Who had Twins' top single year at the plate?

December 1st, 2021

MINNEAPOLIS -- The Twins have claimed two World Series championships and 12 division titles at Metropolitan Stadium, the Metrodome and, now, Target Field. Needless to say, those indelible moments wouldn't have been possible without franchise heroes and fan favorites treating Twins Territories to individual seasons for the ages.

Included among those individual seasons are five MVP Awards, five Rookie of the Year Awards and 14 batting titles. There's only room for five exemplary seasons by position players on this list, and not all of them led to those aforementioned awards, meaning they're but the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the fabric of Twins history.

1. Rod Carew, 1977
Key stat: .388 batting average (highest in Twins history)

There has arguably been no more captivating season by a position player in Minneapolis since Carew's chase for .400 took him into July with the baseball world watching. He fell short of becoming the first hitter to top the legendary mark since Ted Williams in 1941, but he nearly maintained that pace through the full grind of the season, coming the closest of any qualified hitter to that point (though he was later eclipsed by seasons from George Brett and Tony Gwynn).

There was perhaps no more memorable day of that chase than on June 26, when the Twins pushed past the White Sox, 19-12, in front of a massive crowd, But more important, Carew pushed past the .400 mark for the first time by going 4-for-5 with five runs scored and six RBIs, with the feat announced via Metropolitan Stadium's scoreboard and Carew receiving standing ovation after standing ovation, as detailed in a story by The Athletic (subscription required).

Needless to say, Carew won not only the sixth batting title of his career, but his first (and only) AL MVP Award as he also led the Majors in on-base percentage (.449), OPS (1.091) and runs (128). More than in any other season of his career, Carew's five-tool skillset all came together for 162 games, as he set career highs in hits, homers (14), triples (16) and slugging percentage (.570), and also stole 23 bases.

2. Harmon Killebrew, 1969
Key stat: 49 homers (tied for most in Twins history)

Kind and gentle as "The Killer" was off the field as he became one of the most beloved figures in Twins history, there was nothing docile about the damage he did to baseballs during his reign of terror as arguably the most feared slugger in the game. That's the reason he is, of course, 12th on the homers leaderboard -- sandwiched between Mark McGwire and Rafael Palmeiro -- and led baseball in homers in the '60s, ahead of two gentlemen named Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.

For all that prodigious power, Killebrew only won one MVP Award in his 22-year career -- for this 1969 season, when he clubbed 49 homers and led the Majors for the sixth and final time. This was back in the day when RBI totals were all the rage, so his league-leading 140 RBIs likely helped, as well as his ability to play in all 162 of the Twins' games that season, splitting time between third base and first base.

Killebrew's 1.011 OPS was the second-highest mark of his career, one point behind his '61 campaign, when he helped usher the arrival of Twins baseball to Minnesota. What pushed him over the edge this season (as opposed to his countless other power-packed seasons) was his career-best (and league-best) .427 on-base percentage, achieved on the back of his 145 walks and 20 intentional walks -- both tops in the AL. All that added up to a .276/.427/.584 line, good for a 173 wRC+, the third-highest mark in Twins history.

3. Joe Mauer, 2009
Key stat: .365 average (highest by a qualified catcher in MLB's expansion era)

This is the year it all came together for the hometown kid. The bat-to-ball skills, the pure hitting ability and the defensive skills behind the plate were all well established at that point, considering he'd already won two batting titles and a Gold Glove Award through his age-25 season. In 2009 the power came into the picture -- and it made for a historic season.

Frankly, it looked more like it could have been a sluggish season for the perennial MVP contender when things started. He didn't even appear on the field until May 1 due to a lingering back injury that ended up shortening his season to 138 games -- but that May was one of the more memorable months by a hitter in recent Twins history. He charged from the gate with six hits and a homer in his first two games, and though he only eclipsed 11 homers in one other full season in his career, Mauer launched 11 long balls while hitting .414 in May 2009 to arrive in full force.

That month pushed him to 28 homers for the season -- by far a career best -- and MLB-leading marks in all three triple-slash categories. He hit .365/.444/.587 en route to his only MVP Award and his third (and final) batting title. Mauer is, of course, the only AL catcher to win a batting title at all -- let alone three. Not a bad way for Mauer and the Twins to say goodbye to the Metrodome era.

4. Chuck Knoblauch, 1996
Key stat: 13 homers and 45 stolen bases (one of two players in Twins history with 10+ homers, 40+ steals in a season)

It's funny to look back at Knoblauch's season and note that he finished 16th in MVP voting despite the fact that his 8.7 WAR, per Baseball-Reference, ranked higher than everyone else receiving votes except second-place finisher Alex Rodriguez and fourth-place finisher Ken Griffey Jr., and that his 7.5 offensive WAR ranked fifth-highest among single seasons in Twins history. Knoblauch was likely a victim of middling home run and RBI totals when those mattered most to voters, as well as the underwhelming '96 Twins, who finished 78-84.

By modern standards, though, Knoblauch's season was a marvel. His well-rounded offensive game saw him post a .341/.448/.517 line -- good for career bests in all three triple-slash categories -- with 35 doubles, 14 triples (most in the AL) and 13 homers, along with more walks (98) than strikeouts (74) and 45 stolen bases, tied for the fourth-highest single-season total in Twins history. Though he truly exploded on the bases with 62 swipes in '97, he still joined Cesar Tovar as the only Twins players with at least 10 homers and 40 steals in a season.

5. Harmon Killebrew, 1967
Key stat: 176 wRC+ (highest in Twins history)

Killebrew had plenty of other power-packed campaigns, but this second notable season pushes him to the final spot on this list largely due to another abundance of walks, with his 131 free passes in '67 ranking tops in the Majors alongside the MLB-leading 44 homers that netted him a second-place finish in AL MVP voting behind Carl Yastrzemski of the Red Sox. Though the raw numbers (.269/.408/.558) from '67 aren't as high as those in Killebrew's '69 campaign, this season actually ranks as the highest wRC+ in Twins history (accounting for run creation) after adjusting for the league and ballpark effects.

It's fitting that Killebrew's power earned him two spots on this list considering how unparalleled it is in Twins history. He eclipsed 40 homers in a season seven times, and the closest anyone has come to his 49 long balls in '64 and '69 was in 2016, when Brian Dozier hit 42. Nelson Cruz is the only other Twins player to hit more than 40 in a season.