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

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:

                      OPS+
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.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
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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May 26, 2011

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #17 Earl Battey

Earl Jesse Battey Jr. | C | 1961-1967 | Career Stats

Signed by the White Sox in 1953 out of a Los Angeles high school, Earl Battey made his MLB debut in 1955 at age 20. He collected a pair of hits in a five-game cup of coffee, but didn't see his first extended action in the majors until 1957. Battey then spent the next three seasons serving as Sherm Lollar's backup in Chicago, playing sparingly behind the seven-time All-Star while batting just .209/.301/.377 in 413 total plate appearances.

In the last of those three seasons backing up Lollar a 24-year-old Battey lost playing time to another 24-year-old catcher, rookie Johnny Romano. Romano hit .294/.407/.468 in 53 games to overtake Battey for the second spot on the depth chart during Chicago's run to the World Series. Meanwhile, the 34-year-old Lollar was showing no signs of slowing down, turning in his second straight 20-homer, 80-RBI season while batting .265/.345/.451 in 140 games.

Lollar had been one of the AL's best catchers for a decade, so the White Sox decided to stick with him. That offseason owner Bill Veeck dealt Romano and 24-year-old first baseman Norm Cash to the Indians for a four-player package that included Minnie Minoso. Then two weeks before Opening Day the White Sox sent Battey, 22-year-old first baseman Don Mincher, and $150,000 to the Senators for Roy Sievers.

The trades paid immediate dividends, as both the 33-year-old Minoso and 34-year-old Sievers gave Chicago two strong seasons before leaving, but the moves were long-term disasters. Cash batted .361 with 41 homers and 132 RBIs for Detroit in 1961 and went on to make five All-Star teams. While not quite the hitter that Cash became, Mincher made two All-Star teams and hit .249/.348/.450 with 200 homers.

Romano, who went on to make a pair of All-Star teams while batting .255/.354/.443 during his 10-year career, immediately took over as the Indians' starting catcher, hitting .272/.349/.475 in 1960 while the 35-year-old Lollar hit just .252/.326/.356 for the White Sox. Similarly, 1960 also saw Battey become an instant starter for the Senators, winning the AL Gold Glove award while batting .270/.346/.406 with 15 homers during the team's final season in Washington.

They moved to Minnesota and became the Twins in 1961 and Harmon Killebrew starred by hitting .288/.405/.606 with 46 homers and 122 RBIs. While he was putting together the first of what would be seven 40-homer seasons, Battey was quickly establishing himself as one of the premier all-around catchers. Battey, now 26, won his second straight Gold Glove award and hit .302/.377/.470 with 17 homers while starting 127 games and catching over 1,100 innings.

Battey declined in 1962, hitting .280/.348/.393, but won his third straight Gold Glove and made the first of four All-Star teams. He bounced back to have the best season of his career in 1963, hitting .285/.369/.476 with 26 homers while catching an AL-leading 1,237 innings in an AL-high 142 starts and finishing seventh in the MVP voting. Yankees catcher Elston Howard won the MVP, but Battey produced similar numbers while batting 55 more times in 12 more games:

            G      PA      AVG      OBP      SLG      OPS     HR     RBI
Howard    135     531     .287     .342     .528     .870     28      85
Battey    147     586     .285     .369     .476     .845     26      84

Battey declined in 1964, hitting a still-solid .272/.348/.407, but bounced back in 1965 to finish 10th in the MVP voting. Twins teammates Zoilo Versalles and Tony Oliva finished one-two in the balloting and Mudcat Grant placed sixth, with Battey hitting .297/.375/.409 as the team won 102 games and the AL crown before falling to the Dodgers in the World Series. He caught all seven games despite running neck-first into a railing chasing a foul ball in Game 3.

Despite being just 30 years old 1965 proved to be his final great season as weight problems, injuries, and big workloads caught up to Battey. He hit .255/.337/.327 in 1966, but split time with Russ Nixon and Jerry Zimmerman in 1966, batting .165. After retiring he worked with inner-city kids in New York before going to college at age 45, graduating Summa Cum Laude. He then became a high-school teacher and coach in Florida before dying from cancer in 2003.

Battey's relatively brief career ended shortly after his 30th birthday and one of his best years came in Washington for the Senators, yet for four decades he ranked as the best catcher in Twins history. His raw offensive numbers during seven seasons in Minnesota (.278/.356/.409 with 76 homers) look solid and the multiple Gold Gloves awards tell the story of his defensive reputation, but without a closer look at Battey's career it's easy to undersell his impact.

His entire career was spent in one of the lowest-scoring eras ever and he played a position that was the most physically demanding and often home to no-hit defensive specialists. Battey was a stud on both sides of the ball, logging a huge number of innings, frequently catching one of the league's best pitching staffs, throwing out a high percentage of steal attempts, and putting up numbers offensively that were far more impressive than they initially appear.

For instance, when Battey hit .285/.369/.476 with 26 homers in 1963 the AL as a whole hit just .247/.312/.380. Go forward 40 years to 2003 and the AL hit .267/.333/.428, which means Battey's line in 1963 was the equivalent of batting .315/.400/.530 in 2003 and he would have cleared 30 homers with ease. As it stands, he ranked among the AL's top five catchers in Value Over Replacement Player (VORP) in each of his six full seasons with the Twins:

1961              VORP     1962              VORP     1963              VORP
Elston Howard     52.6     Johnny Romano     33.8     Elston Howard     44.0
Johnny Romano     41.5     Elston Howard     26.1     EARL BATTEY       41.1
Johnny Blanchard  32.6     EARL BATTEY       17.2     John Orsino       28.0
EARL BATTEY       32.0     Jim Pagliaroni    13.4     Joe Azcue         17.6
Earl Averill      21.6     Ken Retzer        11.9     Yogi Berra        14.0

1964              VORP     1965              VORP     1966              VORP
Elston Howard     43.1     EARL BATTEY       29.8     Johnny Romano     16.7
Bill Freehan      37.0     Johnny Romano     24.1     Joe Azcue         10.4
Bob Tillman       24.7     Billy Bryan       18.4     Elston Howard      7.9
Johnny Romano     21.1     Charlie Lau       10.4     Paul Casanova      7.8
EARL BATTEY       19.0     John Orsino        9.7     EARL BATTEY        5.8

No other catcher cracked the top five in each of those six seasons and the only guys to make it five times were Howard and Battey's old competition, Romano (see what I mean about those trades not working out especially well for the White Sox long term?). And VORP only accounts for hitting. As outstanding as Battey was offensively, it's his defense--and specifically his great arm behind the plate--that actually may have been the strongest part of his game.

Battey was never especially mobile to begin with and became perhaps MLB's slowest player once age, the rigors of five straight 1,000-inning seasons defensively, and excess weight from a goiter problem sapped him of whatever limited quickness he once had. Despite that, Battey never lost his amazing arm and remained the league's best-throwing catcher throughout his career. Battey allowed just 226 stolen bases in over 6,700 innings at catcher for the Twins.

Allowing one steal for every 30 innings during the run-heavy 1960s is amazing enough, but he also gunned down nearly 40 percent of steal attempts. Teams rarely tested him despite the huge steal totals being posted throughout baseball, yet Battey still managed a league-leading caught-stealing total three times. He also led the AL in pickoffs four times, including 15 in 1962. That season Battey allowed 34 steals and picked off or threw out 42 runners.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
On-Base Percentage   .356    18th
Walks                 328    19th
Adjusted OPS+         109    21st
Games                 853    22nd
Hits                  768    22nd
Times On Base        1113    22nd
Runs Created          399    22nd
Plate Appearances    3161    24th
Homers                 76    24th
Total Bases          1131    24th
Batting Average      .278    25th
RBIs                  350    25th

May 20, 2011

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #18 Rick Aguilera

Richard Warren Aguilera | RP/SP | 1989-1999 | Career Stats

Originally picked as a third baseman out of high school by St. Louis in the 37th round of the 1980 draft, Rick Aguilera opted instead for college and became a pitcher. After three years at Brigham Young University, the California native was selected by the Mets in the third round of the 1983 draft and agreed to sign. Aguilera moved quickly through the minors, reporting to low Single-A after signing and finding himself at Triple-A to begin his third pro season.

Working strictly as a starter, Aguilera had a 3.47 ERA and 256-to-73 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 259 combined innings between Single-A and Double-A. After posting a 2.51 ERA in 11 starts at Triple-A to begin the 1985 season, the Mets called Aguilera up in June. He debuted on June 12 against the Phillies, tossing two scoreless innings in relief of Ron Darling and Jesse Orosco to pick up the win in an extra-inning game. Not yet 24 years old, he was in the majors for good.

After debuting as a reliever Aguilera moved into the rotation with a 3.35 ERA in 19 starts, but was completely overshadowed by 20-year-old rotation-mate Dwight Gooden, who followed up his Rookie of the Year win in 1984 by going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA to win the Cy Young award and pitching triple crown. Also on that 1985 team was a 27-year-old utility infielder named Ron Gardenhire, who batted .179 in what would be his final big-league season.

Aguilera began 1986 alongside Gooden, Darling, Sid Fernandez, and Bob Ojeda in the Mets' great young rotation, but was quickly demoted to the bullpen and had to reclaim his rotation spot. He finished 10-7 with a 3.88 ERA in 142 innings for a 108-win team that ranks as one of the best in baseball history, spending the World Series run in the bullpen. Game 6 of the 1986 World Series is one of the most famous of all time, but few people recall the winning pitcher.

With the game tied in the ninth inning Aguilera relieved Orosco and set the Red Sox down in order. When the Mets failed to score Aguilera stayed in for the 10th and allowed two runs. We all know what happened next, but it's amazing to think that Aguilera was nearly the goat and then became the winning pitcher, yet almost no one remembers him even being involved. In fact, the Boston Globe's game story the next morning mentioned Aguilera once in 1,400 words.

While the Twins were winning a World Series of their own in 1987 he remained in the Mets' rotation and went 11-3 with a 3.60 ERA, but was limited to 17 starts by an elbow injury that required surgery. He missed most of the 1988 season and then came back as a long reliever in 1989 after David Cone took his rotation spot, but was unhappy in a low-leverage bullpen role and asked to be traded. Before that could happen, Aguilera thrived as a reliever.

He threw 69 innings with a 2.34 ERA and 80-to-21 strikeout-to-walk ratio through July and the success, combined with a more important late-inning role, caused Aguilera to tell The Sporting News: "The most amazing thing is that I'm actually learning to like being a reliever." Despite the slight change of heart, with the Mets clinging to contention and the Twins already out of it on the eve of the trading deadline, the teams completed a blockbuster trade.

Frank Viola, the reigning Cy Young winner, went from Minnesota to New York for a five-player package of Aguilera, Kevin Tapani, David West, Tim Drummond, and Jack Savage. West was considered a premier prospect, but it turned out to be Tapani and Aguilera who made it one of the best swaps in Twins history. Aguilera got his wish by moving into the rotation following the deal, starting 11 games with a 3.21 ERA as Jeff Reardon had a third straight 30-save season.

Those plans changed when Reardon left via free agency in December, signing a then-massive three-year, $6.8 million deal with the Red Sox. Armed with a low-90s fastball, a hard-breaking slider, and a forkball that dropped off the table, Aguilera was the obvious choice to replace Reardon as closer. "He's the most experienced we've got, the most capable strikeout pitcher," pitching coach Dick Such told the Associated Press in March of 1990. "He fits the bill."

When it became obvious during spring training that Aguilera would be taking over as closer he told the AP that he "was a little disappointed at first ... I was really excited about being able to start," but added that "I'll do it for the team." Things got off to a rough start when he blew the third save chance, serving up a walk-off three-run homer to Dante Bichette on April 14, 1990, but Aguilera recovered to convert 32-of-38 saves while posting a 2.76 ERA in 65 innings.

He made the first of three straight All-Star teams in 1991, tying Reardon's team record with 42 saves while posting a 2.35 ERA and 61/30 K/BB ratio in 69 innings as the Twins made their second World Series run in five seasons. A career .201 hitter with three homers in 139 at-bats, Aguilera became the first pitcher since Don Drysdale in 1965 to pinch-hit in the World Series when he flew out with two outs and the bases loaded in the 12th inning of Game 3.

Moments later Aguilera took the loss when Mark Lemke hit a walk-off single, but that was the lone postseason run he allowed while saving five of the eight playoff wins. He followed up the marvelous 1991 by ranking second in the league with 41 saves in 1992, and then saved 57 of the team's 124 wins between 1993 and 1994. When baseball returned in mid-1995 after the strike Aguilera was an impending free agent and the highest paid pitcher on MLB's worst team.

He posted a 2.52 ERA and 29/6 K/BB ratio in 25 innings through early July, saving 12 games despite the team's 19-44 start. On July 6, with Aguilera on the verge of becoming a 10-and-5 player who could veto any trades, the Twins sent him to the Red Sox for Frankie Rodriguez, a 22-year-old right-hander Baseball America ranked as the No. 36 prospect in baseball. Rodriguez was a bust, going 25-32 with a 5.20 ERA in 509 innings during four seasons in Minnesota.

Aguilera notched his first Red Sox save the next day against the Twins, at the Metrodome. He converted 20-of-21 saves to help the Red Sox win the AL East, but saw his only playoff action in Game 1 of the ALDS, serving up a game-tying homer to Albert Belle as a 100-win Indians team blitzed through on the way to the World Series. Aguilera returned to Minnesota as a free agent on a multi-year deal with a lower annual salary than he made the previous year.

Unsatisfied with the shaky rotation led by 23-year-olds Rodriguez and Brad Radke, manager Tom Kelly made Aguilera a starter again. Kelly had every reason to worry, as Twins starters combined for a 5.48 ERA, but changing Aguilera's role at age 34 proved to be a mistake. An arm injury allegedly suffered while lifting a suitcase limited Aguilera to one start in the first 60 games and he had a 5.42 ERA before a hamstring injury ended his season in early September.

Aguilera moved back to the bullpen and saved 64 games for a pair of sub-.500 teams during the next two seasons, but blew 18 saves and saw his ERA rise to 4.04 after compiling a 2.86 ERA through his first six seasons as Twins closer. He began 1999 pitching as well as ever at age 37, with a 1.27 ERA in 21 innings, but the Twins were once again the AL's worst team and he got just eight save chances as they went 13-27 through 40 games.

He was traded to the Cubs on May 21 along with Scott Downs for minor-league pitchers Kyle Lohse and Jason Ryan. Gone for good this time, Aguilera had 37 saves and a 4.31 ERA in two seasons with the Cubs to finish his 16-year career. Ryan had a 5.94 ERA in 67 innings for the Twins, but Lohse became a solid mid-rotation starter before wearing out his welcome in 2006. Unlikely as it seemed at the time of each trade, the haul for Aguilera was better in deal No. 2.

Aguilera became the Twins' saves leader when he notched No. 109 in September of 1992 and nearly 20 years later Joe Nathan is still just short of his total of 254. Aguilera blew at least a half-dozen saves in each of his seven full seasons as Twins closer and converted 81.4 percent of his save opportunities in Minnesota, which is mediocre by today's standards. By comparison, Nathan has converted 90 percent of his save chances with the Twins.

However, it's important to note that Kelly used Aguilera much differently than Gardenhire has used Nathan. Nathan has inherited a grand total of 54 runners in seven-plus seasons with the Twins, which works out to one per eight innings. Aguilera inherited 38 runners in his first year as closer, and then saw 37 and 40 more in the next two years. In all, Aguilera inherited 207 runners during his time in Minnesota, which works out to one every 2.5 relief innings.

The vast majority of Nathan's saves involved starting an inning with a clean slate, but Aguilera often saved games he entered with runners on base. That goes a long way toward explaining his seemingly mediocre save percentage and Aguilera also deserves credit for stranding more than three-fourths of the runners he inherited. For a guy who never wanted to be a reliever, his 318 career saves ranked eighth in baseball history at the time of his retirement.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
Saves                 254     1st
Games Finished        434     1st
Appearances           490     2nd
Adjusted ERA+         130     4th
WHIP                 1.18     5th
Opponents' OBP       .293     6th
K/BB Ratio           3.27     8th
Strikeout Rate       7.60     9th
Walk Rate            2.32    13th
Strikeouts            586    15th
Opponents' AVG       .243    15th
Opponents' OPS       .684    18th
ERA                  3.50    19th
Wins                   40    24th
Innings               694    25th
Batters Faced        2865    25th

April 20, 2011

Top 40 Minnesota Twins: #19 Dave Goltz

David Allan Goltz | SP | 1972-1979 | Career Stats

Pelican Rapids born and Rothsay raised, Dave Goltz was a 1967 fifth-round pick who became the first native Minnesotan drafted by the Twins to reach the majors with them. After going 38-18 with a 2.69 ERA in 460 minor-league innings, Goltz made his major-league debut on July 18, 1972, tossing 3.2 scoreless innings in relief of Ray Corbin against the Yankees. He soon moved into the starting rotation and posted a 2.67 ERA in 91 innings as a 23-year-old rookie.

Goltz began his second season pitching out of the bullpen before sliding back into the rotation late in the year, finishing with a disappointing 5.25 ERA in 106 total innings. Following the poor sophomore performance Goltz was demoted back to the minors in 1974, but was quickly called back up after going 3-1 with a 3.30 ERA in four starts at Triple-A. Goltz joined the rotation full time at that point, going 10-10 with a 3.25 ERA in 174 innings

In his fourth season Goltz established himself as a durable innings eater, logging 243 innings while going 14-14 with a 3.67 ERA. He turned in a nearly identical year in 1976, going 14-14 with a 3.36 ERA in 249 innings to become the only pitcher in MLB history with double-digit wins and an exactly .500 record in three straight seasons (10-10, 14-14, 14-14). More statistical oddity than anything else, the streak nonetheless snapped in a big way the next season.

Known for being a slow starter, Goltz had a 4-16 career record in March and April, compared to 109-91 in all other months. That trend was never more evident than in 1977, when he was 0-2 in five April starts and 20-9 with a 3.30 ERA for the remainder of the year. He was remarkably consistent once on track, winning four games in each of the first four months and three games in September, before grabbing his 20th win with a complete-game victory on October 2.

Goltz completed 19 of his 39 starts in 1977, including one-hitting Boston on August 23, tossing 303 innings to rank second in the league behind only Jim Palmer. He tied Palmer and Dennis Leonard for the league lead with 20 wins, but finished just sixth in the Cy Young voting thanks to his eighth-ranked ERA (3.36) and modest strikeout total (186). A 6-foot-4 right-hander with a heavy sinker-slider combo, Goltz relied more on inducing ground balls than missing bats.

He managed just 887 strikeouts in 1,638 innings with the Twins for basically a league-average rate, but Goltz did a fantastic job keeping the ball on the ground and in the ballpark. In fact, when compared to the average rates no pitcher in Twins history allowed homers less often than Goltz, who served up 119 in total or one per 14 innings. For comparison Camilo Pascual, who ranks one spot lower on this list, coughed up 123 homers in nearly 400 fewer innings.

When he threw 303 innings in 1977--a total that's been topped just twice in team history--29 different pitchers served up more long balls. Goltz was even better at suppressing homers in 1978, giving up one every 18 innings, but got off to another slow start and then fractured his ribs during an on-field scuffle in an April 22 game with the Angels in which he didn't even pitch. Goltz started just once in May, but went 14-7 with a 2.27 ERA after returning in June.

With free agency looming following the 1979 season, Goltz got the Opening Day assignment for the third straight year. He beat the A's, throwing the first 8.1 of what would 250.2 innings that ranked seventh in the league. However, he allowed a league-high 282 hits on the way to a 14-13 record and 4.16 ERA, and then left the Twins by agreeing to free-agent deal with the Dodgers that was worth a then-massive $3 million over six seasons.

Goltz uncharacteristically got off to a good start in Los Angeles, hurling back-to-back shutouts of the rival Giants in April of 1980, but then fell apart. He finished 7-11 with a 4.31 ERA overall, went 2-7 with a 4.09 ERA while being yanked from the rotation in 1981, and was cut a month into 1982. Goltz signed with the Angels and pitched relatively well as a long reliever, but shut it down for good with a torn rotator cuff after beginning the next year 0-6 with a 6.22 ERA.

Goltz's lack of strikeouts meant he wasn't flashy, he had just one truly Cy Young-caliber year, and the Twins hovered within five games of .500 in all but one of his eight years in Minnesota. All of that's why he's seemingly an overlooked part of team history and why you'd stump a lot of fans asking them for the pitcher who ranks sixth in Twins history in wins, innings, and starts behind the "Big Five" of Bert Blyleven, Jim Kaat, Jim Perry, Brad Radke, and Frank Viola.

TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS
Complete Games         80     3rd
Shutouts               11     5th
Starts                215     6th
Innings              1638     6th
Batters Faced        6887     6th
Wins                   96     6th
Quality Starts        129     6th
Home Run Rate        0.65     6th
Strikeouts            887     8th
Winning Percentage   .543    15th
ERA                  3.48    17th
Adjusted ERA+         112    18th
Appearances           247    19th
Opponents' SLG       .377    19th
Opponents' OPS       .695    20th
Walk Rate            2.71    25th
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