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Friday, August 31, 2012

Retired Numbers Series: Minnesota Twins

On September 8, the Minnesota Twins will retire the number 10 on behalf of former manager Tom Kelly. This seems like as good an excuse as any to add them to the Retired Number Series. With a history spanning 112 Major League seasons and two cities, what types of future honorees would the Twins turn up from their past and present?

Notes on the Numbers
Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.

There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1974, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.


The Already Retired Numbers
The Twins have retired seven numbers, all of them coming after the team’s move to Minneapolis in 1961. The first player so honored was a carry-over from their days as the Senators: number 3, Harmon Killebrew. The team honored him in 1974, his final year with them (he would go on to play one more season with the Kansas City Royals. From 1954 to 1974, Killer was worth 61 bWAR and 79 fWAR (his time with the Royals actually decreased his career value).

It would be over a decade before jersey number number two came. Finally, in 1987, the Twins retired Rod Carew’s 29. Carew spent 1967 through 1978 in Minnesota, working up 62 career fWAR and 63 career fWAR. He would retire in 1985 with career totals of 80 and 79, respectively.

Four years later (almost to the date), the Twins permanently took 6 out of use to honor Tony Oliva. The career Twin (from 1962 to 1976) was worth 42 bWAR and 49 fWAR.

Just over four more years later, Kent Hrbek’s number 14 was similarly honored. Another career Twin, Hrbek contributed 35 bWAR and 42 fWAR in his career, which ran from 1981 to 1994.

The team didn’t even make it two full seasons after that. In 1997, Kirby Puckett (number 34) became the third straight career Twin to get his number retired. The Hall of Famer, who played from 1984 to 1995, totaled 45 bWAR and 49 fWAR in that time.

The team went through a lull after that, not retiring any numbers until last year. Following his induction to the Hall, though, the team retired Bert Blyleven’s number 28.* Blyleven, who pitched from 1970 to 1992, was worth 90 bWAR in his career. Over half of that (46 bWAR) came as a Twin. His had two go-arounds with the franchise, the first from his start to 1976, and the second from 1985 to 1988.

*Some trivia: prior to that, 28 was the lowest number that no baseball team had retired. Now, that honor belongs to 38. The next lowest two are 46 and 48. What is it with the uniforms ending in 8?

And then, there’s manager Tom Kelly. His entire managerial career came with the Twins, from 1986 to 2001. Although he didn’t have a winning career record (1140-1244), he oversaw the team’s two World Series victories since moving to Minnesota, which is more than enough for number retirement.


Compared to the League
There are three categories I look at when comparing teams’ retired number requirements: fWAR or bWAR; value with the team or career value; or the average value or the median value.

The Twins fairly consistently place in the third quartile in these rankings. In two rankings (average team bWAR, median team bWAR), they rate slip into the bottom of the second quartile, while in two others (average career fWAR, median career fWAR), they fall into the top of the fourth quartile. This puts them towards the bottom of the original sixteen teams. Really, the biggest reason I can see for this is that they haven’t honored an inner-circle player from their early days who spent their career with the team like many of the other teams have (think Lou Gehrig, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, other players considered legends). Not that it’s necessarily bad that they rate below these teams; it just is.

With the retirement of Tom Kelly’s 10, the Twins have seven retired numbers total. That ties them with the Tigers, Phillies, and Red Sox for tenth most overall.


So Who’s Next?
Just looking down the WAR lists, the Twins have done a remarkable job of retiring their top players’ numbers. On the position player list, Killebrew and Carew are at the top (Fangraphs has them 1-2, while Baseball-Reference has them 2-1). Baseball-Reference has Kirby Puckett third, while Fangraphs has him fifth. Both sites have the same players in the rest of the top five, also. However, these two players have their own issues.

Sam Rice and Joe Judge finish 4-5 in B-R and 3-4 in Fangraphs. However, both players only played with the Twins back when they were the Senators. The Twins don’t appear to be recognizing old Senator players so far (especially since there’s a new Washington team that doesn’t seem to mind recognizing the old Senator players). For as good as they were, if the Twins aren’t willing to retire the numbers of the old Senators, their odds aren’t very good. For what it’s worth, though, Rice was worth 48.0 bWAR and 58 fWAR (1915 to 1933), while Judge was worth 42.4 bWAR and 53 fWAR (1915 to 1932). Also, it’s worth noting that Rice is a Hall of Famer, although Judge is not.

The theme of old Senators is very recurrent. Tony Oliva and Goose Goslin are flip-flopped 6 and 7. Goslin is another Hall of Famer who played with the Senators from 1920 to 1930, 1933, and 1938. In that time, he accumulated 40.0 bWAR (sixth) and 46 fWAR (seventh). Again, though, until the Twins start recognizing old Senators, then I can’t see Goslin getting his number retired.

There are other problems with the three of Rice, Judge, and Goslin; none of them stands out ahead of the way to blaze a trail for the others. Even the two in the Hall aren’t the most memorable of early players. And none wore numbers for an extended time-the longest any of them had any specific number was for two seasons. So not only is their team in a different city than from when they played, they don’t have any number really associated with them anyway. All of those factors make me further doubt that they’ll get their numbers retired.

The rest of the position player list has a lot of early Senators at the top. For as above average as they were, I doubt anyone will be pushing for the retirement of Buddy Myer’s number, or Clyde Milan’s (particularly since Milan played before numbers). Narrowing the list to just retired Twins leaves us with two possibilities. Chuck Knoblauch rates better under bWAR (taking up the final top ten spot), while Bob Allison rates better under fWAR (again, with the final top ten spot).

In seven seasons (1991 to 1997), Knoblauch attained 36.3 bWAR and 36 fWAR. Allison, meanwhile, started in 1958 with the Senators and retired after 1970 as a Twin. His numbers aren’t much greater than Knoblauch’s, with 31.3 bWAR and 44 fWAR, but being a career Twin could help his case. Still, since there’s been little movement on his case since his retirement over four decades ago, I would still doubt it happening.

More recent players like Torii Hunter and Gary Gaetti may also be worth mentioning. Both had solid stints with the team . From 1997 to 2007, Hunter put up 24.7 bWAR and 24 fWAR. Meanwhile, Gaetti, from 1981 to 1990, put up 24.8 bWAR and 29 fWAR. Really, though, both will need something special to put their cases over the top, like wide-spread fan support. There aren’t many other hitters with numbers that draw attention.

The pitchers have many more interesting players. Atop the list is Walter Johnson (who could very easily fill the “inner-circle Hall of Famer” hole I mentioned earlier, with 21 seasons (1907 to 1927) and 144.7 bWAR. However, he obviously played 1) in Washington, and 2) before uniform numbers. While some teams have honored players from before numbers (and Johnson is definitely famous enough to fit in on that list), playing in another city on top of that may be too much to get any momentum behind his candidacy. Not that it’s bad if they don’t honor him, especially since he was never truly a Twin.

Blyleven is number two on the pitching leader board. Number three is recent star Brad Radke. Radke seems to fit right in with the honorees. He was a well-above average career Twin, pitching from 1995 to 2006 and accumulating 42.6 bWAR. His one knock may be that he was more a case of consistent above-average-ness, which may not provide him with the necessary peak to draw attention to himself. Nonetheless, I would not be surprised at all if he gets his number 22 retired in spite of that.

Number four on the list is Johan Santana, who’s career with the Twins was the exact opposite Radke’s: a relatively short yet exciting flash. He was worth only 34.0 bWAR in his eight years with the team (2000 to 2007), a fact made more impressive because of his comparative lack of innings. You have to go all the way down to twelfth place to find another top Twin pitcher with as few innings. In any case, if Santana can close out his career strongly (and especially if he makes a Hall of Fame push), then I think it would be almost certain that the Twins honor him. If he doesn’t, they still might just because of how good he was from 2003 to 2007.

After Santana on the WAR list is Camilo Pascual. Pascual was a pitcher from the 1950s and ‘60s who spent about half of his thirteen years with the franchise in Washington and the other half in Minneapolis (before returning to the Washington to be one of the new Senators, interestingly enough). His tenure was sort of all-over the place; five seasons were outright bad, while another five were great. In the end, it added up to 30.8 bWAR while with the team. I would think of Pascual as sort of the hitting equivalent of Bob Allison; he was good when he was with the team, but he wasn’t great enough to get his number retired right when he retired, and he’s sort of been forgotten since then, severely hurting his chances.

After him is Jim Kaat and Frank Viola. Again, the two are sort of opposites. Kaat was the longtime, steady-but-not-dominant southpaw, with a fifteen year tenure from 1959 to 1973 that was worth 27.2 bWAR. Viola, meanwhile, only played eight seasons in Minnesota (1982 to 1989), but reached Cy Young-heights, ending with 25.0 bWAR. In either case, I think both are well-enough remembered; the issue is going to be the number of candidates ahead of them with better cases. Kaat could set himself apart with a Veterans Committee election, though.

I may as well bring up Joe Nathan here. Due to lack of innings, he only reached 17.8 bWAR with the team in his seven seasons (2004 to 2009, 2011). However, among closers, he’s been at the top, and his success in Texas this year may be a sign of his return. If he can stay dominant, he may work his way into the Hall discussion-I still have no idea how Hall voters go about deciding which relievers are Hall-worthy. And, if he does get in, then his time as a Twin would obviously be a large reason why. That’s a lot of maybes, but if those all line-up, he could conceivably be honored. Also worth noting is that he shares Jim Kaat’s number 36.

The 2012 incarnation of the Twins has only two players who can seriously be considered right now. The first is obviously Joe Mauer. Both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference have him twelfth on the team’s position player list, with 39 fWAR and 35.5 bWAR from 2004 to 2012 so far. And that’s despite playing catcher, which is generally a little lower due to less playing time. He’s signed through 2018, too, so he should spend a long time with the team to bump up his value on top of that. Even if he were traded today, he’d probably have strong enough credentials to get his number retired anyway, with five All-Star appearances and an MVP in nine seasons.

Justin Morneau is the only other candidate worth mentioning right now. As a free agent at the end of the season, his case looks more in question. It’s not that his decade with the team has been bad, with 19.2 bWAR and 22 fWAR. He just needs more time to build on his case, especially with how injuries have hurt his performance the past few years. If he moves on to another team (which may be the better move for the team anyway, although we’ll see), his case will probably drop down to about on par with Gary Gaetti and Torii Hunter, which is to say, possible but unlikely.

In addition to the players, Ron Gardenhire may draw serious consideration. With eleven seasons at the Twins’ helm, a .525 winning percentage, seven top three finishes in Manager of the Year voting, and six division titles, he will definitely merit some consideration. However, with two straight poor seasons, his job may be in question. Being fired without any major post-season success would be a large problem.

So, In Closing...
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the Minnesota Twins in the future are, in order:

Joe Mauer-7
Brad Radke-22
Johan Santana-57 
Ron Gardenhire-38
Jim Kaat-36
Justin Morneau-33
Gary Gaetti-8
Walter Johnson
Frank Viola-16
Torii Hunter-48
Camilo Pascual-17
Bob Allison-4
Chuck Knoblauch-11
Sam Rice-2/22
Goose Goslin-3/5/20
Joe Judge-5/6

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