I’ve had sluggers on the brain recently.
First, David Ortiz—noted baseball masher—was elected to the Hall of Fame. Then, recollecting a Twins anniversary, I remembered 2012 being the year in which Josh Willingham homered seemingly every time I was at Target Field.
Though perhaps a bit over-exposed in this era of juiced baseballs, launch angles, and three true outcome tendencies, there is still something magical about the round-tripper. In no other major competition does the sporting implement leaving the arena result in a positive outcome (as opposed to a foul or temporary stoppage). Though baseball’s “little things”— going first-to-third, the perfect double play turn, a catcher gunning down a runner—contain their own charms, the ability to simply brute-force one’s way past all those things is alluring.
As with everything these days, there is a metric to gauge a batter’s slugging prowess—ISO, or Isolated Power. For the mathletes among us, here is the formula for computing ISO. For the rest of us that suffer algebra-based night terrors, ISO is simply a measure of a hitter’s ability to accumulate extra-base hits. For the most part, anything over .250 is great, & anything over .300 is elite.
All of this led me to researching the top Minnesota Twins ISO seasons. Accounting for the fact that contemporary players simply try to hit for extra bases far more than their progenitors (thus rendering .300+ values a bit more common of late), here are the top slugging summers in Twins Territory...
- Byron Buxton—.323 ISO in 2020. When I think of Buck, “power” isn’t necessarily top of mind. But he really muscled the ball up during that pandemic season.
- Jimmie Hall (.262 ISO, 1963) & Bob Allison (.266 ISO, 1964). Those raw numbers don’t stand out today, but in the pitching-dominated 1960s they were extremely impressive.
- Josh Willingham—.264 ISO. Sure, there’s some personal sentiment here. Technically, the .240-.250 ISO values from Hrbek, Gaetti, and Cuddyer are probably more impressive era-adjusted. But the Hammer hit so many rockets in ‘12. Yes Pig, indeed.
- Brian Dozier—.278 ISO. Because the ‘16 Twins were a “total system failure”, Dozier decided to just turn on every mistake pitch he could. It’s not like anyone else was pitching in.
- Nelson Cruz—.328 ISO
- Miguel Sano—.329 ISO
- Mitch Garver—.357 ISO
What a slugging trio! Did Garver ever hit a single that season?! They weren’t called the Bomba Squad for nothing.
- Jim Thome—.344 ISO
- Justin Morneau—.274 ISO
Of course The Man With An Ox In The Batter’s Box was going to be near the top of this list. His power production in ‘10 was nearly unparalleled in franchise history. Morneau’s career-high ISO also serves as a sad reminder of a player cut down at his peak by concussions.
- Harmon Killebrew: .318 ISO
In the late 1950s, Killebrew established himself as an emerging Washington slugger. But when the Senators moved to MN in ‘61? He was Big Jim & Boomstick rolled into one. I’m not sure it can be overstated how mind-boggling of an ISO number that was for the early-1960s. There’s a reason all our dads and grandfathers idolized the guy.
Who will be the next great thumper for the Twins—the presence that compels you to avoid bathroom breaks or concession runs when he’s due up: A healthy Buxton? Kirilloff? Rooker? Larnach? Martin? Lewis? Whoever it is, he’ll have the ability to bring the Target Field crowd to its feet at a moment’s notice. That’s what pure power can do.