Another year is in the books, and another presidential election is upon us without a Twins’ playoff victory. While we wait for spring training to (hopefully) begin and hope once again spring eternal, I figured it would be a good idea to look back at some more positive times in the Twin Cities. Below are the best seasons (in my opinion) at each position in the history of our Minnesota Twins. A couple of notes: this will be from 1961 to present day (sorry, Senators), and each player will be used only once, although I wouldn’t mind building a rotation of three Johan Santana seasons. Also, the positions will be picked based upon players who played at least 50% of their games at that particular position. The rankings shown will be that season’s Wins Above Replacement rankings on both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs versus all other Twins’ seasons at that position.
CATCHER: Joe Mauer, 2009
There’s not much competition for this spot, as it was pretty much a no-brainer. Mauer’s MVP season not only ranks among the best overall seasons in Twins’ history, it joins Johnny Bench’s 1972 season and Mike Piazza’s 1997 season as the best seasons by a catcher in the history of Major League Baseball.
Stats to know: Mauer led the league in batting average (.365), on-base percentage (.444), slugging percentage (.587), OPS (1.031), OPS+ (171), and hit a career-high 28 home runs.
FIRST BASE: Rod Carew, 1977
Carew took home his only MVP award in 1977 while primarily playing first base, and making a legitimate run at hitting .400. Other competition for this spot include Harmon Killebrew’s 1967 season, Bob Allison’s 1964 season, Kent Hrbek’s 1984 season, and Justin Morneau’s 2010 season.
Stats to know: Carew led the league in hits (239), runs (128), batting average (.388), on-base percentage (.449), OPS (1.019), and OPS+ (178).
SECOND BASE: Brian Dozier, 2016
Statistically, the best season by a second baseman for the Twins was put in by Chuck Knoblauch in 1996, but for the same reasons he isn’t in the Twins’ Hall of Fame, he will not be on this team, either. The other top seasons turned in by a Twins second baseman were put in by Rod Carew, but he is already slotted in at first base. That leaves us with the power display put on by Brian Dozier in 2016, in which he hit 42 dingers, which is 26 more than his entire minor league career.
Stats to know: Dozier had career-high marks in homers (42), RBI (99), OPS (.886), and OPS+ (134).
SHORTSTOP: Zoilo Versalles, 1965
Shortstop ended up being a landslide, as Versalles’ unlikely MVP season of 1965 ran away with the statistical ranking. Other great seasons at shortstop for the Twins include Roy Smalley’s 1978 season, Leo Cardenas’ 1969 season, and Jorge Polanco’s 2019 season.
Stats to know: Versalles led the league in runs (126), doubles (45), triples (12), and total bases (308).
THIRD BASE: Harmon Killebrew, 1969
Killebrew takes up the top three seasons on the leaderboard according to Fangraphs, but surprisingly, Corey Koskie’s 2001 season takes the top spot according to Baseball Reference. Other non-Killebrew seasons at the top of the leaderboard include Gary Gaetti’s 1986 season and Cesar Tovar’s 1968 season. Killebrew’s MVP season of 1969 stands alone, however.
Stats to know: Killebrew led the league in homers (49), RBI (140), walks (145), on-base percentage (.427), and intentional walks (20).
LEFT FIELD: Shane Mack, 1992
One of the most underappreciated and underrated players in the history of the Twins, Mack is a somewhat surprising entry at the top of the rankings in the heart of the Puckett/Hrbek era. Mack beat out the likes of Jacque Jones’ 2002 season, Jimmie Hall’s 1963 season, and Gary Ward’s 1982 season. Mack’s offensive exploits in 1992 put him at the top of this list.
Stats to know: second behind Kirby Puckett in WAR (6.5), batting average (.315), hits (189), doubles (31), homers (16), RBI (75), slugging percentage (.467), and OPS (.860). Mack led the Twins with an on-base percentage of .394.
CENTER FIELD: Kirby Puckett, 1988
Initially when I compiled the leaderboard for center field, I thought this would be a contentious race, but Puckett proved to be far above the rest of the pack, with multiple seasons that could be considered the top in the history of the Twins. Puckett’s 1988 season has a legitimate argument to be an MVP season, but he was beaten out by the 40/40 season of Jose Canseco. Other contenders include Lyman Bostock in 1977, Byron Buxton in 2017, Denard Span in 2012, and Torii Hunter in 2001.
Stats to know: Puckett led the league in hits (234, also a career high) and total bases (358). He also set career-high marks in batting average (.356), slugging percentage (.545), OPS (.920), and OPS+ (153).
RIGHT FIELD: Bob Allison, 1963
Another surprising entry, as Allison’s 1963 season beat a number of Tony Oliva’s best seasons, including his 1970 season in which he finished second in the MVP voting. Allison’s 1963 season also beat out seasons such as Tom Brunansky’s 1982 season, Shane Mack’s 1991 season, and Max Kepler’s 2019 season.
Stats to know: Allison led the league in runs (99), OPS (.911), and OPS+ (151). He also posted the best marks of his career in homers (35) and total bases (281).
DESIGNATED HITTER: Nelson Cruz, 2019
As the crown jewel of the Twins’ Bomba Squad season of 2019, the Boomstick continued his late-career assault on pitching, posting one of the best seasons of his lengthy career in his age-38 season. Cruz beat out some other highly-productive DH seasons, including Paul Molitor’s 1996 season, Jim Thome’s 2010 season, and Jason Kubel’s 2009 season.
Stats to know: Cruz led the Bomba Squad in homers (41), slugging percentage (.639), OPS (1.031), and OPS+ (168).
STARTING PITCHER (3): Bert Blyleven, 1973; Johan Santana, 2004; Frank Viola, 1988
bWAR: Blyleven 1st, Santana 2nd, Viola 5th
fWAR: Blyleven 1st, Santana 8th, Viola 14th
While Blyleven is best-remembered for his part in the 1987 championship run and circling random fans during Twins games, Blyleven’s 1973 season at the age of 22 was both the best of his career and the best in the history of the Twins. Blyleven’s 1971 and 1974 were also toward the top of both leaderboards. Santana also had multiple entries toward the top of both leaderboards, but his 2004 season was the finest of his career. Viola’s best season was basically a coin flip between his 1987 and 1988 seasons, but in my opinion, his 1988 was just slightly better. Other candidates include Jerry Koosman in 1979, Brad Radke in 1999, and Dean Chance in 1968.
Stats to know:
In 1973, Blyleven led the league in shutouts (9), ERA+ (156), FIP (2.32), and K/BB (3.85). He also posted his career bests in wins (20), ERA (2.52), starts (40), complete games (24), shutouts (9), innings (325.0), ERA + (156), FIP (2.32), and K/BB (3.85).
Santana had a stretch of absolutely dominant performances in the middle of the 2000s, but 2004 was his best season. He was the best in the league at ERA (2.61), strikeouts (265), ERA+ (182), FIP (2.92), WHIP (.921), and K/9 (10.5).
Viola’s last full season with the Twins would prove to also be the best season of his career, and would lead to his only Cy Young Award. Viola had a league-best and career-best 24 wins, while also setting career-bests in ERA (2.64) and WHIP (1.136).
RELIEF PITCHER (2): Doug Corbett, 1980; Joe Nathan, 2006
bWAR: Corbett 1st, Nathan 9th
fWAR: Corbett 5th, Nathan 2nd
Corbett is a somewhat surprising name to see atop the Baseball Reference leaderboard, especially ahead of the storied career that Nathan had with the Twins. Corbett would only spend two full seasons with Twins, one of those being his dominant 1980 season, and his 1981 season which culminated in an All Star Game appearance. He would eventually be traded to the Angels in a deal that netted the Twins outfielder Tom Brunansky. Nathan had a similar scattering on the leaderboards as Santana, as he was lights out almost immediately upon his arrival with the Twins. Some other options at the top included Mike Marshall in 1979, LaTroy Hawkins in 2003, and Bill Campbell in 1974.
Stats to know:
Corbett pitched a ridiculous 136.1 innings for the Twins in 1980, without making a single start. He also posted career bests in ERA (1.98), games (73), saves (23), strikeouts (89), and ERA+ (221).
Nathan was snubbed for the All Star Game in 2006, but finished 5th in the Cy Young voting, losing out to teammate Johan Santana. His numbers were ridiculous: 61 games finished, 36 saves, an ERA of 1.58, a FIP of 1.68, a WHIP of 0.790, and 12.5 K/9. Nathan was purely unhittable.
Alright, here’s the rundown for those counting at home:
C: Joe Mauer, 2009
1B: Rod Carew, 1977
2B: Brian Dozier, 2016
SS: Zoilo Versalles, 1965
3B: Harmon Killebrew, 1969
LF: Shane Mack, 1992
CF: Kirby Puckett, 1988
RF: Bob Allison, 1963
DH: Nelson Cruz, 2019
SP: Bert Blyleven, 1973; Johan Santana, 2004; Frank Viola, 1988
RP: Doug Corbett, 1980; Joe Nathan, 2006
This looks like a roster that would likely win a few games. Who did I leave out? Who surprised you? Let me know in the comments!