” and 7 year old me had absolutely no idea. “We’re winning!” was my astute response. What a good note to start with, and then came the rest of the ’90s…

  • Tom W.

    I have to compliment you on your discipline. How can you write a summation of Erickson’s career and not mention Inga? That must have been difficult.

  • wengler

    How can you talk about Erickson without mentioning Junior Ortiz?

  • Son of Shane Mack

    Erickson was pretty effective in 1997 for Baltimore as well – the year they beat the Yankees in the East.

  • mike wants wins

    Aaron, thanks for resurrecting the series….think you’ll make it to the end this time?

  • Neil

    I kind of agree with the first commenter: I think something happened to Erickson’s arm mid-season 1991. For that 12-game winning streak he was as dominant as any pitcher I’ve ever seen.

    Tim Brown on Yahoo Sports suggesting the Twins as a possible destination for Zack Greinke. Oh god, Billy Smith, please make this happen…

  • Neil

    I sat behind home plate for Erickson’s no-hitter in ’94. I guess that makes up for the previous year, when I sat behind home plate thinking Clemens was going to pitch for the Sox. Instead they pushed him back a day so he could face the Yankees, giving me an up-close look at Paul Quantrill…

  • Jim in NE

    Got to watch the no-no from the football pressbox seats which a company vendor rented out that evening. By that year he was getting pounded pretty regularly so the game was basically a “holy S, can you believe what we’re seeing?”
    Scotty was one of the pieces of evidence that convinced me that Dick Such could screw up just about any arm he was allowed to coach. But thanks for ’91!!

  • Pat

    I remember Tom Kelly saying something during that ’91 season to the effect that Erickson really isn’t an ace pitcher–I don’t remember the exact words, but basically he was dissing Erickson to the effect that Scott wasn’t as good as he was pitching at the time. Even thought that turned out to be right, I always thought it was wrong to throw Scott under the bus like that.