Josh Willingham hit a three run home run off Tiger pitcher Doug Fister last night. It was Willingham’s 30th home run of the 2012 season. Not only does that blast set a career high for the slugger, it put him in some select company among his fellow Minnesota Twins.
A 30 homer season is a common occurrence for some teams, but not the Twins. Aside from Hall of Famer Harmon Killebrew, the Twins are not a franchise that has ever been known for their power hitters. Among the 16 original MLB franchises, the Twins (formerly Washington Senators) are dead last with 9,717 round trippers. And they have endured some long power droughts in their history. One of the longest such droughts is still going strong; it has been 41 years since the Twins last had a player hit 35 or more in one season. For example, from 1988 through 2005, even as the other 29 teams were busy knocking balls over the fence in a steroid-fueled fury, no Twin managed to attain the 30 homer mark.
Willingham’s 2012 season is just the 24th 30 homer season since the Twins came to Minnesota in 1961. Killebrew owns a third of that total, with eight 30 HR seasons (1961, 1962, 1963, 1964, 1966, 1967, 1969, 1970). In every one of those seasons, Killebrew hit 39 or more, which gives him the eight highest individual HR totals in team history. Next on the list is Willingham’s teammate Justin Morneau, who has three 30 HR campaigns (2006, 2007, and 2009). Gary Gaetti (1986, 1987), Bob Allison (1963, 1964), and Tom Brunansky (1984, 1987) each had a pair. The other 30 homer seasons belong to Jimmie Hall (1963), Tony Oliva (1964), Kirby Puckett (1986), Kent Hrbek (1987), Torii Hunter (2006), Michael Cuddyer (2009), and Willingham.
The Twins expected Willingham to be a powerful presence in the team’s lineup, but nobody could have predicted just how successful he would be as a home run hitter. His previous career high was 29 home runs in 2011 with the Oakland Athletics; before last year he had never exceeded 26. But he has topped those numbers with 46 games still to be played in 2012, and he has given the lie to everyone who claimed that Target Field is a pitchers’ park where power hitters are doomed to struggle.
He also provided one of the few highlights in an awful game for the Twins. Aside from Willingham’s blast, Twins hitters managed just five other hits, and they struck out eight times. It was far too little offense on a night when the pitchers were doing nothing to stop the Detroit offense. Brian Duensing, Casey Fien, Alex Burnett, and Luis Perdomo combined to allow eight runs on five walks and 13 hits (six of those for extra bases). Willingham’s home run came in the fourth inning after three Detroit errors had created the only serious Twins’ scoring threat of the entire game, and it briefly tied the score at 4-4 before Detroit eventually ran away with the game.
Looking forward, Willingham has an excellent chance to reach the 35 home run mark, and possibly 40. If he does so, he’ll own the highest home run total by a Twin since Killebrew hit 41 in 1970. Several Twins have hit 34 since then, but never 35.