Ah, Rich Becker ’96. One of my favorites. Rich Becker played for the 1996 Twins team that finished a surprising 78-84. The 1995 Twins won only 56 games (strike-shortened, but still terrible). The Twins lost 90 or more games for the next four seasons starting in 1997. But oh man, that ’96. 1996 was a decent year surrounded by non-stop terrible awfulness. Was it all Rich Becker or just mostly Rich Becker? Let’s investigate.
The 1996 team was relatively competitive, although I am not really sure how. Chuck Knoblauch was outstanding, posting a rWAR of 8.4. Paul Molitor was good, but 39 years old. Marty Cordova was good, but slowly starting to fall off his peak. Matt Lawton wasn’t quite ready to contribute. Scott Stahoviak was surprisingly good this year though. Brad Radke was fine and Mike Trombley was effective, but the rest of the pitching staff was brutal. Pat Meares was, as always, Pat Meares. The player on the ’96 Twins with the second highest rWAR? The immortal Rich Becker at 4.0 (we’re calling him that now, right guys?).
Rich Becker wasn’t anything special, but he did do one thing well. Rich Becker drew walks. He finished his career with a .358 OBP. Nothing special, but something useful. Here is a list of players who have a career OBP lower than Big Rich (we’re calling him that now, right guys?): Reggie Jackson, Jim Rice, Alan Trammell, Yogi Berra, Ryne Sandberg, Lou Brock, Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr., and of course, Sherm Lollar. Now, all of those dudes did tremendous things, most of which were more impressive than anything Rich Becker did. But Rich Becker had that walkin’ skill and he displayed said skill better than quite a few Hall of Fame players.
In 1996, he had his finest year. He put up a .291/.372/.434 triple slash line in 606 plate appearances. Nothing to write to your house about, but nothing to sneeze in the general direction of either. He provided positive defensive production, mostly playing in center field that year. He had 31 doubles, 19 stolen bases and scored 92 runs. Stats explosion!
Ok, stats explosion might be the wrong phrase. Breakout might have been appropriate though. Becker was just 24 years old. He had a decent minor league pedigree, ranked as Baseball America’s number 37 prospect in all of baseball going into 1994. Becker wasn’t some scrub having a fluke season, he was a decent prospect that was starting to actualize.
One problem. Rich Becker couldn’t hit. By 1998, his batting average was below .200. His OBP dropped as well, although not as much, because, as we learned earlier, Rich Becker knew how to walk. His defense was never really good again, and he didn’t think to save any speed for his older years. He never had any power to begin with, but somehow managed to hit negative home runs after 1996 (lie). Before the 1998 season, the Twins traded Becker for Alex Ochoa, a move that was seemingly meant to crush Rich Becker’s fragile spirits. Ochoa responded with a -1.9 bWAR season in his only season as a Twin.
Rich Becker is interesting because he was a flash in the pan. That might be too strong. You know that last flicker before a light bulb goes out? That was Rich Becker. He was a useful baseball player, then he just stopped being a useful baseball player. He always got on base though. In 2000, Becker’s last hurrah, he posted a .384 OBP over about a half a season’s worth of plate appearances. Only 14 players with 400 or more plate appearances topped that mark in 2012. When you think of it that way, Rich Becker was a remarkable dying light bulb.
According to Wikipedia, his nickname is “Richie” and that is probably what we should call him, right guys?