The Minnesota Twins are just 9 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.
Minnesota Twins Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett had many elite seasons and was one of the best hitters in the entire league while he was playing. However, while he won an All-Star MVP and ALCS MVP, he never won an MVP award over his career, in spite of appearing on ballots in 9 seasons of his 12 year career.
From 1985 to 1995, Puckett appeared on every MVP ballot except for 1990 and 1993. His first appearance was in 1985, when he was a distant 21st place behind winner Don Mattingly of the Yankees. Puckett had hit .288/.330/.385 with 4 home runs and 21 stolen bases on the season.
In 1986, Puckett figured much more into the voting, finishing 6th overall, but in a group of four players who finished quite close for 4th place. Puckett hit .328/.366/.537 with 31 home runs and 20 stolen bases in 1986 and won his first Gold Glove.
The 1987 season brought Puckett even closer, as he finished 3rd in the voting, though he was in a tier all his own, as the choice for MVP was primarily between George Bell and Alan Trammell, and then there was a significant drop in voting points between Puckett and 4th place. He hit .332/.367/.534 on the season with 28 home runs and 12 stolen bases, sinning another Gold Glove.
In 1988, Puckett had his first significant argument for the award, finishing 3rd in the AL in bWAR, 2nd in the league among position players, not having finished in the top 10 previously. However, Jose Canseco’s 40/40 season led to a unanimous win, even though he had a lower bWAR than Puckett on the year as Puckett hit .356/.375/.545 with 24 home runs.
Puckett won the 1989 batting title, but his season was otherwise far off the pace of many others in the league, and he finished 7th in the voting, with a .339/.379/.465 line with 9 home runs and 11 stolen bases. He would miss the ballot in 1990 as he hit .298/.365/.446 with 12 home runs and the Twins fell to last in the AL West.
Though he helped to front a team that jumped from last to first and win 95 games, Puckett’s .319/.352/.460 line with 15 home runs and 11 stolen bases were only good enough to get him a distant 7th place finish in the 1991 MVP voting behind winner Cal Ripken, Jr.
If any season deserved to win Puckett an MVP, it was 1992. While not his personal best season, compared to the league, Puckett was elite, leading all position players in bWAR. The season was one for excellent performances from starting pitchers, and Puckett was 4th in bWAR overall in the AL, but none of those players finished above him in the voting as he finished 2nd in 1992.
Instead, Puckett was defeated in a vote that would likely not be repeated again today, as he lost out to Oakland reliever Dennis Eckersley, in spite of hitting .329/.374/.490 with 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases. His 7.1 bWAR dwarfed Eck’s 2.9 on the season.
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The 1993 season was a drop off for the Twins, in spite of Puckett rediscovering his power stroke, hitting .296/.349/.474 with 22 home runs, but many felt the move to right field for over 1/3 of the games he played factored into voters’ minds and led some to believe he was no longer as valuable to the Twins.
Puckett would bounce back in voters’ minds in 1994 in the strike season, but the elite seasons from a number of players overshadowed his own more “solid” season, hitting .317/.362/.540 with 20 home runs before the strike hit in August. Puckett finished 7th in the ballot, a significant amount above the 8th place finisher, but also a good amount behind the 6th place finisher.
Puckett was in the final throws of an excellent 1995 season when a Dennis Martinez up-and-in fastball broke his jaw and began eye issues that would later result in glaucoma that took the vision in his right eye and end his career. With a .314/.379/.515 line that final year with 23 home runs, he finished 21st in the voting, a notable bookend to his initial 21st place finish a decade earlier in his first appearance on a ballot.
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For 9 days to spring training, we remember the star of the 1980s and 1990s for the Minnesota Twins, Kirby Puckett, and his appearances on MVP ballots.
Come soon, spring!!