All-Time Cleveland Indians Team – By Season
A few months ago, I noticed that MLB.com had started a fan-vote to determine the best seasons at each position for each team. I’ve been casually working on almost the exact same project for about three years, I’ve gone ahead and made entire 25-man rosters, complete with rotations, relievers (though only an unrealistic 5 per team), starting lineups, and benches. So far I have published teams for the Montreal Expos, Philadelphia A’s, Baltimore Orioles, Cincinnati Reds, Toronto Blue Jays and Los Angeles Dodgers – here is what I came up with for the Cleveland Indians.
Catcher: Victor Martinez, 2007
After several years of dwindling in obscurity after dominating the first eight years of the American League Central, the Indians finally returned to form in 2007 and Victor Martinez was a big reason why. The 28 year old backstop was worth +7 runs on the year. With the bat, he clubbed out 25 homeruns, 40 doubles, and topped the .500 slugging percentage plateau.
1st Base: Hal Trosky, 1936
Jim Thome will find his way onto this team, so don’t fret; in the meantime, Trosky makes for a solid first baseman; he hit .343 with a .644 slugging percentage to go along with 45 doubles, 42 homeruns, and a league leading 162 RBI’s.
2nd Base: Nap Lajoie, 1910
Hall-of-famer Nap Lajoie was the only American Leaguer not named Cobb to win a batting title between 1907 and 1915 edging the Georgia Peach .3840 to .3833 on the last game of the year. Nap – whose team was called the “Naps” in his honor – also led the league in doubles with 51 while putting up an OPS+ just south of 200.
3rd Base: Al Rosen, 1953
Without a doubt the most dominant hitter of 1953, Al Rosen notched his first and only MVP award by throwing up a league leading totals in homeruns (43), RBI’s (145), runs scored (115), slugging percentage (.613) and OPS+ (179). Mickey Vernon barely beat him out for the batting crown, .337 to .336 and the only player with a higher on-base percentage – Gene Woodling – did so by just 7 points over about 200 fewer plate appearances.
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau, 1948
It’s tough to have an all-around year quite as good as Lou Boudreau did in 1948. With the bat, he hit .355/.453/.534 with 18 dingers, 106 RBI’s, and a 164 OPS+. With the glove, he put up a very high range factor of 5.17 and exceeded the league fielding percentage by about 11 points. And on top of all that, he was also the manager of the Indians, and took them to their first world championship in 28 years – and, as of this writing, their last.
Leftfield: Albert Belle, 1995
Or 1994. Or 1996. It’s really tough to go wrong with Albert Belle, who was one of the most dominant hitters of the ‘90’s. In 1995, Belle hit .317 and led the league slugging with a .690 clip. In addition, he became the first player to put up both 50 homeruns and 50 doubles in the same season and led the league in both runs scored and RBI’s. In the process, he managed to lead the Cleveland Indians explosive offense to a 100-44 record and an appearance in their first pennant in over forty years.
Centerfield: Tris Speaker, 1923
Tris Speaker played centerfield in a way that few could, playing unbelievably shallow such that he could make a number of 8u putouts and 6-8-3 double plays. In his career, he accumulated an incredible 449 outfield assists including 26 in 1923. He wasn’t too shabby with the bat either, putting up an insane line of .380/.469/.610 for a 182 OPS+. The all-time doubles leader put up a career high in the number with a league-leading 59 helping contribute to his career high 130 RBI’s.
Rightfield: Joe Jackson, 1911
Long before there was a black sox scandal or a little boy crying say it ain’t so, Joe Jackson was tearing it up over in Cleveland. Shoeless Joe finished 2nd in the league to Ty Cobb with a .408 batting average and a .590 slugging percentage, but managed to edge him out with a league leading .468 on-base percentage. Between his on-base skills and speed – 19 triples and 41 stolen bases – he would make an excellent leadoff hitter for this team.
Designated Hitter: Jim Thome, 2002
2002 was actually before Jim Thome became a permanent DH who couldn’t be trusted near first base but I threw him over there anyway. Thome was the premier hitter in the league that year, putting up league leading totals in slugging (.677) and OPS+ (197). Meanwhile, despite getting pitched around 122 times during the season he still found enough at-bats to club a franchise record 52 homeruns.
Addie Joss, 1908
Even in the pitching-friendly days of the dead-ball era, a 1.16 ERA seems a little ridiculous…seeing as how it translates to a 205 ERA+, it kind of is. Joss also led the league with a 0.806 WHIP – a figure since topped only by Walter Johnson and Pedro Martinez in the American League. Among his 24 victories was a perfect game, a 1-0 gem against the Chicago White Sox.
Bob Feller, 1940
I actually had the opportunity to meet Bob Feller at a spring training game last year, which was a tremendous honor to say the least. In 1940, Rapid Robert went 27-11 and led the league in ERA (2.61) and WHIP (1.133) over a league-leading 320.1 innings. His efforts earned him a second place finish in the MVP balloting. Feller won 25 games the next year but afterwards felt a higher calling as he was the first of many baseball stars to enlist in the military following Pearl Harbor. Feller joined the Navy and made Chief within three years, serving on the USS Alabama. Oh, and then after the war, he came back, won 26 games and struck out 348.
Luis Tiant, 1968
I know, I know, it was the year of the pitcher. But in that year, Tiant led the American League with a 1.60 ERA (186 ERA+), and nine shutouts, while posting a miniscule 0.871 WHIP. And this was before he got to Boston…
Gaylord Perry, 1972
Long before steroid debates ever surfaced in baseball, a pitcher by the name of Gaylord Perry would blatantly cheat, applying foreign substances to balls in plain sight. Whether his Vaseline-balls actually had more movement or just psyched hitters out, they worked. Perry won 24 games in 1972 and posted an excellent ERA of 1.92 over 342.2 innings. For his efforts, he won the American League Cy Young award; a few years later, he would win the award in the National League, becoming the first player to win the award in both circuits.
Cliff Lee, 2008
In 2007, Cliff Lee was sent down to the minors due to control problems and had to earn a spot in the Cleveland rotation coming out of spring training. He did just that, and proceeded to win 22 of his 25 decisions for the .500 Indians while posting a league-leading ERA of 2.53. He earned the American League Cy Young just one year after the award was given to his then-teammate C.C. Sabathia.
Catcher: Sandy Alomar Jr., 1997 – Posted .900 OPS and won All-Star Game MVP at home field.
IF – Joe Sewell, 1923 – Walk-to-Strikeout ratio of 8.2.
2nd Base: Roberto Alomar, 2001 – Switch-hitter posted line of .336/.415/.541 in final season in Cleveland.
SS: Omar Vizquel, 1999 – 11 time gold glove winner hit .333 with a .397 OBP
OF: Manny Ramirez, 1999 – Most RBI’s in MLB in 61 years with 165.
OF: Rocky Colavito, 1958 – 180 OPS+ and 41 dingers; led league with .620 slugging percentage.
Closer: Jose Mesa, 1995 – 1.12 ERA and 46 saves to earn a 4th place MVP finish and 2 Cy Young votes from Randy Johnson.
Setup: Mike Jackson, 1998 – 40 saves; batters mustered a 44 OPS+ against him.
Fireman: Jim Kern, 1976 – 111 strikeouts in 117.2 relief innings.
RHP: Rafael Betancourt, 2007 – ERA less than 1/3 of team closer Borrowski, but just 3 save opportunities.
LHP: Jesse Orosco, 1989 – all-time leader in appearances; at 32, had 14 more seasons left in him.