Monday, November 28, 2011

The Greatest Minnesota Twin of All-Time?

                                            Rod Carew

Myth is something that we believe is true, but in reality it is not. The power of myth is that even though the myth can be factual proven wrong, many yet still believe the myth is true. Many baseball fans and media types often believe one player is better or worse than he really is. Why do they believe such things and create this myth?

I believe human nature leads us to like certain people over others, and we then create a “justification” as to why we like that person over another. The “justification” may actually be correct, or it is a myth. Either way it is a justification in our own or possibly other’s mind.

I have often wondered if a baseball player’s stats alone tell us everything about a player’s performance. If a player hits 30 home runs in a year is that a good year for the player? In most cases yes, but what if most of the 30 home runs were hit when his team was way ahead or way behind. Does this still make his season a success? What if another only hits 15 home runs, but all of those home runs either put his team ahead or won a game. Is that player more valuable than the player who his 30 seemingly meaningless home runs?

I wanted to determine who the greatest Minnesota Twin of all-time was and modern statistic helped me do so. Wins Above Replacement (WAR) is a complex formula that takes into account a position player’s runs produced on offense and runs saved on defense. Those runs produced and saved are then calculated into a formula that produces how many of the player’s team wins that player is responsible for above what a replacement level player would be responsible for.

The formula for pitchers is different, but the concept is the same. How many more wins was the player better than his replacement.

The formula favors catcher, shortstops, and centerfielders since those are the most difficult and important defensive positions. Corner outfielders, 1st basemen and DH’s are not as favored because those positions are easier to find replacements.

I got my number from and use I only use the WAR a player accumulated while in Minnesota. Before they were the Minnesota Twins, the Twins were the Washington Senators. Some players played for the Senators in Washington then followed the team to Minnesota. I do not count those players accomplishments in Washington only what they did in Minnesota. Here is what I came up with:

1. Rod Carew – 62.7
2. Harmon Killebrew – 54.9
3. Bert Blyleven – 45.7
4. Kirby Puckett – 44.8
5. Tony Olivia – 42.4
6. Brad Radke – 41.4
7. Joe Mauer – 40.3
8. Chuck Knoblauch – 35.4
9. Kent Hrbek - 35.3
10. Johan Santana – 32.1

Bob Allison, Jim Kaat, Cesar Tovar, Frank Viola, Gary Gaetti, Dave Goltz, Jim Perry, Corey Koskie, Joe Nathan, and Justin Morneau are the next ten players. Torii Hunter is 26th on the list. Michael Cuddyer does not even make the list.

Rod Carew was worth 62.7 wins above what is replacement would have been worth to the Twins while Harmon Killebrew was worth 54.9. Does this mean Rod Carew is the greatest Minnesota Twin of all-time?

Hank Aaron, Cal Ripken Jr., Ted Williams, Ty Cobb, George Brett, Robin Yount, Tom Seaver, Babe Ruth, Rickey Henderson, Mike Schmidt, Honus Wagner, Willie Mays, Ken Griffey Jr., and Stan Musial were some of the other players declared by WAR to be the best all-time player of their team. These men are all baseball legends that fans not only know, but probably could tell you what team they were declared the best of. So here WAR looks like it knows what it is talking about.

However, WAR also declared Pee Wee Reese the greatest Dodger of all-time (he beat out Duke Snider 66.7 to 66.5 while Sandy Koufax came in at 54.5), so maybe there is some room for argument or is there?

Carew won 7 American League batting titles. He is the Twins all-time leader in batting average (.334). Carew retired the Twins leader in hits and stolen bases as well as batting average. In 1977 he won an MVP award with the best single season performance in Twins history. He started in 11 All-star games. Rod Carew was a 1st ballot Hall of Famer.

The power of myth though will not allow Rod Carew an easy path to being the Twins all-time best player. Many Twins fans will tell you Harmon Killebrew and his 5 home runs titles, his 1969 MVP award and his incredible warm and humble personality make him the greatest Twin.

The power of myth will not allow those same fans to remember Killbrew was so bad defensively that if he played today he would be a full-time DH. Killebrew hit only .260 (78 points lower the Carew), and despite playing 2 more seasons than Carew with the Twins had 142 fewer doubles and triples.

It took 4 tries for the Twins all-time home run and RBI leader to get into the Hall of Fame, but in many Twins minds, he was a 1st ballot Hall of Famer and the greatest Twin ever because Harmon Killebrew was a great home run hitter, and a great guy off the field.

The power of myth leads many fans to tell you Kirby Puckett is the greatest Minnesota Twin of all-time. Puckett was considered by many to be the most popular athlete in Minnesota history. His Twins won 2 World Series. Puckett’s performance in Game 6 of the 1991 World Series was legendary. Puckett hit for power and average. His career batting average is third all-time to Carew and Joe Mauer while his 207 home runs are 5th all-time.

Puckett’s career was cut short due to injury. Many believe he would have gotten 3000 hits as a Twin had he not been hurt. Then they say there would be no debate of his greatness. Puckett never won a MVP, but he started 6 All-star games which is second in team history to Carew’s 11. Puckett was also a 1st ballot Hall of Famer. Everyone loved Kirby Puckett because he could hit, field, and was such a great guy.

However, Puckett swung at every ball thrown his way rarely drawing walks which cut down on his overall offensive production. Puckett’s defense was overrated as he played deep in center field in order to get back and make several home run saving catches that looked nice on TV, but were countered by the many singles he let fall in front of him.

Also how much credit does Puckett get for his Twins winning a World Series? Puckett was the best player on those teams, but what about Hrbek, Blyleven, Viola, Gaetti, Knoblauch, and Jack Morris who were just some of his talented teammates. What if they had been Carew’s or Killebrew’s teammates instead?

When he died Kirby Puckett was hailed as the greatest Minnesota Twin of all-time. The myth of Kirby Puckett as a great all around player was solidified. When he died Harmon Killebrew was hailed as the greatest Twin of all-time even though just a few years earlier it had been Puckett being hailed. Killebrew’s myth was being solidified as well.

Then there is Joe Mauer. Minnesotans love that Joe Mauer was born and raised in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is now the most loved athlete in the history of Minnesota (replacing Puckett). Mauer won the 2009 MVP and has 3 batting titles to his name. His average WAR per season is better than any player in Twins history. Are we watching the greatest Twin of all-time as he is currently playing for the Twins?

Statistics say Rod Carew is the best Minnesota Twin. Myth though refuses to allow that fact to be so clear cut. There is no arguing Babe Ruth or Tom Seaver is the greatest Yankee or Met. Those players not only have the stats, but they have the myth of all-time greatness. Carew may have stats on his side, but many Twins fans love the myth of Killebrew’s power, or Puckett perceived all around greatness and his 2 World Series, or Joe Mauer seemingly effortless drive to greatness.

Maybe having multiple legends like Carew, Killebrew, Puckett, and Mauer on the same plane of greatness is better than having one true mega star like Mike Schmidt or Willie Mays.

Of course, as previously mentioned, the Twins were once the Washington Senators, and if I had included the Senators’ players in my ranking, as many baseball people do, than Carew, Killebrew, Puckett or Mauer would have no chance at being considered the greatest player in this organizations history.

Walter Johnson, a charter member of the Hall of Fame, and his WAR of 127.7 (more than double Carew’s 62.7) would win hands down. Add to his impressive WAR score the fact that most baseball people consider Johnson the greatest pitcher of all-time, and stats and myth would agree Walter Johnson, a man who likely never step foot in Minnesota, is greatest Twin of all-time.

However, I excluded the Senators from my rankings, and that means Rod Carew is statistical proved to be the greatest Twin of all-time. Myth though is not so sure about that.