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The Twins came to Minnesota from Washington to start the 1961 season. Since then, they have had many great pitchers. Johan Santana won two Cy Young Awards. Frank Viola won a Cy Young the year after he was named the World Series MVP. Jim Perry won one in the '60s when the Twins also could boast pitching greats such as Jim Kaat, Camilo Pascual, Mudcat Grant, Dean Chance and others. Because the Twins weren't quite as successful in the '70s, performances from the likes of Dave Goltz often go unnoticed and unappreciated. The '80s saw the return of Bert Blyleven and a couple of great years from Frank Viola, and during the 1991 season, the Twins had three players finish in the top 7 in AL Cy Young voting. And even in the last decade of Twins success, there have been several terrific performances by the likes of Joe Mays, Brad Radke, Carlos Silva and Francisco Liriano. In 1988, Frank Viola won the Cy Young, went 24-7 with a 2.64 ERA in 255.1 innings. Allan Anderson was 16-9 with a 2.45 ERA, which led the league.
For some reason, I was out on Baseball-Reference.com the other day (not an unusual thing for me) and was looking at that 1991 pitching staff. It got me wondering about the best trios in Twins starting pitching history. In 1987, it was Blyleven and Viola and then who? (Yes, Les Straker) In 2006, Johan Santana and Francisco Liriano both had ERAs in the twos, but Liriano only threw about 120 innings and they didn't have a third guy put up numbers or innings.
So, I went back in time, through the Twins 50 seasons, and looked for seasons in which the Twins had three starting pitchers throw 200 innings and pitch well. It's interesting to follow over the decades because I consider a sub-4 ERA today very good, and it generally is well better than average. During the decade of the '60s, often the league average ERA dipped into the low-3s. So, that may put some context to this. Let's start with the most recent and work our way back in time.
2004 - Johan Santana went 20-6 with a 2.61 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP in 228 innings. He walked 54 and struck out 265 (10.5 per nine). Brad Radke went 11-8 with a 3.48 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 219.2 innings. He walked just 26 and struck out 143. Carlos Silva went 14-8 with a 4.21 ERA, a 1.43 WHIP, 35 walks, 76 strikeouts in 203 innings.
2001 - Joe Mays had his one great year. He went 17-13 with a 3.16 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 233.2 innings. He walked 64 but struck out just 123. Brad Radke was 15-11 with a 3.94 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 226 innings. He walked just 26 and struck out 137. Eric Milton was 15-7 with a 4.32 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP in 220.2 innings. He walked 61 and struck out 157.
1992 - John Smiley came in to replace Jack Morris and was terrific. The lefty went 16-9 with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.12 WHIp. In 241 innings, he walked 65 and struck out 163. Kevin Tapani was 16-11 with a 3.97 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 220 innings. He walked 48 and struck out 138. Scott Erickson went 13-12 with a 3.40 ERA and a 1.32 WHIP. In 212 innings, he walkd 83 and struck out 101.
1991 - Jack Morris had Game 7, but he was arguably the Twins third-best starting pitcher that year. He went 18-12 with a 3.43 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in 246.2 innings. He walked 92 and struck out 163. Scott Erickson had the incredible winning streak and went 20-8 with a 3.18 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. In 204 innings, he had 71 walks and 108 strikeouts. Kevin Tapani got the least credit, but he went 16-9 with a 2.99 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP over 244 innings. He walked just 40 and struck out 135.
1984 - Frank Viola had his breakout season. The lefty went 18-12 with a 3.21 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP. In 257.2 innings, he walked 73 and struck out 149. Mike Smithson went 15-13 with a 3.68 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP. In 252 innings, he walked 54 and struck out 144. John Butcher went 13-11 with a 3.44 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP. In 225 innings, he walked 53 and struck out just 83.
1978 - Dave Goltz went 15-10 with a 2.49 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 220.1 innings. He walked 67 and struck out 116. Geoff Zahn went 14-14 with a 3.03 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP in 252.1 innings. He walked 81 and struck out 106. Roger Erickson went 14-13 with a 3.96 ERA and a 1.31 WHIP in 265.2 innings. He struck out 121 and walked 79.
1975 - Jim Hughes had a strange line. He went 16-14 wit ha 3.82 ERA in 249.2 innings despite a WHIP os 1.47 due to 127 walks and 130 strikeouts. Bert Blyleven went 15-10 with a 3.00 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP over 275.2 innings. He walked 84 and struck out 233 batters. Dave Goltz was 14-14 with a 3.67 ERA and a 1.26 WHIP. He walked 72 and struck out 128 in 243 innings.
1972 - Bert Blyleven went 17-17 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 287.1 innings. Dick Woodson went 14-14 with a 2.72 ERA and a 1.17 WHIP in 251.2 innings. Jim Perry went 217.2 innings and was 13-16 with a 3.35 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP.
1969 - Jim Perry won the Cy Young. He was 20-6 with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP in 261.2 innings. Dave Boswell went 20-12 with a 3.23 ERA and a 1.23 WHIP in 256.1 innings. Jim Kaat was 14-13 with a 3.49 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP in his 242.1 innings.
1968 - Jim Kaat went 14-12 with a 2.94 ERA and a 1.12 WHIP in 208 innings. Jim Merritt went 12-16 but an ERA of 3.25 and a WHIP of 1.09 in 238.1 innings. Dean Chance was 16-16 with a 2.53 ERA and a 0.98 WHIP over 292 innings.
1967 - Four players fit the criteria in this season. Dean Chance was 20-14 with a 2.73 ERA and a 1.10 WHIP in 283.2 innings. Jim Kaat went 16-13 with a 3.04 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 263.1 innings. Jim Merritt went 13-7 with a 2.53 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP in 227.2 innings. Dave Boswell went 14-12 with a 3.27 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP in 222.2 innings.
1962 - Camilo Pascual went 20-11 with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.15 WHIP in 257.2 innings. Jim Kaat went 18-14 with a 3.14 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP in 269 innings. Jack Kralick was 12-11 with a 3.86 ERA and a 1.24 WHIP in his 242.2 innings.
1961 - Again, four players fit the criteria. Pedro Ramos went 11-20 with a 3.95 ERA and a 1.30 WHIP in 264.1 innings. Camilo Pascual went 15-16 with a 3.46 ERA and a 1.21 WHIP over 252.1 innings. Jack Kralick went 13-11 with a 3.61 ERA and a 1.33 WHIP in 242 innings. Jim Kaat went 9-17 with a 3.90 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP over 200.2 innings.
So, there you have it, a look at some of the Twins pitching staff trios over the past 50 years. A few things certainly come to mind. The average ERA in the league has increased about a run since the '60s, so obviously that factors in. As you can see, W-L factor is something to look at, but the ERA and WHIP and IP say more. The innings pitched are obviously a big storyline as well. Whereas 200 innings today actually means something, pitchers of the past threw that whether they were doing well or not. And, to reach those types of innings, do we over-value strikeouts today? I'm sure some with more advanced statistical metrics could give an exact answer for which of these trios was the best; maybe by Win Shares, or VORP or whatever. In the end, you can judge for yourself.
So, thanks for taking this Twins History stroll with me. Feel free to leave your thoughts on which ones rank highest in your mind. Obviously that 1991 staff was terrific and the Twins won the World Series with it. But some of those staff of the late 1960s were pretty impressive too. I find some of the names of the 1984 and 1978 teams a little surprising because I think sometimes people remember the disappointment more than the successes. What trends have you noticed? What names caught your attention?
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