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January 23, 2012

Pebble Hunting

Born to Be Twins

by Sam Miller

Last week, the Twins signed Brad Thompson to a minor-league contract. Two weeks earlier, Jason Marquis signed a major-league contract with the Twins. Jason Marquis pitches to contact, gets ground balls, strikes out few. Brad Thompson pitches to contact, gets ground balls, strikes out few. Some people are stars long before they get famous, and some people are artists long before they pick up a brush, and some people are Twins long before they become Twins.

Generally speaking, we all know what a Minnesota Twins pitcher looks like. He’s got a strikeout rate a tick below six per nine innings. (Even the movie Twins has 5.9 stars on IMDB.) He survives this limitation either by walking nobody—no-body—or by keeping the ball on the ground, but either way he’s not looking to coax a strike three out of anybody, and he’s not all that concerned about allowing a home run as long as there is nobody on base. He’s a veteran, and if he’s not a veteran, he’s just a future veteran in early but advanced development. He might be a lefty, but you don’t really think of him as a lefty. He’s a No. 4 starter with aspirations of being a No. 2.5 starter. He’s draftable only in the geekiest fantasy leagues. He once threw a ball 91 mph, but it was at one of those county-fair game booths and nobody believes him, even though he has a certificate of achievement that the booth operator gave him. If everything breaks right, he’s Brad Radke. If a few things break right, he’s Rick Reed. If things just break, he’s Boof Bonser.

Over the Twins’ past 3,000 games—going back to April 1991—the following pitchers have accounted for 70 percent of the team’s starts:

Those would be (left to right):

Scott Erickson, Carl Pavano, Kevin Tapani, Kevin Slowey, Carlos Silva;
Rich Robertson, Rick Reed, Mark Redman, Ramon Ortiz, Glen Perkins;
Matt Kinney, Sidney Ponson, Joe Mays, Kyle Lohse, Bob Tewksbury;
Eric Milton, Livan Hernandez, Nick Blackburn, Boof Bonser, Scott Baker;
Brad Radke.                                                                            

If you look at the Bill James Similarity scores throughout Carlos Silva’s career, you’ll find Brad Thompson among his comps. You’ll also find Carl Pavano. Look at Pavano’s comps, and you’ll find Brad Radke. Basically, then, Brad Thompson = Brad Radke. Always Brad Radke.

And now, a vast network of actual Minnesota Twins similarity scores connections. Can the circle be unbroken? Bye and bye Lord, bye and bye. (Click to expand.)

This raises a question: Which non-Twins are the most undiscovered Twins of the modern era? A non-comprehensive list:

  1. Jon Lieber. Qualifications: His top comp is Brad Radke, and his No. 2 comp is Kevin Tapani. Lieber once got into a protracted legal battle when this company wouldn’t do business with him. “What do you mean just for little girls? Papa wants a widdle doll too.”
  2. Aaron Sele. Qualifications: When he was a young pitcher, his top comps included Scott Baker and Carl Pavano; by his late-30s, they were Kevin Tapani and Scott Erickson. At the end of his shift at the grain mill, Sele tells his coworkers in a creepy voice that he’s “going home to play with the twins.” Nobody asks what this means, exactly. Nobody ever talks to Aaron Sele anymore. He just talks to them.
  3. Bobby Jones. Qualifications: His comps not only include Rick Reed, Kevin Tapani, and Scott Baker, but also Dave Goltz, who nearly got his own section in this piece for being the proto-Twin. Jones is actually twins, like the Christian Bale character in The Prestige, or like Mary Kate and Ashley Olsen, alternating work days to subvert labor laws. 


Sam Miller also writes for the Orange County Register.

Sam Miller is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Sam's other articles. You can contact Sam by clicking here

4 comments have been left for this article.

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