November 4, 2010

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #36 Dave Boswell

David Wilson Boswell | SP | 1964-1970 | Career Stats

After winning the 1963 bidding war for 18-year-old Dave Boswell the Twins gave the 6-foot-3 right-hander a then-large $15,000 bonus to sign straight out of high school. His minor-league career lasted under two seasons and Boswell made his major-league debut on September 18, 1964, lasting just three innings in a no-decision against Boston around four months before his 20th birthday. He ended up making four September starts, going 2-0 with a 4.24 ERA.

Boswell made the team as a long man out of spring training in 1965, and after seven shutout innings in relief of Dick Stigman on May 11 was given a shot in the rotation. He pitched well, going 5-3 with a 3.53 ERA in 12 starts, but was shifted back to the bullpen in the second half after coming down with mononucleosis. He made one appearance in the World Series defeat to the Dodgers, throwing 2.2 innings of relief after Jim Kaat was knocked around in Game 5.

A full-fledged member of the rotation in 1966, he was 12-5 with a 3.14 ERA in 169 innings and led the league with a .706 winning percentage while ranking second with 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings. At just 21 the future looked bright, and sure enough over the next three seasons Boswell was among the most durable pitchers in the league. He went 44-37 with a 3.27 ERA in 669 innings of work from 1967-1969, striking out 537 batters while allowing just 525 hits.

He was at his best in 1969, teaming with Jim Perry to give the Twins two 20-game winners on the way to a division title. Boswell ranked among the league leaders in wins (20), innings (256), and strikeouts (190), but along with the overpowering raw stuff also had some trouble with his control. He handed out 99 walks, plunked another eight batters, and uncorked 10 wild pitches to rank among the AL's top 10 in each category.

Boswell stepped up in the playoffs as the Twins faced a 109-win Baltimore team that led the AL in runs allowed and ranked second to the Twins in runs scored. He somehow managed to keep a lineup headed by Frank Robinson and Boog Powell (who finished second and third to Harmon Killebrew in the MVP balloting) off the scoreboard for 10.2 innings in Game 2, all while 20-game winner Dave McNally blanked the Twins for 11 frames.

With two runners on and two outs in the bottom of the 11th, manager Billy Martin yanked Boswell in favor of closer Ron Perranoski, who'd saved an AL-high 31 games with a 2.11 ERA. Orioles skipper Earl Weaver responded by pinch-hitting Curt Motton for Elrod Hendricks and Motton delivered a walk-off single to right field. Not only was Boswell's amazing game wasted, he was tagged with a loss despite recording 32 outs without actually allowing a run to score.

Boswell didn't get another chance against the Orioles, as Baltimore finished off the three-game sweep with a blowout victory in Game 3 before eventually losing to the "Miracle Mets" in the World Series. And while no one knew it at the time, that extra-inning loss to the Orioles in the ALCS essentially marked the end of Boswell's days as an effective big-league pitcher despite the fact that he didn't turn 25 years old until a few months later.

Boswell was 3-7 with a ghastly 6.42 ERA in 69 innings in 1970 and didn't make an appearance in the Twins' second consecutive three-game ALCS sweep at the hands of the Orioles. He was released by the Twins before throwing a single inning in 1971 and immediately signed with the Tigers, who cut him loose following three poor relief outings. Boswell then latched on with the Orioles and finished his career by going 1-2 with a 4.38 ERA in 24.2 innings as a mop-up man.

And just like that, a career that began at 19 and peaked at 24 was over by 27. It's hard to pin Boswell's early decline on that 10.2-inning ALCS start alone, because pitching past the ninth inning was relatively routine in 1969. In fact, that start wasn't even Boswell's longest of the season--he lasted 12 innings in a victory over the White Sox in mid-July--and across baseball there were 67 other starts of more than nine innings in 1969.

However, he likely threw over 150 pitches in both the July win and ALCS loss, and that type of workload for a 24-year-old is certainly difficult to ignore given how his career fizzled. Would he have lasted past his 27th birthday had he not logged nearly a thousand innings, completed 37 games, and had those marathon starts through age 24? Perhaps, but while his workload was obscene by today's standards it wasn't particularly out of the ordinary back then.

Interestingly, the Twins fired Martin as manager after one division-winning year not because he worked Boswell so hard on the mound but because he reportedly knocked Boswell out in a bar fight that August. While his Twins career was disappointing considering the promise that he showed at such a young age, Boswell's early numbers probably look a lot more impressive than they actually were.

In putting up a 3.49 ERA with the Twins he was aided by one of the most pitcher-friendly eras in the sport's history. To add some context to the extreme, offense-suppressing environment that he pitched in consider that Boswell's seemingly fantastic 3.32 ERA in 1968 was actually worse than the league average of 3.10. For his entire time in Minnesota the league ERA was an incredibly low 3.48.

So, despite owning a far lower raw ERA he stacks up pretty equally with the two pitchers who preceded him on this list, Eric Milton (987 innings, 101 ERA+) and Scott Erickson (979 innings, 104 ERA+). Boswell threw 1,036 innings of a 101 ERA+. The fact that Milton's adjusted ERA+ is identical to Boswell's despite Boswell's raw ERA being 30 percent lower shows how important is it to look beyond raw numbers when comparing players across eras.

Of course, while his 3.49 ERA with the Twins is hardly as impressive as it may seem based on today's standards, it still would have been nice to see what Boswell could have been capable of had he not flamed out in his mid-20s. Bert Blyleven is the only pitcher in Twins history to start more games, log more innings, strike out more batters, or record more wins than Boswell through age 24.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
Opponents' AVG       .217     3rd
Opponents' SLG       .341     6th
Opponents' OPS       .646     7th
Complete Games         37     7th
Strikeouts            865     9th
Wins                   67    10th
Innings              1036    10th
Batters Faced        4344    10th
Quality Starts         76    11th
Strikeout Rate       7.51    12th
Shutouts                6    12th
Starts                150    13th
Winning Percentage   .554    13th
WHIP                 1.24    13th
Opponents' OBP       .306    14th
ERA                  3.49    18th
  • Lyle Willits

    Sadly, Dave Boswell passed away from a massive heart attack on June 11, 2012. His sister is our mail carrier.