June 19, 2013

Who are the best young hitters in Twins history?

best young hitters

Oswaldo Arcia has thrived as a 22-year-old rookie, Aaron Hicks has struggled as a 23-year-old rookie, and Twins fans are counting down the days until stud prospects Miguel Sano and Byron Buxton arrive in Minnesota. All of which got me thinking about the best young hitters in Twins history, so I looked up the most productive seasons for each age based on OPS. No teenage hitter has even gotten regular playing time for the Twins, so let's start with 20-year-olds ...


AGE 20              YEAR      PA      OPS
Butch Wynegar       1976     622     .719

Butch Wynegar is the only hitter in Twins history to see regular action at age 20 and he logged 622 plate appearances, started 133 games at catcher, threw out 35 percent of steal attempts, and made the All-Star team while hitting .260/.356/.363 with more walks (79) than strikeouts (63) in a pitcher-friendly era. Adjusting for the time it was a Joe Mauer-esque year, which is why he was such a phenom and why, despite a solid 13-year career, he was ultimately a disappointment.

Bert Blyleven actually has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 100, because he was an amazing young pitcher who debuted before the designated hitter. In fact, he also has the most plate appearances by a 19-year-old in Twins history with 58. Through age 20 he hit .135 in 158 trips to the plate ... and tossed 442 innings with a 2.95 ERA. Blyleven ended up with 514 career plate appearances and hit .131 with a 193-to-5 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Among position players Luis Rivas has the second-most plate appearances by a 20-year-old in Twins history with 64. In the early days of this blog the Twins rushing Rivas to the majors and repeatedly handing him a starting job based almost solely on his age was a frequent source of frustration. He debuted at 20 and got the sixth-most plate appearances in team history through age 24--Wynegar got the most by a wide margin--but Rivas basically never improved.


AGE 21              YEAR      PA      OPS
Tom Brunansky       1982     545     .848
Rod Carew           1967     561     .750
Butch Wynegar       1977     617     .715
Zoilo Versalles     1961     542     .704
Luis Rivas          2001     619     .682
Cristian Guzman     1999     456     .543

Those are the only six 21-year-olds in Twins history to log at least 300 plate appearances. Tom Brunansky actually began that 1982 season at Triple-A in the Angels organization and was hitting just .205/.317/.330 in 25 games there when they traded him to the Twins in mid-May along with Mike Walters for Doug Corbett and Rob Wilfong. He was immediately handed a starting job and hit .272/.377/.471 with 20 homers, 30 doubles, and 71 walks in 127 games.

Rod Carew was also no slouch at 21, hitting .292/.341/.409 in one of the lowest-scoring eras in baseball history. Seriously, in 1967 the American League as a whole hit .236 with a .303 on-base percentage and .351 slugging percentage. If you adjust Carew's raw numbers to today's offensive environment he hit around .315/.360/.475, which is amazing from a 21-year-old second baseman and explains how he missed being the unanimous Rookie of the Year winner by one vote.

Wynegar cracks the list again and Rivas shows up too, along with shortstops Zoilo Versalles and Cristian Guzman. In six decades of Twins history only two regulars have been above-average hitters at 21, which is something to remember when Sano and Buxton show up. Mauer doesn't make the age-21 list because a knee injury cut short his rookie season, but he hit .308/.369/.570 in 122 plate appearances for what would be the top OPS by a wide margin.


AGE 22              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1982     591     .848
David Ortiz         1998     326     .817
Joe Mauer           2005     554     .783
Oswaldo Arcia       2013     133     .759
Tom Brunansky       1983     611     .753

I've included Arcia on the age-22 list despite his not having enough plate appearances to qualify yet because he's actually what got me thinking about this topic in the first place. Arcia has fared well enough in the early going that I wondered how his production compares to other 22-year-old Twins, discovering that he's in some pretty nice company with Kent Hrbek, David Ortiz, Mauer, and Brunansky.

In all a total of 12 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 22 and Hrbek leads the way by hitting .301/.363/.485 with 23 homers in 140 games as a rookie in 1981. The worst OPS in the group of 22-year-olds belongs to Wynegar, who fell to .229/.307/.308 in his third season after being an All-Star at 20 and 21. Rivas, Guzman, Versalles, Carew, and Carlos Gomez also posted a sub-.700 OPS at 22.


AGE 23              YEAR      PA      OPS
Joe Mauer           2006     608     .936
Justin Morneau      2004     312     .875
Kent Hrbek          1983     582     .855
Rod Carew           1969     504     .853
Cristian Guzman     2001     527     .811

Four of the truly elite hitters in Twins history ... and Guzman. He'd been terrible in his first two seasons with the Twins, but in 2001 he hit .308/.346/.507 with seven homers, 22 doubles, and an incredible 13 triples in the first half to make the All-Star team. And then just as everyone was getting excited about a switch-hitting 23-year-old shortstop emerging as a star Guzman hurt his shoulder, missed much of the second half, and resumed being a terrible hitter.

Mauer hit .347/.429/.507 in 140 games at age 23, becoming the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title. He likely should have finished either first or second in the MVP voting, but instead placed sixth while teammate Justin Morneau won the award based largely on racking up RBIs with Mauer on base in front of him. Two years earlier Morneau posted the second-best OPS by a 23-year-old in Twins history, hitting .271/.340/.536 in 74 games after a midseason call-up.

Carew, like Mauer, won his first batting title at age 23, hitting .332/.386/.467 in 1969 to boost his OPS by 200 points compared to 1968, which happened to be one of the lowest-scoring seasons in baseball history and the final season before MLB lowered the pitching mound. In all 28 different Twins have gotten at least 300 plate appearances at age 23 and 13 failed to crack a .700 OPS, including Torii Hunter and Roy Smalley.

Hicks hasn't reached 300 plate appearances yet, but his current .575 OPS at age 23 would rank third-worst ahead of only David McCarty (.542) and Danny Thompson (.482). Greg Gagne (.596) and Rich Becker (.599) also aren't very far ahead of Hicks and two guys who preceded him in center field, Gomez and Ben Revere, posted an OPS under .625 at 23. Next season Arcia will try to become the sixth Twins hitter to crack an .800 OPS at 23.


AGE 24              YEAR      PA      OPS
Kent Hrbek          1984     635     .906
Delmon Young        2010     613     .826
Denard Span         2008     411     .819
David Ortiz         2000     478     .810
Joe Mauer           2007     471     .808

Hrbek has the best OPS for 22-year-olds, the third-best OPS for 23-year-olds, and the best OPS for 24-year-olds. In his age-24 season listed above he hit .311/.383/.522 with 27 homers in 149 games, finishing runner-up in the MVP voting behind Tigers reliever Willie Hernandez despite not even making the All-Star team. Hrbek never finished in the top 15 in MVP voting before or after that season, although he had plenty of other productive years.

Delmon Young appeared to have a breakout season in 2010, hitting .298/.333/.493 with 21 homers and 46 doubles in 153 games at age 24 to convince a lot of people he was finally living up to the hype he received as a prospect. He finished 10th in the MVP balloting because some voters overlooked his terrible defense and focused on his high RBI total, but in three seasons since then he's hit just .263/.297/.404.

Ortiz has the second-best OPS for 22-year-olds and the fourth-best OPS for 24-year-olds, so while no one could have predicted that he'd become one of the elite hitters in baseball after leaving the Twins there was certainly plenty of promise shown at a young age. In all Ortiz hit .266/.348/.461 in 455 games for the Twins through age 25. In team history only Mauer, Hrbek, Morneau, and Rich Rollins had more plate appearances and a higher OPS than Ortiz through age 25.

By age 24 plenty of hitters are regulars in the majors and a total of 38 different Twins hitters got at least 300 plate appearances as 24-year-olds. Kirby Puckett ranks 34th out of 38 with a .655 OPS, hitting .296/.320/.336 with zero homers in 128 games as a rookie. Carew would hold the top spot among 24-year-olds with a .930 OPS in 1970, but a knee injury ended his season after 51 games with a .366 batting average.


AGE 25              YEAR      PA      OPS
Harmon Killebrew    1961     656    1.012
Justin Morneau      2006     661     .934
Tony Oliva          1964     719     .916
Bobby Kielty        2002     348     .890
Joe Mauer           2008     633     .864

Harmon Killebrew couldn't crack any of these lists before age 25 because the team didn't move to Minnesota until then. In his first Twins season Killebrew hit .288/.405/.606 with 46 homers and 107 walks. Five decades later he's still the only Twins hitter to top a .950 OPS by age 25. Tony Oliva also cracks these lists for the first time at 25 because it was his rookie season. He led the AL in batting average, runs, doubles, and total bases, winning Rookie of the Year.

Morneau's aforementioned MVP-winning 2006 season came at age 25, as he hit .321/.375/.556 with 34 homers and 37 doubles in 159 games. Morneau has the second-best OPS for 23-year-olds and 25-year-olds, but hit just .239/.304/.437 in between as a 24-year-old. Mauer cracks the top five in OPS for ages 22, 23, 24, and 25. And he likely would've had the top OPS for 21-year-olds too if not for the knee injury.

Bobby Kielty is the odd man out on the age-25 list, which reminds me that I've never been more wrong about a player. He was a switch-hitting outfielder with power and plate discipline, and as you can see Kielty put up big numbers at an early age. When the Twins traded Kielty to the Blue Jays for Shannon Stewart in 2006 he was a 26-year-old .269/.375/.444 hitter. I thought they'd made a terrible mistake. And then Kielty hit .246/.333/.389 after the trade, flaming out at 30.


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April 5, 2013

Link-O-Rama

Roger Ebert, who's the greatest film critic of all time and still had his fastball at age 70, passed away yesterday after a harrowing battle with cancer. Even as cancer ravaged his body his mind remained incredibly sharp and he never ceased being the first review I read for every movie. And beyond his greatness as a writer and film critic Ebert lived a fascinating life and was a hilarious regular guest on Howard Stern's radio show for many years. Truly a legend.

Parker Hageman of Twins Daily escaped from his parents' basement long enough to interview Glen Perkins about the role of sabermetrics in his career and I'm confident it's the best baseball article you'll read this week. Perfect mix of blogging, reporting, stats, and quotes.

• Speaking of Hageman, as part of his Opening Day trip to the Target Field press box he co-stars in this amazing GIF of Sid Hartman sipping hot chocolate.

• Believe it or not, the headline "Hopkins man trying to connect with woman he met at drunken driving class" is not about me. But can you audit those classes without the whole arrest part?

Brett Favre's bedroom on draft day 1991 was absolutely spectacular.

• Who should be batting second for the Twins? I'm glad you asked.

• I jokingly asked via Twitter for someone to start a Tumblr page devoted to Roy Smalley's hair and the internet being the internet it now exists.

• I'm really hoping that J.J. Barea becomes a trend-setter.

• Probably my biggest regret in life was not having my breathalyzer to test John Bonnes midway through this week's "Gleeman and The Geek" episode.

• My mom weighed in on the podcast.

• Someone over at "MLB 13: The Show" decided to make a video of me as a player in the game and they even included the glasses, constant five o'clock shadow, and slow bat. Screen shot:

Screen Shot 2013-04-03 at 10.24.45 PM

Honestly, those frames are hipper than I'm comfortable with and I don't have that much range.

• I've been letting my NBC bosses know that I'm available to take over Jimmy Fallon's old spot.

• As a lifelong Howard Stern fan I loved that his guests on Wednesday were Drew Magary from Deadspin and Louis C.K. from being the funniest person alive. Stern and C.K. had a tremendous hour-plus chat and afterward my main thought was: "I really hope they liked each other." Because for some reason that would make me incredibly happy.

• If you like "Parks and Recreation" you'll love this.

• Apparently there's now a third sports radio station in the Twin Cities, as Love 105 has become The Ticket, with programming that includes syndicated CBS Sports Radio shows.

• With free agency around the corner Robinson Cano fired Scott Boras as his agent and hired Jay-Z, which has me wondering what type of commission Mase charges.

Kirk Goldsberry of Grantland wrote an awesome visual, statistical, and analytical article about how LeBron James became the best player in basketball and then got even better.

• Presented without comment: For three games this year the Twins are hosting a "Wine, Women, and Baseball" event at Target Field, sponsored by Midwest Facial Plastic Surgery and Aesthetic Skincare and featuring "pamper yourself stations."

• During my weekly appearance on KFAN with Paul Allen we discussed Eduardo Escobar's Hall of Fame candidacy for a half-hour or so. Plus some other stuff, probably.

• "Mad Men" returning is exciting enough, but in promoting the upcoming season Jon Hamm was a great guest on "Comedy Bang Bang" and very amusing on "Seven Minutes in Heaven":

"I thought that would make you kiss me."

• My attempt to figure out exactly how bad the Twins will be this season.

• Hebrew school expellees aren't much help in trivia contests.

• If anyone cares, here's my roster for the 13-team Rotoworld fantasy baseball league.

• A long time ago lots of people thought Delmon Young would be really good, so that's cool.

• "Blue Valentine" is one of my favorite movies--it came out in 2010 and I've seen it at least 10 times--and you can watch it for just 99 cents this week on both Amazon.com and iTunes.

• Maybe it was just low expectations because everyone seemed to hate it at the time, but I finally saw "This is 40" and really liked it a lot, especially Albert Brooks and Maude Apatow.

• I donate to Maximum Fun every month because they provide tons of great, free content in the form of several of the best podcasts around. They rely on donations to keep afloat, so please join me in sending them some money for the annual pledge drive.

• Stand-up comic, "Parks and Recreation" writer, Twitter must-follow, and fellow "Bar Rescue" fan Joe Mande is coming to Acme Comedy Company in Minneapolis next month. We should all go.

• Interested in sponsoring a week of AG.com and advertising your product, service, local business, or website to thousands of readers per day? Click here for details.

• Some of this week's weird and random search engine queries that brought people here:

- "Jared Burton girlfriend"
- "Darin Mastroianni girlfriend"
- "Robb Quinlan girlfriend"
- "Fat Zubaz"
- "What happened to Scott Erickson?"
- "Who did the Twins all trade?"
- "Twins future prospect"
- "Is Drew Butera married?"
- "Dick Bremer hates Aaron Gleeman"
- "Husband says I'm fat"
- "Alexey Shved shirtless"
- "Byron Buxton shirtless"

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is "You and Me" by Penny and The Quarters from the "Blue Valentine" soundtrack:


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October 28, 2011

Link-O-Rama

• Don't worry: I'll continue working from bed.

Nick Punto got robbed of a hit and tried to break his bat, Bo Jackson-style. It didn't go well.

• After reading this story it's hard to believe I was the one expelled from Hebrew school.

• The kid from Jerry Maguire turned 21 years old and his name was spelled wrong on the cake.

Josh Hartnett is stealing my look again.

• Behold: Easily the worst column you'll read this week.

• MLB Network is launching a new sabermetrics show and I'm actually sort of optimistic about it because host Brian Kenny is always great.

Zooey Deschanel might be the only person I'll forgive for leaving a World Series game early.

• I'll be wearing this costume for Halloween. For the past 10 years I've gone as a fat blogger.

• Google's new television commercial features the story of a music teacher from Louisiana who won $1 million by tossing a perfect game with Roy Halladay on "MLB 2K11." My favorite part? Brian Kingrey knew little about baseball before buying the video game, so he studied stats on Baseball-Reference.com and got scouting reports on Rotoworld:

Presumably our check is in the mail.

• I was all set to star in this before the weight loss.

• My favorite couple is having another kid.

Johnny Depp seems weird, but at least he has a pretty good sense of humor about himself.

• Official Fantasy Girl of AG.com candidate Kelly Brook, looking all classy and everything.

• This week's "Gleeman and The Geek" podcast went so long we broke it into two episodes. Part 1 has talk of Joe Nathan's future, Jim Thome's choices, the Twins' medical staff, and blog comments. Part 2 has talk of John Bonnes' offseason blueprint, Ron Gardenhire's stance on platooning hitters, and my "sexiness levels." Oh, and they closed down the bar around us.

• Her new show is kind of unwatchable, but thankfully Mrs. Coach is still very adorable.

• I'd love to see a similar picture of the Twins' general manager.

• Hopefully the upcoming Playboy issue featuring Lindsay Lohan will come with a time machine.

• I'm no longer involved with The Hardball Times after co-creating the site back in 2004, but their annual book is always a must-read and looks better than ever this year.

• If even a fraction of the allegations are true Chris Cook is an awful human being.

• Game 6 of the World Series was crazy and the Win Probability graph is hilarious.

• This commercial is almost as good as the NBA lockout is bad:

I liked it so much that I bought this shirt. And this kid is my new favorite person ever.

Michael Beasley's publicist annoyingly sent 20 e-mails promoting his charity game, but oddly enough there were no follow-ups after the event. And coincidentally nothing about this either.

• I'm apparently one of the few people who still loves Netflix.

• As someone who hates to talk to anyone on the phone I sympathize with Tony La Russa.

Albert Pujols prepared for Game 6 of the World Series by putting on a sleeveless shirt and hanging out at Best Buy.

Jerry Kill finally signed his seven-year contract and it has a $50,000 bonus for the Gophers winning a national championship, which will come in handy in the post-apocalyptic world.

• Next time you feel embarrassed about something, remember this: Thousands of people own a Donovan McNabb Vikings jersey.

• Hopefully comedian Patrice O'Neal recovers from his stroke as well as my mom did in 2002.

• My condolences to Roy Smalley, whose father passed away this week. Roy Smalley II was also a longtime shortstop in the majors and it's one helluva baseball family.

• I'll be tweeting lots of commentary, analysis, and snark during Game 7 tonight, so follow me.

• Finally, this week's AG.com-approved music video is The Black Keys' new song "Lonely Boy":

October 14, 2011

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #15 Roy Smalley

Roy Frederick Smalley III | 1976-1982, 1985-1987 | SS/3B | Career Stats

Roy Smalley was born into a baseball family. His father, Roy Smalley II, spent 11 years in the majors as a shortstop in the 1940s and 1950s, and his mother, Jolene Mauch, was the sister of longtime big-league manager Gene Mauch. And together they made one hell of a player, as Smalley starred on back-to-back national championship teams at USC and was drafted by four different MLB teams before finally signing with the Rangers as the No. 1 overall pick in 1974.

He jumped right to Double-A as a 21-year-old and hit .251/.382/.433 with 14 homers and 86 walks in 125 games. Smalley was called up to the majors a month into his second pro season and struggled, hitting .228 in 73 games for the Rangers, but the switch-hitting infielder hit .340 in 43 games at Triple-A and opened 1976 as Texas' starting second baseman. However, after a slow first two months the Rangers traded him to the Twins in a June 1 blockbuster.

Not many 23-year-old former No. 1 picks are traded just two years after being drafted, but the Rangers parted with Smalley (plus Mike Cubbage, Jim Gideon, Bill Singer, and $250,000) in order to get 25-year-old Twins ace Bert Blyleven, whose contract squabbles led to his exit from Minnesota. Blyleven went on to have a Hall of Fame career, but spent just one-and-a-half seasons with the Rangers and eventually returned to the Twins a decade after the trade.

Aside from the Hall of Fame part Smalley had a similar Twins career. He spent parts of seven seasons with the Twins, emerging as an All-Star shortstop before being traded to the Yankees in an April of 1982 deal for Ron Davis, Paul Boris, and Greg Gagne, who eventually replaced him at shortstop. Then, after a few years with the Yankees and a half-season with the White Sox, he was traded back to the Twins in February of 1985 and finished his career in Minnesota.

Smalley's first go-around in Minnesota was without question his best, as he immediately took over as the starting shortstop in mid-1976 and hit .271/.353/.344 in 103 games for an 85-win team managed by his uncle. Shortstop was almost exclusively a defense-driven position in the 1970s and Smalley's now-modest .697 OPS was 82 points above the AL average. He slumped back to the rest of the shortstop pack in 1977, hitting just .231/.316/.315 in 150 games.

Mauch stuck with his nephew and he responded with a big 1978, batting .273/.362/.433 with 19 homers, 53 total extra-base hits, and more walks (85) than strikeouts (70) in 158 games. Smalley's adjusted OPS+ of 122 led all MLB shortstops, with only Dave Concepcion (114) and Robin Yount (110) also topping 100, and still stands as the best single-season mark by any shortstop in Twins history ahead of even Zoilo Versalles in his MVP-winning 1965 campaign.

It looked like Smalley was going to build on that great 1978 and take the next step to stardom in 1979 when he hit .341 with 15 homers, 65 RBIs, and a .959 OPS in the first half to make the All-Star team, but he slumped terribly in the second half, hitting just .185 to finish with a nearly identical-to-1978 overall line of .271/.353/.441. Despite the second-half fade he played all 162 games and led the league with 729 plate appearances, but Smalley's durable days were over.

He remained very productive during the next two seasons, hitting .274/.364/.415, but Smalley missed 29 games in 1980 and 53 games in the strike-shortened 1981 season because of back problems. Mauch was fired as manager in late 1980 and in 1981 owner Calvin Griffith publicly criticized Smalley for his alleged failure to treat the injury during the two-month strike. And four games into the 1982 season Smalley and his then-giant contract were traded to the Yankees.

Smalley split time between shortstop and third base, forming quasi-platoons with Bucky Dent and Graig Nettles while hitting .257/.346/.418 in 142 games. He was even better in 1983, hitting .275/.357/.452 in 130 games, but after a poor first half in 1984 the Yankees sent him to the White Sox for future Cy Young winner Doug Drabek. He hit .170 in 47 games for Chicago and that offseason Smalley was traded to Minnesota for the second time.

By that point Smalley was 32 years old and spent as much time at designated hitter as he did at shortstop, so there were no future Hall of Famers leaving Minnesota in the swap. In fact, neither player traded to the White Sox for Smalley played in the majors after the deal. And six months later the Twins re-acquired Blyleven from the Indians, teaming him with Smalley nine years after they were traded for one another.

Smalley still had plenty of gas left in the tank, at least offensively. He played some shortstop in 1985, but was primarily a DH while batting .258/.350/.419 in 382 games during the next three seasons. Those numbers may not seem like much from a DH by today's standards, but his .768 OPS was solidly above the 1985-1987 league average of .752 and Smalley's outstanding plate disciplined remained a big asset as he drew 167 walks versus 197 strikeouts.

He went out on a high note, hitting .275/.352/.411 in 110 games as a part-time DH, occasional third baseman, and emergency shortstop in 1987, as the Twins won their first World Series. Smalley didn't play at all in the ALCS and was limited to pinch-hitting duties in the World Series as Randy Bush and late-season pickup Don Baylor split time at DH, but he made the most of a minor role by going 1-for-2 with a double and two walks against the Cardinals.

Smalley's career with the Twins is somewhat hard to evaluate because he not only spent two multi-year stints with the team, they came a decade apart and he was a totally different player in each stint. In his twenties Smalley was a switch-hitting shortstop with great plate discipline and 20-homer power. In his thirties Smalley brought most of those same offensive skills to the table, except they came in the form of a slightly above average part-time DH.

His final three years as a role player were plenty valuable and being on the World Series team in 1987 was no doubt the highlight of Smalley's career, but his spot on this list is largely due to the six-season run he had as the Twins' starting shortstop from 1976 to 1981. During that time he hit .264/.350/.394 in 3,330 plate appearances, which was good for a 104 OPS+. To put that in some context, here are the OPS+ leaders among all MLB shortstops from 1976 to 1981:

Roy Smalley         104
Garry Templeton     104
Dave Concepcion     101
Robin Yount         100
Alan Trammell        94

During his first six-year stint with the Twins he was arguably the best-hitting shortstop in all of baseball, which is a remarkable feat that gets overlooked because shortstops back then rarely put up the type of lofty raw numbers they do today. Not many players in Twins history can say they were the top hitter at their position for more than half a decade and while his glove was never considered an asset Smalley's all-around game makes him the Twins' best shortstop.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
Walks                 549     5th
Plate Appearances    4675     8th
Times On Base        1607     9th
Games                1148    10th
Hits                 1046    10th
RBIs                  485    12th
Runs                  551    12th
Homers                110    12th
Runs Created          578    12th
Total Bases          1602    13th
Extra-Base Hits       315    14th
Doubles               184    15th
On-Base Percentage   .350    22nd
Triples                21    24th