Sunday, September 18, 2011

LaTroy Hawkins

Sent: 6/14/11
Received: 9/16/11
Time: 94 Days
Address: c/o Milwaukee Brewers
Item Sent: 1994 Bowman's Best, 1996 Upper Deck, 1999 Topps
Item Received: 1996 Upper Deck, 1999 Topps.  Both signed in black Sharpie.

The Twins gave up on a great number of highly touted starting pitcher prospects in the '90s (see Willie Banks, Pat Mahomes, Frankie Rodriguez, Dan Serafini, David West...), but give them credit for finding the proper role for LaTroy Hawkins.  The Hawk was awful in brief call-ups in 1995 and 1996, with an ERA over 8.00 in each of those stints.

He had such a tantalizing arm, though.

Given a permanent rotation spot, he would make 86 starts from 1997-1999.  He wasn't just atrocious... he was historically awful.  His ERAs for those years were 5.84, 5.25, and 6.66.  His WHIPs were 1.752, 1.513, and 1.709.  As bad as the aforementioned failures may have been, none failed as a starting pitcher quite as spectacularly as Hawkins.

But he still had that arm.

In 2000, Tom Kelly moved Hawkins to the bullpen.  He started in a low-pressure role as the long man out of the bullpen.  He would come in during the early to middle innings while the Twins were on the wrong side of a blowout and would give the rest of the bullpen a break.  Something seemed to click.  He was one of the lone bright spots on that pitching staff.  Slowly, he was eased in to higher leverage situations.  By late summer, he had taken over as the closer.  He ended up with 14 saves and entered 2001 with the ninth-inning job.

He was solid during the first half of 2001 for the surprisingly competitive Twins.  His brutal walk rate aside, he did own a 3.48 ERA and 23 saves at the All-Star break.  The wheels completely came off in the second half, however, with a 10.70 ERA and a 2.547 WHIP.  He saved only five games in the second half and lost his job, first to Todd Jones, then to Eddie Guardado.

In 2002, new manager Ron Gardenhire installed Guardado as the closer.  Hawkins was once again relegated to mop-up duty when the Twins signed veteran Mike Jackson to take over eight-inning duties and serve as insurance for Guardado.  In Jackson, the Twins were also getting a bullpen mentor for Hawkins.  By the end of the season, Hawkins had leapfrogged Jackson on the bullpen depth chart.  Armed with newly found control, Hawkins went 6-0 with a 2.18 ERA out of the bullpen.  Most impressively, he posted a 0.97 WHIP -- remarkable for a guy who's career WHIP to that point was hovering in the 1.60 range!  He proved his success was no fluke by going 9-3 with a 1.86 ERA in 2003 -- his final year with the Twins.  Hawk had quickly established himself as one of baseball's most dominating set-up men and cashed in on a lucrative deal to become the new closer of the Chicago Cubs.

Hawkins had a solid first year in Wrigley, saving 25 ballgames with a 2.63 ERA.  He struggled as closer in 2005, losing his job before getting traded to the Giants.  From there he was off to Baltimore, Colorado, and the Yankees, no better than an average relief pitcher at any stop.  Then, out of nowhere, he posted one of the finest seasons of his career for the 2009 Houston Astros.  He signed a nice free agent deal with the Brewers in 2010 but missed most of the year to injury.  This season, he's enjoying another wonderful comeback for the first-place Brew Crew.  At age 38, this might be his last chance to win that elusive World Series.

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