Posted at 11:44 AM on June 20, 2006
by David Zingler
In the past few months, we’ve all been engulfed in a wave of Kirby Puckett nostalgia. We’ve rehashed his on-field heroics, glossed over his off-the-field transgressions and generally celebrated his life. During a few of my Torii Hunter-related posts however, a reader who has offered a new take on the Twins legend – that he is overrated.
“Wait a second,” the reader commented on May 9 when I scoffed at Puckett/Hunter comparisons. “Torii's hit a homerun every 24 at bats, compared to every 35 for Kirby's career. He's stolen more bases per game than Kirby, which is even more interesting considering he doesn't get on base nearly as much as Kirby did. Both players drove in one run for every 6.6 at bats. They both walked roughly 40-50 times per year, and Torii normally strikes out 10-15 times per year more than Kirby did. Either Kirby Puckett is the worst player to join the Hall of Fame, or Torii Hunter would be a shoo-in for the Hall of Fame if only he had averaged 8 more hits per month.”
Interesting, but is it valid? The per-at-bat statistics are surprising, but Hunter’s will surely drop as he ages. The same could be said for his base stealing numbers. Their walk totals are similar, but Puckett never struck out a 100 times in a season while Hunter has passed that dubious mark four times already (topping out at 125 in 2001). Puckett’s career average of .318 meanwhile, nearly tops Hunter’s career on-base-percentage of .321 (Kirby’s OBP is .360, Hunter was a .267 hitter entering this season). The reader’s last assertion is that Hunter would be a Hall “shoo-in” for the Hall if he compiled eight more hits per month. While eight hits a month may sound trivial to some, it is the equivalent of 48 hits a season, and that is the difference from mediocrity to stardom.
Time made the reader even bolder, possibly for dramatic effect. “Kirby Puckett's numbers look an awful lot like Placido Polanco's” he commented last week. “Just because there hasn't been a good hitter in Minnesota since the 70s doesn't make Puckett anything more than a pity-choice for the HoF.”
There is no doubt that the Hall of Fame voters gave Puckett the benefit-of-the-doubt because of the tragic manner in which his career ended. His nice guy image also assuredly helped. But, at age 35, Puckett had compiled 2,304 hits and it’s not much of a stretch to think that he could have played to age 40 or longer as a DH and reached the 3,000 hit plateau. That, of course, is one of the most time tested Hall benchmarks.
(On a side note, the Polanco comparison seems outlandish. He is a .300 career hitter, but has hit more than 9 homeruns in a season only twice. Baseball-Reference lists Don Mattingly and Cecil Cooper as the players most similar to Puckett).
The point of this is not to chastise a loyal reader, but rather examine his seemingly radical, but not without merit, argument. After all, it does take guts to rip Kirby in this climate. Are there others out there who think he may be on to something?
Posted at 11:06 PM on June 20, 2006
by Josh Lee
One of the interesting things about the Twins' recent hot streak is the way in which every aspect of the team's game has improved. Ditching two of the worst infielders in the majors was bound to improve the defense, and the granting of regular playing time to Kubel, Bartlett, etc. has given the hitting a boost. The surprise is how much smarter the Twins seem to be on the basepaths. A few weeks ago, the Twins couldn't figure out when to run and when to hold up, and were as good at getting picked off as they were at stranding runners. In tonight's game against the Astros, the Twins did leave nine on base, but some heads-up baserunning in the 9th (a stolen base by Castillo, Mauer beating out a double-play throw) allowed them to take the lead on a wild pitch by Houston reliever Brad Lidge.
The Twins turned out to need that run, too, as Joe Nathan racked up his first blown save of the season, giving up a home run to Preston Wilson. On the first pitch of the 10th inning, though, Justin Morneau decided that while small ball is nice, the long ball is what the chicks dig, and knocked a homer of his own out to left to give the Twins a 5-4 win. Eight straight wins; whatever backwards-cap wearing, jersey-non-washing superstitions the team (or its fans) are riding, now is clearly not the time to stop.