STEPHEN RUSSELL BRAUN | 1B/2B/SS/3B/LF | 1971-1976 | CAREER STATS
G PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+WARPWS 751 2830 .284 .376 .381 116 15.6 86
Taken in the 10th round of the 1966 draft out of a New Jersey high school, Steve Braun came up with the 1971 team that went 74-86 after the Twins won back-to-back division titles in 1969 and 1970. The poor record that year wasn't Braun's fault, as he played all over the infield while hitting .254/.350/.344 in 128 games. That may not look like an impressive hitting line, even from a 23-year-old rookie, but the AL as a whole batted a measly .247/.317/.364 in 1971 (compared to .267/.336/.428 this season).
Braun's entire time with the Twins actually came in a very low-scoring era, which is part of the reason why he's one of the more underrated players in team history. His raw numbers show a guy who got on base extremely well (.376 on-base percentage), but had almost no power (.381 slugging percentage). However, if you adjust his performance to account for the pitcher-friendly era that he played in, Braun suddenly looks like an offensive force.
Looking at adjusted OPS+ while in Minnesota, Braun's mark of 116 ranks ahead of Jason Kubel (114) and Michael Cuddyer (110) among current Twins, plus past hitters like Corey Koskie (115), Chuck Knoblauch (114), Brian Harper (110), Tom Brunansky (109), Matt Lawton (107), David Ortiz (107), A.J. Pierzynski (105), Torii Hunter (104), and Roy Smalley (104). Those are some of the best hitters in team history and Braun was arguably more effective offensively with the Twins than all of them.
He certainly wasn't in the elite class of hitters, but Braun was safely in the "very good" group. While with the Twins his .376 OBP was 15 percent above the AL mark of .328 and his .381 slugging percentage was actually slightly above average as well. Throughout the five decades of Twins history, only seven players have more plate appearances and a higher OPS+ than Braun. Interestingly, if you adjust their respective totals with the Twins to today's offensive levels, Braun and Knoblauch are nearly identical:
Knoblauch played longer with the Twins and was a more valuable all-around player, but purely in terms of hitting Braun was a slower, left-handed version of Knoblauch. And while he wasn't nearly as good as Knoblauch defensively, Braun's ability to play multiple positions gave him value. During six years with the Twins he saw significant action at second base, third base, shortstop, and left field, and also got a little time at first base and right field.
If you don't buy a comparison to Knoblauch, think of Braun instead as the type of player Denny Hocking could have been if he hit like Lawton instead of like Lawton's sister. Braun was remarkably consistent after his solid rookie season, hitting above .280 while getting on base at least 36 percent of the time in each of the next five years. His best season came in 1975, when Braun batted .302/.389/.428 for the eighth-best OBP in the league and a 130 OPS+
Adjusting those 1975 numbers to today's scoring environment spits out something like .315/.390/.480, which is pretty close to Joe Mauer's career .327/.408/.483 mark. Braun served as the Twins' primary third baseman in 1971, 1972, and 1973, and was their main left fielder in 1974 and 1975. He was the team's regular designated hitter in 1976 and also saw action at third base and left field while batting .288/.384/.353 to once again rank among the league leaders in on-base percentage.
In November of 1976 the upstart Seattle Mariners plucked Braun off the Twins' roster in the expansion draft, ending his time in Minnesota after six very productive seasons. After a disappointing stint with the Mariners he was traded to the Royals for Jim Colborn in June of 1978, after Colborn won 18 games with a 3.62 ERA in 1977. That move signaled the end of Braun's days as an everyday player, and was the beginning of his time as one of Whitey Herzog's bench bats.
Herzog was Kansas City's manager when Braun arrived at midseason, and took a liking to him when he hit .263/.380/.350 in 64 games and tied a Royals record by reaching base 11 straight times. Braun gave Herzog another productive season as a part-time player in 1979, and when Herzog moved on to the Cardinals he brought Braun in as a free agent. Braun served as a super-sub and pinch-hitter for the next five seasons, hitting .258/.382/.348 while rarely starting a game.
He was a key contributor on two pennant winners, including the 1982 World Series champs, but retired two seasons before the Cardinals met up with the Twins in the 1987 World Series. Braun has stayed in baseball after retiring, serving as a minor-league hitting coach with the Cardinals, Yankees, and Red Sox. He currently sells "hitting clinics, summer camps, and baseball trips" through a company called Steve Braun Baseball, which offers to help you "train like a pro with a pro!"
Braun is perhaps the least-known player in this countdown and his inclusion may raise eyebrows, but he absolutely belongs. Six seasons and nearly 3,000 plate appearances of consistently outstanding top-of-the-order hitting, plus versatile defense, made him an impact player even if it wasn't apparent to everyone at the time. Had he played today, rather than 30 years ago, Braun's power would appear a lot more acceptable and his ability to get on base would be more properly appreciated.
TOP 25 ALL-TIME MINNESOTA TWINS RANKS:
On-Base % .376 6th Walks 356 14th Adjusted OPS+ 116 14th Batting Average .284 15th Times On Base 1059 25th
Twins Notes: DeRosa, Kouzmanoff, Bonser, and Hawkins
LaVelle E. Neal III of the Minneapolis Star Tribunereports that the Twins haven't been in contact with Orlando Hudson's agent, which rules out one of my favorite potential targets, and they've also not really been linked to Felipe Lopez or Adrian Beltre. Instead they're mostly said to be pursuing Mark DeRosa or Kevin Kouzmanoff. Last month DeRosa was part of my article on realistic free agent options for third base, but if reports that he's seeking a three-year deal prove accurate the Twins should stay away.
It sounds like the Twins offered Glen Perkins for Kouzmanoff, but the Padres wanted a second player to sweeten the deal. I'm not a big Kouzmanoff fan because he's an extreme free-swinger whose glove is overrated due to a low error total this year, but calling the majors' most pitcher-friendly ballpark home makes him a better hitter than his modest raw numbers suggest. He's batted .285/.327/.474 away from home and does play solid defense, which is probably worth more than just Perkins at this point.
In order to clear a spot on the 40-man roster for Carl Pavano following his arbitration acceptance the Twins designated Boof Bonser for assignment. Bonser pitched his way out of the rotation in 2008 and then missed all of this year following shoulder surgery, but would have been in line for a small raise via arbitration. Rather than risk having to pay Bonser about $1 million after arbitration, the Twins reportedly offered him a one-year deal for close to the minimum salary and then cut him loose when he declined.
There's still a chance that the Twins could work out a trade for Bonser, but if not they'll end up simply releasing him this weekend. Bonser is a 28-year-old with a 5.12 career ERA coming off major surgery, so it's tough to blame the Twins too much for cutting bat. With that said, after moving to the bullpen and prior to the injury he showed some potential as a reliever, posting a 55-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 52 innings. They could have made room for Pavano and kept Bonser around by cutting Bobby Keppel.
UPDATE: Bonser has been traded to the Red Sox for a player to be named later or cash.
My blogmate Craig Calcaterrabroke the news that Rich Harden is signing with Texas, so he can be crossed off the Twins' list now (if he was ever on it). Harden will reportedly get $7.5 million for 2010 and the Rangers will have an $11.5 million option for 2011, which is an excellent deal for Texas if you agree with me that the Twins did well to bring back Pavano for what will likely be about $7 million. Harden has significantly more upside than Pavano with a similar injury history.
On the other hand, I'll happily take Pavano for one year and around $7 million over Randy Wolf for three years and $30 million, which is what he got from the Brewers yesterday. Pavano tossed 199.1 innings with a 4.17 xFIP this season, while Wolf had a 4.28 xFIP in 214.1 innings. Pavano missed most of 2008 while Wolf logged 190 innings with a 4.49 xFIP, but in terms of staying healthy Wolf failed to pitch even 150 innings in any year from 2004-2007 due to assorted arm problems and they're both born in 1976.
BizOfBaseball.com's Maury Brownreports that all but two of the 30 major-league teams use some level of sabermetric, analytical analysis within the front office. Brown didn't name names, but the Twins are almost certainly one of them. Less than a year ago assistant general manager Rob Antonytold me that the Twins "do not have a department devoted to statistical analysis" or employ those type of tools.
Brad Thomas was one of the Twins' best pitching prospects about a decade ago, going 10-3 with a 1.96 ERA at Double-A in 2001 while also pitching in the Futures Game and making his MLB debut. He was awful in the majors, allowing 26 runs in 23.2 innings spread over various brief stints in Minnesota, and has spent the past five years pitching in Japan and Korea. All of which is suddenly relevant again because Thomas has signed with the Tigers and will compete for a bullpen job in spring training.
Speaking of former Twins, yesterday LaTroy Hawkinsinked a two-year, $7.5 million contract with the Brewers. Since leaving Minnesota six seasons ago Hawkins has a 3.35 ERA in 379 innings, including just one year with an ERA not in the 2.00s or 3.00s. And while he was one of the worst starting pitchers of all time early in his 15-year career, Hawkins has a 3.29 ERA in 655 relief appearances.
This morning's Rule 5 draft more or less marks the end of the winter meetings, but we'll be covering any remaining action over at Circling the Bases and you can also follow along via my Twitter page.
Pavano Accepts Arbitration, Rejoins Rotation For 2010
After unsuccessfully shopping around for a multi-year deal, Carl Pavano accepted the Twins' arbitration offer before yesterday's midnight deadline. That means he'll stay with the Twins in 2010 via a one-year contract for an as-yet-undetermined salary, which will either be decided by an arbiter or agreed upon by the two sides prior to a hearing. He earned about $4.5 million this season from an incentive-laden deal with the Indians, so Pavano figures to get a raise to at least $6 million for 2010.
On the surface that may seem like too much money for a guy with a 5.10 ERA, but Pavano's raw totals are misleading for several reasons. For one thing, after a brutal April he went 14-9 with a 4.67 ERA and 131-to-34 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 181 innings. Beyond that, his secondary numbers suggest that his performance was more along the lines of a 4.10 ERA than a 5.10 ERA once luck, defense, and bullpen support are removed from the equation.
Pavano had 147 strikeouts versus just 39 walks in 199 innings overall and induced ground balls on 44 percent of his balls in play, which equals an Expected Fielding Independent Pitching (xFIP) of 4.17. His actual ERA was a full run higher because more than any AL pitcher Pavano was hurt by poor defense behind him and an unsustainably low rate of stranding runners. He had the highest batting average on balls in play at .335 and the lowest strand rate at 66.1 percent, both of which can't help but improve.
None of which is to suggest that Pavano is a great pitcher, because he's definitely not. However, simply repeating his 2009 performance would make him a very solid middle-of-the-rotation starter for a team whose rotation had the third-worst ERA in the league. Scott Baker, Kevin Slowey, and Nick Blackburn are cemented in the rotation and the Twins clearly felt uncomfortable handing the remaining two spots to Francisco Liriano, Glen Perkins, Brian Duensing, Anthony Swarzak, or Jeff Manship.
Instead they bring back Pavano for what will hopefully be another 180-200 innings of an xFIP in the low 4.00s and let the unproven arms fight over just one rotation spot while making it easier to trade Perkins or another young starter for help elsewhere. Bypassing young pitchers by signing a veteran starter with an ugly ERA is certainly nothing new for the Twins, but Pavano differs significantly from guys like Livan Hernandez, Ramon Ortiz, and Sidney Ponson in that he actually pitched well in 2009.
Hernandez, Ortiz, and Ponson had xFIPs of 5.62, 5.39, and 5.10 respectively the season before signing with the Twins, so naturally they stunk. Pavano may seem like more of the same based on his ERA, but that's hardly the case. Of course, he has to stay healthy for any of that to matter and prior to logging 199 innings this year Pavano threw a grand total of 145 innings in the previous four years. I'm in no position to speculate on his odds of staying off the disabled list in 2010, but he didn't miss a start in 2009.
Plus, by calling his bluff and refraining from a multi-season commitment the Twins avoided most of the risk that comes with Pavano specifically and pitchers as an oft-injured group. Short of simply signing a terrible player it's fairly tough to screw things up too badly with a one-year deal, because the worst-case scenario involves wasting some money and then wiping things off the books. Pavano is a far better bet than Hernandez or Ortiz were and beats the hell out of multiple years for a guy like Jarrod Washburn.
With that said, there was certainly a compelling argument to be made for not offering Pavano arbitration and simply letting Liriano, Perkins, Duensing, Swarzak, or Manship fill two spots. That would've saved the Twins at least $5 million, which would clearly come in handy, and if all else is equal I'm always in favor of going young. However, if Liriano goes to the bullpen and Perkins is traded that leaves an awful lot riding on Duensing, Manship, and Swarzak, none of whom are better bets than Pavano for 2010.
* Last night I was the guest on Seth Stohs' podcast and we talked about the Twins non-stop for over an hour, covering basically every possible topic while fielding questions from the audience. It was fun and we got into some interesting discussions, so make sure to give it a listen.
* Craig Calcaterra, Matthew Pouliot, and I combined for over 50 entries on NBCSports.com's "Circling the Bases" yesterday, blogging about the rumors coming from the winter meetings and analyzing every move. We'll be going from sunrise to midnight again today, so check it out.
* Lastly, for my immediate thoughts, unedited ramblings, and real-time analysis throughout the day you can subscribe to my Twitter feed.
Twins Notes: Redmond, Mauer, Infielders, and Indianapolis
I've been assuming that the Twins will let Mike Redmond depart as a free agent while making Jose Morales the backup catcher and general manager Bill Smithconfirmed those plans over the weekend. Redmond was a near-perfect fit as Joe Mauer's caddy for the past five years and plans to keep playing, but at 38 years old his skills have declined to the point that Morales is simply a better bet. Hopefully he finds another backup job elsewhere and then returns to the Twins as a coach in a few years.
Dave Allen of Fan Graphs wrote an interesting article about Mauer seeing more fastballs than any of the other top-20 hitters in baseball this year. Allen notes that for most hitters the more power they have the fewer fastballs they get, but because Mauer's power didn't emerge until May of this season pitchers perhaps didn't alter their approach to him quickly. He was MLB's second-best fastball hitter after only Albert Pujols and 25 of his 28 homers came off fastballs, so fewer fastballs in 2010 could hurt Mauer.
Three prominent free-agent infielders have signed already and based on the salaries handed out to Chone Figgins, Marco Scutaro, and Placido Polanco this looks to be a buyer's market (or at least not a seller's market). If the going rate for solid but unspectacular infielders like Polanco or Scutaro is about $6 million per year and a top free agent like Figgins gets $36 million over four years perhaps Orlando Hudson, Felipe Lopez, or even Adrian Beltre will actually be in the Twins' price range.
Dan Uggla has been linked to the Twins in various trade rumors and Marlins beat writer Joe Capozzi of the Palm Beach Postexpects him to be dealt during the winter meetings. As noted last week I'm not particularly high on Uggla for the Twins because of his salary, likely cost to acquire, and bad defense at second base, but there's no doubt that his bat would be a big upgrade. Over the past three years Uggla is 34 runs above replacement level per 150 games, but Hudson is at 32 and won't cost any prospects.
Cut from the 40-man roster by the Twins last week, Brian Buscher opted for free agency and signed a minor-league deal with the Indians. He hit .266/.343/.356 in 502 plate appearances in Minnesota and .289/.369/.458 in 450 plate appearances at Triple-A, and will compete for a bench job in Cleveland. His competition will include former Twins utility man Luis Rodriguez, who also signed a minor-league deal with the Indians after spending the past two seasons hitting .244/.322/.305 for the Padres.
Jacque Jonesplans to attend the winter meetings in Indianapolis this week in an effort to find some team willing to give him a comeback chance. Jones ranked 30th on my list of the top Twins of all time and put together one good season for the Cubs after leaving as a free agent, but then hit .285/.335/.400 in 2007 and .147/.239/.207 in 2008 before spending this season with the independent league Newark Bears. He turns 35 years old soon and was last productive in 2006, so don't expect much interest.
I won't be joining Jones at the winter meetings after attending two of the previous three years, but my NBCSports.com blogmate Craig Calcaterra will be there providing constant updates. I'm not sure how prominent the Twins will be in terms of rumors or actual signings and trades, but if you're interested in reading about everything going on in Indianapolis check out Circling the Bases. Along with Calcaterra's on-site reporting, I'll provide running analysis throughout each day. We'll have good stuff. Promise.
Last and least, if any Twins-related news does break during the winter meetings I'll obviously cover it in this space, but if you just can't wait for the next day's blog entry to be posted you can always read my Twitter updates for immediate thoughts and various other ramblings in real time.