Minnesota Twins Spring Training Countdown: 16, Frank Viola

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The Minnesota Twins are just 16 days away from spring training. As we celebrate the end of the blustery temps and the return of the game we love, let’s look at team history surrounding that number.

The Minnesota Twins are preparing for a 2018 season with expectations after making the playoffs in 2017 as a Wild Card. We will have bring out numbers from team history that represent the number of days until spring training from now until pitchers and catchers report on February 13th.

The Minnesota Twins have had to trade away two elite lefty pitchers to the New York Mets in the last 30 years. The most recent deal turned out to really be a bust, but the trade of Frank Viola brought back a host of pitchers that led the team to the 1991 World Series.

Viola’s Twins career

Viola was a 16th round selection of the Kansas City Royals in the 1978 draft out of high school, but he chose instead to attend St. John’s University, where he put up excellent numbers and was the 2nd round selection of the Minnesota Twins in 1981.

Viola threw just 155 minor league innings before he was up to the majors in 1982, and he was up for good, in spite of totaling a 5.38 ERA over 336 innings in 1982 and 1983 combined.

In 1984, Viola won 18 games as he tossed 257 2/3 innings with a 3.21 ERA, 1.16 WHIP, and a 73/149 BB/K ratio. He would toss at least 245 innings for the next seven seasons between the Twins and the Mets.

Not a dominant starter, Viola used his big 6’4″ left-handed frame on the mound to generate ground balls and weak fly balls, though his reliance on control and location meant he gave up his fair share of the long ball, as he allowed at least 20 every season as a Twin.

While he had been fairly league-average in his performance to that point, in 1987, Viola dialed up things another notch, going on a four year stretch where he was one of the best lefty pitchers in the entire game.

During the 1987 championship season, Viola was one of the only pitchers with quality numbers, posting a 2.90 ERA over 251 2/3 innings, with a 1.18 WHIP, and a 66/197 BB/K ratio. However, his best season with the Twins would be the next year, as he went 24-7 in 1988, with a 2.64 ERA over 255 1/3 innings, with a 1.14 WHIP and a 54/193 BB/K ratio, winning the Cy Young Award in the American League.

In 1989, with Viola having another excellent season, and the Twins out o the playoff race at the time, the Twins traded Viola to the Mets for Kevin Tapani, Rick Aguilera, David West, Tim Drummond, and Jack Savage.

Viola won 112 games over his 8 seasons with the team, throwing 1,772 2/3 innings with a 3.86 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, a 7% walk rate, and a 16.3% strikeout rate. He was elected to the Twins Hall of Fame in 2005 as just the 3rd pitcher elected behind Jim Kaat and Bert Blyleven.

Post-Twins career

Viola was tremendous down the stretch for the Mets in 1989, pitching at such a pace that he recorded his only 200+ strikeout season of his career.

He came back in 1990 with his second 20-win season, going 20-12, leading the National League with 249 2/3 innings, posting a 2.67 ERA, 1.15 WHIP, and 60/182 BB/K ratio. He finished 3rd in the Cy Young Award voting that season, though he led National League pitchers that received a Cy Young vote that season in bWAR by a considerable margin.

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Voila would go on to one more All-Star campaign with the Mets in 1991 before signing with the Boston Red Sox before the 1992 season.

After a productive 1992 season where he pitched to a 3.44 ERA over 238 innings, Viola began to feel the injury bug in 1993, missing a half-dozen starts and failing to reach 200 innings for the first time since 1982.

Viola would never be fully healthy again, making a total of just 15 more starts combined from 1994-1996 and tossing just 75 2/3 innings, with a 6.19 ERA to show for it. His injuries affected his control, and he saw a 41/31 BB/K ratio as hitters could either hit an “aimed” fastball or watch a pitch out of the zone.

All in all, Viola won 176 games over a 15-year big league career, finishing with 1,844 strikeouts in 2,836 1/3 innings. He made three All-Star games, won a Cy Young, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting in 1988, and won the 1987 World Series MVP.

Next: Who next goes into the Twins team HOF?

For 16 days to spring training, we remember the Minnesota Twins’ 1987 ace, lefty Frank “Sweet Music” Viola.

Come soon, spring!!