Joe Evans (1895)
Jimmy Wasdell (1914)
Al McBean (1938)
Yukata Enatsu (1948)
Bill North (1948)
Rick Waits (1952) George Brett (1953)
John Smoltz (1967) Scott Watkins (1970) A. J. Hinch (1974)
Josh Beckett (1980) Justin Morneau (1981) Brian Dozier (1987) Michael Brantley (1987)
Yukata Enatsu was one of the first closers in Japan, recording 193 saves.
A. J. Hinch was drafted by Minnesota in the third round in 1995, but did not sign.
Unlike its preceding digit, Nº 2 has a collection of distinguishing achievements in its history: an MVP award, a Rookie of the Year award, and multiple All-Star and Gold Glove nods. Its incumbant might be the
Zoilo Casanova Versalles Rodriguez left Nº 5 behind him in Washington and broke in Nº 2 for the Twins in 1961. His selection for MVP was (and remains, for some) rather contentious, but if you're of the opinion that the MVP should be awarded to position players, Zoilo is a worthy recipient. His 7.2 rWAR led AL position players, just edging Chicago second baseman Don Buford. Teammate Tony Oliva and Detroit's Norm Cash tied for third with 5.4, followed closely by Jim Fregosi (5.3). Zoilo Versalles was the first Latin American player to be named MVP.
Zoilo signed with the Senators when he was 17 and reached the AL at 19, but his MLB career was over at 31. These factors contributed to a pretty tragic story after baseball. According to Zoilo's New York Times obituary, following his death at age 55:
After playing a season in Japan in 1972, Versalles returned to the Minneapolis area but found it virtually impossible to make a living, partly because he had never learned to read or write English and partly because of the lingering effects of a back injury he suffered while running out a ground ball with the Dodgers in 1968.
He held a series of menial jobs, but lost his house to foreclosure and was eventually forced to sell his m.v.p. trophy, his All-Star rings and his Gold Glove award.
In addition to his back problems he suffered two heart attacks and underwent stomach surgery.
In recent years he had been sustained by disability payments, Social Security and memories of a season that came only once.
Graig Nettles wore three numbers during his brief Twins career; Nº 2 was the last. Billy Martin first became his manager at AAA Denver, where Martin replaced Johnny Goryl at the end of June 1968. Martin pressed Nettles into double duty, giving him reps in the outfield as well as third base. When Nettles was called up to Minnesota in September, he played 16 of his 22 games in the outfield. In 1969 he got into 96 games, 74 on defense. With Harmon Killebrew en route to an MVP season and Rich Reese playing over his head with a career year, Nettles got only 21 games at third base. He found himself in something of a platoon with Bob Allison, who was 34 and, while still productive, nearing the end of his career. Nettles started hot, topping out at .316/.371/.561 (.306 BAbip) in mid-May, but bad luck led to a hard fade and he went .190/.303/.613 (.226 BAbip) the rest of the way.
Nettles was heading into his age 25 season when the Twins traded him; Harmon Killebrew turned 34 years old the same year. Nettles put up a 5.2 rWAR campaign in 1970. His manager, Alvin Dark, stuck him a third for the whole campaign. His 101 OPS+ wasn't exciting, but he showed some power with 26 homers, walked more than he struck out, and flashed excellent leather (22 Fielding Runs). The Twins repeated as AL West Champs in 1970, without much help from Luis Tiant, the primary return in the deal that sent Nettles to Cleveland or Rich Reese, who hit .261/.332/.371 (92 OPS+) in 564 PA as the primary first baseman. The Twins released Tiant in March 1971. Reese plummeted to a .219/.270/.353 (74 OPS+) in 359 PA. Harmon Killebrew moved across the diamond to first base, and 23 year old rookie Steve Braun took over at the hot corner. Braun didn't embarrass himself, turning in 1.0 rWAR year, but the Twins fell from first to fifth in the West. Nettles swatted 28 homers and displayed a fine eye (82 walks to 56 strikeouts), ending 1971 with a 114 OPS+ and 30 Fielding Runs. All that was good for a 7.5 rWAR season, just short of double César Tovar's total, which led the position player ledger of the '71 Twins. Braun eventually wore Nettles' Nº 2 in 1976, which was his last year in Minnesota. More on his story another time.
Three seasons after Braun's departure, the Twins finally seemed like they might fill the hole they created by trading Nettles when John Castino split co-Rookie of the Year honors with Toronto's Alfredo Griffin. (Between 1971–1979 Nettles put up 41.8 rWAR, including an MVP-worthy 8.0 rWAR year in 1976. Nettles finished 16th in MVP voting, tied with Baltimore-era Reggie Jackson. This is the only time anyone will ever hear me say a Yankme was robbed of an MVP.) Castino's rookie season was a solid 2-win effort. Castino hadn't played a game above AA Orlando when he made the major league roster out of Spring Training in 1979. His .285 batting average drew favorable notice in the era, surprising even his manager, Gene Mauch; his .331 OBP and .112 ISO speak to the shape of his overall production at the plate. Castino's defense, however, drew more than one comparison to Brooks Robinson, who had retired partway into the 1977 season. Mauch might have seen Robinson play at age 19 or 20, when they briefly overlapped in the American League, but given that Mauch spent Robinson's heyday managing the Phillies and Expos, one wonders exactly how much eyeball time he had to draw the comparison. Brooks, for his part, accepted it, saying that Castino's throwing & actions reminded him of himself, and opining that Castino looked to already be a fine fielder.
In fairness to Castino, that much was true. From 1980–1983, his glove contributed 36 Fielding Runs' worth of value to the Twins' defense, even though he played fewer than 120 games twice in that span. The limited playing time was due not only to the '81 strike, but the discovery of a back problem that ultimately cut his career short. X-rays taken after Castino was injured diving for a ball late in the second half of the season resulted in a spondylolysis diagnosis. Castino tried playing through it at first, but had to back off. Doctors ultimately performed a spinal procedure that fused a couple of his vertebrae together. Atrophied from a winter in a body cast, Castino tried to play out the '82 season at a new position; Gary Gaetti's arrival shifted Castino over to second baseThe results supported Castino's after-the-fact observation that he was not ready to resume playing baseball that year. Who knows whether a year of PT and gradual adjustment back to the game would have changed anything for him, given the therapies available at the time. Castino only got one more year on the diamond, playing second base and matching his career-best with another 4.5 rWAR season. With Castino under contract through the 1987 season, the mid-Eighties Twins might have had some interesting choices to make to find enough playing time between second & third for him, Gaetti, and rookie Tim Teufel. Unfortunately, those good problems never materialized. Castino's back limited him to 9 games in 1984, and that was it. Just as the Twins were starting to turn their fortunes around with the maturation of the core of the cohort of prospects that won the '87 World Series, Castino's career was over. He was 29. He appeared in just 666 games and made only 2578 plate appearances. Thirty-six years later, Castino's 39.3 Fielding Runs still place him 5th among Twins infielders and 10th among all position players. Brooks Robinson & Gene Mauch were right — he turned out to be a pretty good fielder.
Chris Pittaro wore Nº 2 next. Pittaro is perhaps most notable for the scouting & front office career he began with the Athletics in 1991. That gig reunited Pittaro with his Twins teammate Billy Beane; he became one of the Oakland front office characters named in Moneyball, is still a special assistant to Oakland GM David Forst.
Wally Backman managed to achieve -0.7 rWAR in just 87 games and 337 PA for the '89 Twins. He can thank Luis Rivas for sparing him the honor of worst season while wearing Nº 2.
Pat Meares had the unenviable task of succeeding Greg Gagne as the Twins' primary shortstop. Younger and cheaper, Meares' Twins tenure nevertheless was not as valuable as the five seasons Gags split between Kansas City & Los Angeles to end his career:
Luis Rivas broke in as a full-time player in 2001 & was the second baseman when the Twins began their resurgence in the early 2000s. Unfortunately, he contributed little to that effort. Rivas made over 2000 plate appearances, mustering an 80 OPS+. His hitting was a mirror of his fielding: Rivas' -54 Batting Runs made a potent statement at the plate, while his -51 Fielding Runs made his defense conspicuous. In the five seasons Rivas was (or began the season as) the Twins' primary second baseman, the team went 444-365. Many more things about Luis Rivas, but suffice it to say that he was the starting second baseman on a string of successful Twins teams, often plying his trade in the Nº 2 hole (666 PA). I don't remember who came up with the nickname (Gleeman?), but I'll always remember him as "Luis Oh-for-ThRivas."
For five seasons Denard Span blended excellent outfield defense, solid on-base skills, and good baserunning. Span's glove ranks 6th among Twins outfielders with 39.0 Fielding Runs, and places him 11th among all Twins position players. One of the great DSPAN2 fun facts is that he was — at least by one definition — the most exciting player on the Twins' roster: he hit 36 triples (half his career total) with the Twins, against 23 homers. A concussion and some other injuries intruded on his playing time, so he was only the primary center fielder twice during his Twins tenure, but he was nonetheless a very solid player during the last few years in the Metrodome and the first few at Target Field.
The Twins traded DSPAN2 in November 2012, sending him to the Nationals for pitching prospect Alex Meyer. The next season, Brian Dozier made two significant changes: he moved from shortstop to second base, and he took over Nº 2. Dozier had worn different numbers at AAA Rochester and Southern Mississippi, and neither his birth date or month suggest an attachment to the number. The new position minimized some defensive shortcomings. Dozier's defense at second base was very strong in 2013, but he never matched it again, and by 2018 was a bit of a liability in the field. Nonetheless, Dozier put together a string of seasons that gave a whole different shape to the position, something Twins fans had not seen in over fifty years: the slugging second baseman. In his five full seasons with the Twins, Dozier averaged 29 home runs per season. In 2016, he became the first Twin hit 40+ homers since since Harmon Killebrew in 1971. Dozier carried a .202 ISO into his last season with the Twins, slipping to .199 before the Twins sent him to the Dodgers at the trade deadline. Measured by rWAR, Dozier was the most successful player to wear Nº 2.
For all the Bomba Squad excitement last season, Luis Arraez might have been the Twins' most interesting hitter to watch at the plate. One plate appearance rarely is enough to define a player, but Arraez' pinch hitting appearance after Jonathan Scoop injured himself down 0-2 to fireballer Jeurys Familia on July 16 was really dang cool. It will be interesting to see what he can do with a full-time gig at second this season.
In honor of Brian Dozier joining Harmon Killebrew in the 40 homer club, here are the single season franchise leaders in HR by position, presented three ways because "most homers by a [position player] is a very squishy conversation.
Let's say you run a team filled entirely with league-average players, and you're given the unique & magical option of replacing as many of those players as you like with Barry Bondses. How many Barrys do you take, where do they play, where do you hit them in the order, and how many games does the team win?
The hosts decided to answer the question three times: once for 2016 Barry Bonds, once for 1993 Barry Bonds, and once more for 2004 Barry Bonds. The hosts assumed that every starting position player & member of the rotation were roughly 2-win players, every bench player was slightly better than replacement level, and every reliever a 1-win player. Finally, they used the lineup analysis tool at Baseball Musings to generate a rough idea of how many runs their Bonds-fueled offense would score per game.
Let's substitute "Barry Bondses" with "Brians Dozier" and contemplate the scenario twice: once with full 2016 Brian Dozier, and once with post-17 June 2016 Brian Dozier. What are our answers?
On the full season, Dozier has posed a .349 OBP and .580 SLG. His value according to your preferred metric is 6.0 rWAR, 5.7 fWAR, or 4.7 WARP. Since 17 June, Dozier has a .369 OBP and .746 SLG. A league-average hitter across MLB would have a .322 OBP and .419 SLG, which is just about what Kurt Suzuki has managed this year (.319/.421). A lineup of store-brand Kurts Suzuki would score 4.510 runs per game.
Using the 1989-2002 model of the lineup tool, a lineup of eight full season Brians Dozier, plus a store brand Suzuki at catcher, would score 6.375 runs per game. A lineup of eight post-17 June Brians Dozier plus IGA Suzuki would score 8.177 runs per game.
Obviously you deploy a Dozier at second & shortstop, where he has significant experience, at DH, and at 1b (I mean, Ryan Howard plays there...). Dozier's roughly an average defender at second (Fangraphs has his UZR/150 at -0.9 over 5144 innings). At short he's a bit worse: -5.0 over 732.1 innings. But then it starts getting tricky.
Dozier has exactly 20 games at 3b in the pro level, none since he played 6 innings at third for New Britain in 2011. Reaction time is the big unknown and Dozier's limited range at shortstop becomes less important. Michael Cuddyer had a -8.1 UZR/150 at 2b over 532.1 innings and was -10.2 at 3b. Assuming Dozier's arm is weaker than Cuddyer's, but that he gets to a few more balls than his former teammate, we could say Dozier's probably in the neighborhood of a -3.5 defender at third.
Dozier has never played outfield in pro ball. Cuddyer was -8.1 over 7546.2 innings in right field. Cuddyer clearly made a deal with the SSS devil to get his 34.4 UZR/150 in 36 blessedly uneventful innings in center. Dozier is younger and more mobile than Cuddyer was, a plus for potential deployment in center, but his arm becomes more of a factor in the outfield. Frankly, your guess is as good as mine.
Since Dozier is a middle infielder you can relieve yourself of the burden of carrying a Denny Hocking on the roster to cover up-the-middle positions on the bench, but you probably need a backup catcher with Chris Herrmann's resume. Whether you carry eleven or twelve pitchers probably depends on your feelings about a bunch of 1-win relievers. Of course, you could elect to have a six-man rotation to give yourself one more 2-win starter.
So, how many Brians Dozier do you take – full season and post-17 June – to make up your team? Where do you play them?
Brian Dozier is having himself one heck of a season. In the first 62 games (though mid-June), Dozier was OPSing below .700: .227/.325/.369, with only 7 HR & 12 doubles and a .250 BABIP. That put him on pace for this kind of season (pro-rated over 162 games):
Here's what he's done since then:
Take another look at that prorated home run pace. Since mid-June Dozier's been slugging the ball the way Bret Boone could only have dreamed.
But has he been hitting cheapies? According to Home Run Tracker, Dozier's average true distance this season is 397.7 feet, which is just below the AL average (399.2 ft) and his average speed off the bat is 103.7 mph, just a tick below average (103.9 mph). Only two of his homers have been hit to the right of dead-center (off Cesar Ramos in Arlington & Carlos Rodon in Chicago). Home Run Tracker rates 8 of Dozier's homers as "No Doubt" clouts, which ties him with the following players: M. Machado, E. Longoria, B. Harper, M. Trout, D. Ortiz, E. Gattis, M. Cabrera, C. Gonzalez, A. Duvall. Some notable names with No Doubt hits that don't speak as loud: J. Donaldson, M. Sano, A. Rizzo, P. Goldschmidt, K. Morales, P. Alvarez, J. Upton, A. Beltre. Dozier is tied with Adrian Beltre for 5th in "Just Enough" homers, trailing both Jay Bruce & Robinson Cano (and one ahead of his playfully mephitic fellow keystone slugger Rougned Odor). Draw what conclusions you will, but it seems that Dozier's been neither wildly lucky or Thor-like.
Dozier's been just about as good on the road as he's been in Minneapolis:
Fangraphs' David Laurila wrote up Dozier's insight on his approach just last month (August 5th). Dozier had homered the night before (#22), "putting him on pace to match last year's career-high total of 28" as Laurila noted. The article's worth your time if you haven't read it already. I won't recap any of it here, other than to say I hope Dozier's philosophy is respected by the coaching staff & front office, and that he shares it more widely in the clubhouse. Last week Fangraphs' Scott Strandberg followed up on Laurila's interview with some analysis of Dozier's new swing mechanics. In a piece published at Fangraphs today, August Fagerstrom observes that Dozier currently is second on MLB leaderboards for two metrics: home runs (behind Mark Trumbo) and ISO (behind David Ortiz). What Dozier has done is truly historic. Fagerstrom: "[Dozier's] .298 ISO is the highest unadjusted figure in the expansion era (1961-present) for a second baseman and the highest by any second baseman not named Rogers Hornsby in baseball history (emphasis mine). Adjusted, Dozier is 6th since 1961, behind Joe Morgan ('76), Davey Johnson ('73), Bobby Grich ('81), Ryne Sandberg ('90), and Grich again ('79). A truly impressive list no matter which way you make it
That list also suggests something else: that Dozier's best days as a player may well be happening right now. Will the Brian Dozier we know right now – or, heck, even the Brian Dozier of 2014 & 2015 – be a solid contributor on the next great Twins team?
Dozier will be in his age-30 season next year. We all are familiar with the aging characteristics of bat-first second basemen, and if you figure Dozier's defense is about league average (as most metrics suggest), then the question begins to be shaped by forces outside of Dozier's control. Will the next great Twins team come before Dozier is a significant liability in the infield? Jeff Kent & Dan Uggla are proof that a team can trot out a mediocre defender at second base for a good long time if he averages 25+ bombs a season. If Dozier can keep that up, the answer two both questions is probably "Yes."
To finally get to the question raised in the title of this post: should whomever the Twins name as their new GM aggressively shop Dozier this winter?
Last season the Twins signed Dozier to a deal that has been very club-friendly to date: 4 years/$20 million. After this season Dozier is due $6 million in 2017, followed by $9 million in 2018. As the value of a win continues to rise (currently somewhere around $6 million $8 million per win), Dozier promises to offer significant value as long as he can stay on the field and manage at least the 2.4 rWAR/3.3fWAR he posted in 2015. By keeping him, the Twins have one major, veteran bat in their lineup for two more seasons. (With, I might add, a great approach to hitting, whether the front office appreciates it or not).
On the other hand, however, Dozier's contract and production could be extremely attractive to clubs looking to contend in 2017. The most appealing free agent second basemen this winter are probably Neil Walker, Chase Utley, and Kelly Johnson.
The major wrinkle in pursuing any trade is figuring out what teams might be looking to upgrade at the keystone next year. Of the obvious contenders, the Dodgers & Cardinals both make plenty of sense, but other likely first-league clubs are pretty well set at second: Cubs (Baez/Zobrist), Astros (Altuve), Rangers (Odor), Red Sox (Petunia), Blue Jays (Travis), Pirates (Harrison), Marlins (Gordon), and so on. Any non-Dodgers/Cardinals trade would probably need to happen with a team that is out this year but likes its chances next season.
So the question is, if you're the Twins' new GM, what do you do?