September 15, 2011

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #16 Corey Koskie

Cordel Leonard Koskie | 3B/RF | 1998-2004 | Career Stats

A star baseball, hockey, and volleyball player growing up in Manitoba, Canada, the Twins used their 26th-round pick in the 1994 draft to take Corey Koskie out of Kwantlen College in British Columbia. Koskie signed quickly and debuted at rookie-level Elizabethton as a 21-year-old, but then spent one full year at each of low Single-A, high Single-A, Double-A, and Triple-A, failing to receive any midseason promotions despite consistently putting up excellent numbers.

After finally reaching Double-A as a 24-year-old in 1997 he hit .296/.408/.531 with 23 homers, 55 total extra-base hits, and 90 walks in 131 games to make the Eastern League All-Star team as the starting third baseman. He moved up to Triple-A in 1998, hitting .301/.365/.539 with 26 homers, 63 total extra-base hits, and 51 walks in 135 games before finally receiving his first in-season promotion in the form of a September call-up to Minnesota.

Frankie Rodriguez and Dan Serafini combined to give up 10 runs while recording six outs on September 9, so Koskie came off the bench to replace Ron Coomer at third base and struck out in both at-bats. Koskie saw his next action three days later, pinch-hitting for Chris Latham and singling to center field off Tim Worrell. He started seven of the final 15 games and didn't show much while going 4-for-29 (.138), but still broke camp with the Twins the next spring.

Koskie played sparingly through midseason, starting just 41 of the first 81 games in large part because manager Tom Kelly didn't think much of his defense at third base. Fewer than half of those starts came at third base and Koskie went six weeks without starting there as Coomer and Brent Gates manned the position. His sporadic starts came at designated hitter or in right field (after Matt Lawton was hurt), which allowed Koskie to at least show his bat was ready.

He hit .301/.349/.462 through 81 games as one of the few capable hitters on a team that was dead last offensively, yet totaled just 189 plate appearances. By early July the Twins were 20 games out of the division race, so Kelly decided to make Koskie the regular third baseman. Koskie continued to sit against most left-handers while starting 52 of the final 81 games, but more importantly each of the 52 starts came at third base.

Koskie hit .318/.421/.471 over that stretch, finishing at .310/.387/.468 in 117 games overall to lead the Twins in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage as a rookie. In fact, Marty Cordova was the only other above-average hitter on the entire team. Looking back, it's amazing how quickly Koskie went from playing right field or DH because his defense wasn't considered strong enough at third base to being an excellent defender there.

Koskie never set foot in the outfield again and was the Opening Day third baseman in 2000, hitting .300/.400/.441 in 146 games for an offense that was second-worst in the league. He joined Lawton and David Ortiz as the Twins' only above-average regulars and ranked fourth among AL third basemen in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) behind Troy Glaus, Travis Fryman, and Eric Chavez.

After mastering defense and emerging as the Twins' top hitter Koskie moved on to developing his power. He homered once every 24 at-bats in the minors, including 20-homer seasons at both Double-A and Triple-A, and batted .298/.388/.445 through his first two full major-league seasons. However, he managed just 21 homers in 845 at-bats, including nine homers in 474 at-bats during his sophomore campaign.

That all changed in 2001 as Koskie put the finishing touches on his all-around game with the finest season of his career as the Twins had their first winning record since 1992. He batted .276/.362/.488 with 26 homers, 37 doubles, and 103 RBIs in 153 games and shockingly stole 27 bases at an 82-percent clip, trailing only Glaus and Chavez in VORP at third base. Along with Gary Gaetti in 1988 it's the top non-Harmon Killebrew year by a Twins third baseman.

Koskie's power dipped in 2002 without an increase in batting average and he missed a couple weeks with a hamstring injury that proved to be a sign of things to come. Despite that, Koskie still managed to rank fourth among AL third basemen in VORP by hitting .267/.368/.447 with 15 homers, 37 doubles, and 72 walks in 140 games as the Twins won 94 games and the AL Central while advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 1991.

A strained back limited him to 131 games in 2003 and the 20-homer power failed to resurface, but his batting average and OBP returned to their 2000-2001 levels as he hit .292/.393/.452 to lead the Twins in OPS. Koskie turned 30 years old midway through the 2003 season, but between a rapidly balding head and increasingly slow gait he had the look of an old man for whom doing nearly anything seemed to be a chore.

Koskie set a career-high with a .495 slugging percentage and smacked 25 homers in 2004, but saw his batting average dip to a career-low .251 while more injuries sidelined him for five weeks. Despite showing plenty of signs that he was wearing down physically Koskie actually played his best down the stretch, batting .281/.349/.607 from August 1 through the end of the season as the Twins held off the White Sox and Royals to win the division.

He then came up big in the Twins' third straight trip to the postseason, batting .308 with a .474 OBP in the ALDS while nearly becoming a hero against the Yankees. After winning Game 1 at Yankee Stadium behind Johan Santana's seven shutout innings the Twins trailed 5-3 going into the eighth inning of Game 2. They rallied off Mariano Rivera, cutting the lead to 5-4 and bringing Koskie up with runners on the corners and one out.

Luis Rivas pinch-ran for Justin Morneau, putting good speed on as the go-ahead run at first base, and Koskie slashed a Rivera fastball into the left-field corner. Torii Hunter jogged home with the tying run and Rivas had a chance to claim a lead that could have put the Twins up 2-0 in the series heading back to Minnesota. Except the ball took a big bounce, hopping over the wall for a ground-rule double that kept Rivas locked at third base and the game tied at 5-5.

Yankees catcher Jorge Posada said afterward: "They would have scored two, no doubt about it." Instead, Rivas was stranded 90 feet from the plate and Alex Rodriguez's double scored Derek Jeter with the game-winning run in the 12th inning. Instead of Koskie's hit off Rivera putting the Yankees on the verge of elimination, one bounce wiped away his series-changing moment and the Twins lost back-to-back games at the Metrodome to end their season.

An impending free agent, that proved to be the final big hit of Koskie's career in Minnesota, as the Twins showed little interest in keeping him and he returned to Canada with the Blue Jays on a three-year, $16.5 million deal, thanking fans for their support with a full-page ad in the newspaper. In previewing the market over at The Hardball Times that winter, I wrote that Koskie was the "forgotten man among free-agent third basemen" and added:

Just looking at Koskie, you'd think he was all washed up. He does everything methodically, from walking to swinging a bat, and it often appears as though he's in a constant state of hurt. After every diving stop at third base that ends an inning, he rolls the ball back to the pitcher's mound and slowly ambles over to the dugout, like an old man who forgot his walker. ...

Through all the pain, through all the missed games, through all the "did Koskie just hurt himself again?" moments, he has been one of the most valuable third basemen in baseball over the last five years. ... What you get with Koskie is power, patience and defense, but it also comes with a price. He's going to miss games, he's going to go through stretches where he looks completely lost at the plate, and he's going to struggle against left-handed pitching.

If a team can overlook that, they'll have 130 games of great defense and solid hitting against right-handed pitchers, and they'll get it for a bargain price. With that said, there has probably never been a 32-year-old in baseball history who screamed out for a short-term, incentive-based contract quite like Koskie, who has spent a career teetering at the edge of the proverbial cliff.

After hitting .249/.337/.398 and missing 65 games with a broken thumb the Blue Jays made Koskie available for pennies on the dollar and the Twins again passed despite a hole at third base they filled with Tony Batista. Koskie ended up with the Brewers and got off to a strong start, hitting .261/.343/.490 with 12 homers and 23 doubles through 76 games, but suffered a concussion when he fell while chasing a pop-up on July 5. Sadly, he never played again.

Koskie is often criticized for his lack of durability, which is certainly fair to some extent and is a part of his legacy given how things ended in Milwaukee. However, it's also likely overstated for his time in Minnesota. He missed 44 games during his final season with the Twins, which was the lasting image that Koskie left fans with, but prior to that he had 550 plate appearances in four straight years and his 3,257 plate appearance rank 22nd in team history.

Ignoring his rookie year, when Koskie was kept out of the lineup by a manager rather than by injuries, he averaged 138 games per season in Minnesota. For comparison, Hunter averaged 141 games in seven years with the Twins after he became a full-time player. Hunter somehow gained a reputation for being an iron man and had different types of injuries, but at the end of the day was essentially out of the lineup as often as the "injury prone" Koskie.

VORP is a counting stat that blends together production and playing time, and lack of durability or not Koskie led the Twins in VORP three times and ranked second twice before finishing third in his final year. During that time he also ranked sixth, fourth, third, sixth, fourth, and seventh in VORP among AL third basemen. He hit .280/.373/.463 in Minnesota, which is good for a 115 adjusted OPS+ that's ninth among hitters with 3,000 plate appearances in a Twins uniform:

Harmon Killebrew      148
Rod Carew             137
Joe Mauer             134
Tony Oliva            131
Bob Allison           130
Kent Hrbek            128
Justin Morneau        125
Kirby Puckett         124
COREY KOSKIE          115
Chuck Knoblauch       114

That's some elite company and his OPS+ ranks ahead of Gaetti, Hunter, Lawton, Earl Battey, Chuck Knoblauch, Tom Brunansky, Michael Cuddyer, Roy Smalley, Cesar Tovar, and Jacque Jones, among many others. Beyond that, VORP and OPS+ only account for offense and Koskie was an outstanding defender who added tons of value at third base. Wins Above Replacement combines offense and defense, and Koskie is 10th in Twins history among non-active hitters.

A clubhouse favorite whose frequent pranks included filling an unsuspecting Ortiz's underwear with peanut butter, Koskie spent part of his Twins career starring on horrible teams and then finished his time in Minnesota cultivating an "injury prone" label that he'll never shed. The end result is a career that goes down as one of the most underrated in team history and a player who should at the very least share the "best third baseman in Twins history" title with Gaetti.

On-Base Percentage   .373     8th
OPS                  .836     9th
Isolated Power       .181    11th
Homers                101    13th
Slugging Percentage  .463    13th
Walks                 385    14th
RBIs                  437    15th
Runs Created          498    16th
Doubles               180    17th
Extra-Base Hits       294    17th
Times On Base        1215    18th
Total Bases          1290    19th
Runs                  438    20th
Steals                 66    20th
Hits                  781    21st
Plate Appearances    3257    22nd
Batting Average      .280    23rd
Games                 816    24th

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  • mike wants wins

    Not mentioned is that he remains a visible force in the community, actively participating in making this a better world. Corie Koskie appears to be one of the great human beings around. The baseball stuff is gravy to me.

  • Dustin

    Koskie’s appearance on the KFAN morning show a while back is my lasting memory of him. He spent several minutes doing a commercial for his fitness centers before being hung up on. Planet Fitness I believe.

  • mark

    Koskie was a fine 3rd baseman and he was a gamer. I’m not sure I would rate him #16 but he is deserving of the Top 40.

  • Dave T

    I wish the Twins had brought him back from Toronto. Tony Batista? Ugh.

  • Leon L

    Pretty telling of the Twins season that you’ve started the top 40 list again with a dozen games to go….sigh

  • PMac

    I like Koskie but no way is top twenty Twin of all time. Either that or the Twins history is great on top but not much depth.

  • Alex

    Gaetti ranks ahead of Koskie as the franchise’s best Twins-era 3B because:
    1. His Twins career was nearly 70% longer: 9 full seasons and he was more durable.
    2. His ceiling was much higher: From 1986-88 he averaged 31 HR and 102 RBI (back when we cared about those) with a .516 SLG, three Gold Gloves, and MVP votes all three years.
    3. Most importantly, he was incredible in the 1987 postseason: 12 games of .277/.340/.574 with 7 XBH and even 2/2 in SB.

    Of course, if we were fielding a hypothetical team, we’d put Killebrew at 3B and put Hrbek at 1B.

    FWIW I have Koskie at #29 in my Twins rankings, right between Kevin Tapani and Tom Brunansky. Gaetti is #19.

  • Alex

    That got me thinking, what would the all-time Twins lineup be (and Killebrew played more 3B for the Twins than Koskie, so he can definitely man third)?

    C is definitely Mauer (with Battey holding the slight edge over Harper as the backup). 1B is Hrbek and 2B is Carew. It’s too bad Knoblauch can’t play SS, so he has to sit on the bench, and there’s a 3-way battle at SS between Smalley, Gagne and Versalles. The OF would be Oliva, Puckett and Allison right to left, with Torii as a 4th OFer (or start him and let Oliva rest his knees at DH). Gaetti, Brunansky and Morneau could fight for bench spots, although Cesar Tovar could be helpful because of he could back up everyone.

    The rotation would clearly be Blyleven, Kaat, Santana, Jim Perry and Viola. Camilo Pascual is tough because half of his career was with the Senators. He might have to join Radke and Dave Goltz in long relief. Nathan could close with Aggy and Al Worthington setting him up.

  • frightwig

    The other knock on Koskie was that he was too patient, or “not aggressive enough,” at the plate. He was a Billy Beane dream in an organization that wanted an “RBI man” to be up there hacking.

    From 1998-2004, Koskie was really the team MVP with 23.3 fWAR (8 WAR more than the next best, Hunter). If you want to narrow it down to when the Twins became good again, from 2001-4, he had the most fWAR in that span, too. He had the most single-season value on the team in 1999, 2000, 2001, virtually the same value as Jacque Jones to lead the team in 2002, and then led the team again in 2003. In 2004, when Koskie’s 2.4 fWAR was 3rd on the team, trailing Lew Ford and Hunter, it was the first time Torii Hunter was ever worth more fWAR than Corey Koskie. And yet Torii Hunter was “The Face of the Franchise,” while some commenters here still question whether Koskie really belongs in the All-Time Top 20.

    He was a great but underrated player, all right. I hope he doesn’t have to wait too much longer to be inducted into the Twins Hall of Fame. He deserves the honor.

  • frightwig

    *Note: when discussing fWAR above, I’m comparing Koskie only to other regular position players.

    From 1998-2004, Brad Radke was worth the most fWAR, although Koskie was worth more than all other Twins pitchers, and Koskie led all Twins hitters and pitchers in cumulative value from 2001-2004.

  • Doofus

    I just scrolled back and noticed #17,18,19 and 20 all time great Twins writeups are missing. Where are they? I enjoy reading these. Can you put up links on the sidebar?