July 15, 2014
Because so many All-Star selections are based more on first-half performances than overall track records and there's a rule that every team must be represented by at least one player there have been plenty of head-scratching inclusions over the years. Glen Perkins and Kurt Suzuki are both deserving All-Stars this year, but that hasn't always been the case throughout Twins history and I thought it would be interesting to look back at the team's most questionable All-Stars.
Ron Coomer, 1999: With the Twins in the midst of their seventh consecutive losing season and their third straight 90-loss season Coomer was chosen as the team's lone All-Star in 1999. At the All-Star break the Twins were in last place at 34-52 and Coomer was hitting .282/.312/.458 with 11 homers and 12 walks in 75 games as a first baseman/third baseman. And his production was even worse than it looks because offensive levels across baseball were very high in 1999.
As a whole the American League hit .275/.349/.439 in 1999, which means during the first half that got him named to the All-Star team Coomer had an OPS that was 20 points below average. And not only was he a first baseman/third baseman--two positions where the standard for offense is even higher than the league overall--Coomer was 32 years old with no real history of success. He then made the All-Star nod look even worse by hitting .235/.300/.372 in the second half.
Coomer finished his first and only All-Star season hitting .263/.307/.424 with 16 homers and 30 walks in 127 games, posting an OPS that was 60 points below the league average. That year the AL had 31 first basemen and third basemen who played at least 100 games and Coomer ranked 20th in batting average, 28th in on-base percentage, 25th in slugging percentage, and 25th in OPS. He was also a very limited defender and baserunner.
So who should have been the team's All-Star in 1999? What makes the Coomer selection doubly weird is that the Twins actually had some very good players that season. Brad Radke threw 219 innings with the league's fourth-best ERA. Eric Milton threw 206 innings and ranked among the AL's top 10 in strikeouts, strikeout-to-walk ratio, and opponents' batting average. Corey Koskie hit .310/.387/.468 in 117 games. Coomer wasn't one of the Twins' five best players.
Tim Laudner, 1988: Laudner was 30 years old and in his eighth season when he was chosen as a first-time All-Star in 1988. Combined during the previous seven seasons he hit .218/.285/.393 in 1,580 plate appearances, ranking as one of baseball's worst hitters over that span, and Laudner typically split time behind the plate with catchers like Dave Engle, Mark Salas, Sal Butera, Jeff Reed, Ray Smith, and Tom Nieto.
Laudner hit .191 for the World Series-winning team in 1987, but then in 1988 he took on a bigger workload behind the plate and hit .264/.329/.462 with nine homers in the first half. That earned Laudner a spot on the All-Star team backing up starting catcher Terry Steinbach of the A's, but he turned back into a pumpkin in the second half by hitting .234/.299/.341 with four homers to finish his lone All-Star season at .251/.316/.406 with 13 homers in 117 games.
It was a weak year for catchers and the position's standard for offense is always low, but of the league's 14 regulars he was eighth in OPS while throwing out just 25 percent of steal attempts. And then one season after being a first-time All-Star at 30 he was retired at 31, calling it quits after hitting .222/.293/.351 for the Twins in 1989. Laudner was one of 293 players to log at least 2,000 plate appearances in the 1980s and he ranked 292nd in batting average and 280th in OBP.
So who should have been the team's All-Star in 1988? Believe it or not, Laudner actually wasn't the Twins' only All-Star. In fact, coming off the World Series victory in 1987 they had five All-Stars in 1988, including the deserving Frank Viola, Kirby Puckett, and Gary Gaetti. Allan Anderson also won the ERA title without making the All-Star team and Kent Hrbek wasn't picked in perhaps the best season of his career, hitting .312/.387/.520 for the league's seventh-best OPS.
Jim Perry, 1971: Perry is one of the best pitchers in Twins history and in 1970 he won the Cy Young award with an AL-best 24 victories and a 3.04 ERA in 279 innings. And then in 1971 he was terrible. In a very low-scoring year Perry posted a 4.23 ERA compared to the AL average of 3.46, allowing the most earned runs (127) and home runs (39) in the league. If you translate his 1971 numbers to today's offensive environment it equates to a 5.00 ERA and 53 homers allowed.
And he didn't even have a good first half with a 4.10 ERA and 20 homers in 22 starts. Perry did, however, have enough run support and luck to go 12-8 despite coughing up tons of runs, which is often enough to get an All-Star nod in 2013 and was certainly enough in 1971. It's not hard to see how the reigning Cy Young winner with 12 wins at the All-Star break got chosen for the team, but Perry had a worse ERA than all but three AL pitchers to qualify for the ERA title in 1971.
Perry was so good for so long that it seems wrong to put him on a list with guys like Coomer and Laudner, but strictly in terms of performance during an All-Star season no pitcher in Twins history was worse. Despite going 74-86 in 1971 the Twins had five All-Stars, yet the three players with the highest Wins Above Replacement totals on the team--Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, and Cesar Tovar--weren't picked.
GS IP ERA SO BB HR Jim Perry 39 270 4.23 126 102 39 Bert Blyleven 38 278 2.81 224 59 21
Blyleven was 20 years old, so no doubt the baseball world in 1971 was slow to come around to him being an elite pitcher, but that comparison between Twins rotation-mates is crazy. Blyleven allowed 95 runs in 278 innings, Perry allowed 135 runs in 270 innings, and Blyleven nearly had twice as many strikeouts, half as many walks, and half as many homers allowed. Three decades later Blyleven detractors used his lack of All-Star games to discredit his Hall of Fame case.
Dave Engle, 1984: As a prospect Engle was acquired by the Twins as part of the four-player deal for Rod Carew in 1979. Engle was very good for the Twins in 1983, hitting .305/.350/.449 in his first season as a starting catcher, and a solid first half in 1984 led to a spot on the All-Star team backing up Lance Parrish of the Tigers. He then hit .192 in the second half and finished the year at .266/.308/.363 with four homers in 109 games overall.
Engle never got 200 plate appearances in a season again after being a 27-year-old All-Star and played a grand total of just 269 career games after the selection, hitting .229 with 10 homers. He was the Twins' lone All-Star on an 81-81 team despite Viola and Hrbek having standout seasons as 24-year-olds and no fewer than a half-dozen other players being far more deserving by the end of the season.
Ken Landreaux, 1980: Landreaux, like Engle, was acquired from the Angels in the Carew trade. And, like Engle, he was the lone All-Star on a mediocre Twins team in 1980 that featured several stronger performances. Landreaux was actually much better for the Twins the previous season, hitting .305/.347/.450 in 151 games as their primary center fielder. He nearly duplicated those numbers in the first half of 1980 to get the All-Star spot, but then dropped off in the second half.
Landreaux wasn't bad in 1980, he just wasn't anywhere close to All-Star caliber. He finished at .281/.334/.417 with seven homers in 129 games split between center field and left field, grading out very poorly in modern defensive metrics. There were 47 outfielders to play at least 100 games in the AL and Landreaux ranked 22nd in batting average, 29th in OBP, 23rd in slugging, and 28th in OPS. That offseason the Twins traded him to the Dodgers for Mickey Hatcher.