IBI Power Poll: Best Indians' Starters of All-Time: Part 3
By Jim Pete
February 20, 2013
Without further ado...the IBI Power Poll Top Ten:
#10: CC Sabathia, LHP (2001-2008)
Sabathia was the best pitcher during the first decade of the new Millennium for the Cleveland Indians. He wasn’t a top tier pitcher in the league until late in his Indians’ career, but he was consistently good during his entire Indians’ tenure.
Sabathia was drafted out of high school by the Indians in 1998, and rose through the Indians minor league system over the next 2 ½ seasons. By the end of 2000, Sabathia was the Indians top prospect, and was ready to make his big league debut.
He turned 20 during his first year with the Indians, but he was arguably the Indians best starter in their final season as contenders with players from their fantastic 90’s run. Sabathia went 17-9 with a 4.39 ERA, threw 180 1/3 innings, and struck out 171 batters. The Indians lost in five games to the Mariners in the ALDS, but Sabathia had a big win in game three of the series.
The Indians gutted their team, and Sabathia had to burden a lot of the teams leadership needs at the ripe old age of 21. He would have moments of struggle and moments of brilliance over the next few years, but through it all, he would continue to win games. In his second season, Sabathia went 13-11 with a 4.37 ERA, but after struggling to a near 5.00 ERA in the first half, rebounded to a 7-4 record with a 3.81 ERA during the second half. He pitched over 200 innings for the first time.
Sabathia went 13-9 in 2003 with little or no run support, and had a stellar 3.60 ERA. He played in his first All-Star game that year, and followed it up with another appearance in 2004. He struggled a bit that year though, finishing 11-10 with a 4.12 ERA. Sabathia still struggled with putting together long strings of victories that could move him into the elite.
In 2005, Sabathia showed more growth, going 15-10 with 161 strikeouts. At the end of July, he was 6-8. In August and September, the hefty lefty went 9-1, with a sub 3.00 ERA. He followed that up with perhaps his best season to date, even though he was only 12-11 on the season. The struggling Indians again failed to support him during his 28 starts, and he had a career best (at that point) ERA of 3.22, and garnered six complete games and two shutouts, which both led the league.
If he was good in 2006, he was spectacular in 2007. Sabathia was outstanding from the get go. He led the league in innings pitched and starts, and had his best season to date, going 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA. He struck out 209 batters, which was his first time over 200. He struggled in the playoffs, which hurt his luster a bit, but not enough to take the shine off his 2007 Cy Young award.
Sabathia looked like a dud in 2008, going 1-4 in April, with a 7.88 ERA, but returned to Sabathia form in May and June. In May, he went 2-3 with a 2.44 ERA. He was even better in June, going 3-1 with a 1.89 ERA. The Indians were one out away from the World Series in 2007, but going nowhere in 2008.
Sabathia, in his contract year, had to go, and the Indians dealt him to the Milwaukee Brewers for Matt LaPorta, Michael Brantley, Rob Bryson and Zach Jackson.
He finished his 7 ½ seasons with the Indians having gone 106-71 with a 2.83 ERA and 1,265 K’s….and the second Cleveland Indians Cy Young Award.
#9: Sam McDowell, LHP (1961-1971)
Sam McDowell was a huge prospect coming out of high school in Pittsburgh, and the Indians nabbed him with a $75,000 bonus offer. His arm was lightning, and he threw thunder. He struggled with control, but most thought that with maturity, he would blossom into the next great Tribe hurler. It was a given.
He split both 1962 and 1963 in the minors and the majors, and went 6-12 overall, with an ERA over 5. In ’62, he struck out 70 in 87 2/3 innings, but also walked 70. He improved a bit in 1963, but there was concern he wouldn’t find location.
Things began to change in 1964. He again started in the minors, and with Luis Tiant on the same team, went 8-0 with Portland, with a 1.18 ERA. Most importantly, he struck out 102 batters, and walked just 24. He even threw a no hitter. He was in Cleveland for good in late May. He struck out 14 in his first start, beating Chicago. In his second, he struck out ten. He pitched 173 1/3 innings that season, going 11-6 with a 2.70 ERA, striking out 177 and walking 100. He went 6-0 in his last eight starts, and was seemingly on the verge of greatness.
McDowell was the focus of a staff that included Tiant and Sonny Seibert. Imagine what that staff would have looked like with Herb Score as the ace. In 1965, Score was 32, and sitting in the booth announcing games.
If there was any question about how good the big lefty could be, he answered those questions in 1965. He led the league with a 2.18 ERA and 325 K’s. In seven of his 11 losses, the Indians scored only four runs total. McDowell made his first all-star game.
He started off the 1966 season 4-0, and had back-to-back one-hitters in the process, striking out ten in both. He struggled with injuries for the first time, and after an on-and-off season, finished 9-8 with a 2.87 ERA. He still led the league with 5 shutouts and 225 K’s.
McDowell struggled again in 1967, finishing 13-15 with a 3.85 ERA, walking 123. He struck out 236. In 1968, McDowell took advantage of the year of the pitcher. Sudden Sam went 15-14 with a 1.81 ERA, striking out 283 hitters to lead the league again. In 12 of his 14 losses, the Indians managed to score only seven times. It could have been a massive season, but again, the offense failed him.
In 1969, McDowell surged to 18 wins, going 18-14 with a 2.94 ERA in 285 innings, while striking out 279 batters. With a 2.94 ERA. The Indians were trading everyone around McDowell, but the big lefty kept winning. In 1970, he had his first and only 20-game season, and posted a 2.92 ERA. Over a stretch in the middle of the season, he went 12-1.
McDowell’s final season in Cleveland was a mess of contractual disputes. He went 13-17 with a 3.40 ERA in 214 2/3 innings. The Indians traded McDowell to San Francisco for Gaylord Perry, ending his career.
As good as he was, and he finished 122-109 with a 2.99 ERA over his career with the Tribe, he never seemed to reach his potential. It turns out he was an alcoholic, and while McDowell was still a fantastic pitcher, you have to wonder just how good he could have been.
#8: Gaylord Perry, RHP (1972-1975)
Gaylord Perry won the first Cy Young in Cleveland Indians’ history.
He’ll never be known as a pitcher of the Cleveland Indians because of his short tenure, but he was absolutely phenomenal in his 3 ½ seasons. Of course, had Gaylord had his way, he’d have been an Indians’ starter from the get go, as his brother Jim was a prospect with the Indians when Perry was looking to sign.
In 1971, the Indians sent their 29-year-old ace, Sam McDowell, to San Francisco for Perry and infielder Frank Duffy. Perry was 33 and four years older than McDowell, and most thought the Indians made another boneheaded move.
They were wrong.
In 1972, Perry went 24-16 with a 1.92 ERA, going 343 innings in 41 games. He had 29 complete games, and pitched into extra innings eight times. Of course, Perry was known to throw a grease ball, so it says a lot that he still got enough votes to win the Cy Young award. Perry began to use his perceived cheating to his advantage, touching about 20 places on his body before pitches to get into hitters heads.
Perry won 19 games in 1973, but also lost 19, but had a 3.38 ERA, and pitched in another 344 innings. He again had 29 complete games. In 1974, Perry started off the year going 15-1 with a 1.31 by July 3, with all the wins being complete games. He finished the season with a 21-13 record and a 2.51 ERA.
He struggled with the hiring of Frank Robinson, and the two clashed. He started off the season going 6-9, and was dealt to the Rangers for Jim Bibby, Jackie Brown, Rick Waits and $150,000.
His final numbers with the Tribe was 70-57 with a 2.71 ERA in 1,130 2/3 innings, and of course, a Cy Young.
#7: Mel Harder, RHP (1928-1947)
Mel Harder spent 20 years with the Cleveland Indians as a pitcher, pitching in 582 games over 3,426 1/3 innings. He won 233 games over those 20 years, which is second to only Bob Feller. He wasn’t a Hall of Famer, but his number 18 is retired by the Cleveland Indians. He would coach with the Indians through the 1969 season…which is 20 years as a player, and 20 as a coach.
Harder won at least ten games 13 times, and won 20 games twice, in back-to-back seasons in 1934 and 1935. He appeared in four all-star games from 1934-1937,and won the 1934 All-Star game. He saved the games in both 1935 and 1936. He pitched in more than 10 All-Star innings when it was all said and done, and never gave up an earned run. He’s the only man to have ever done that.
Harder wasn’t electric, and he wasn’t the best player on this list, but he certainly is one of the great Cleveland Indians of all-time, or he wouldn’t have been a primary pitcher for this team for several years.
#6: Early Wynn, RHP (1949-1957, 1963)
Wynn was the 14th member of the 300-win club, returning to the Indians in 1963 at the age of 43 with 299 wins to get that final win. Most of them were though, and he was part of the Cleveland Indians “Big Four.” Overall, he was 300-244.
Bill Veeck dealt for Wynn in 1948, and had Mel Harder teach Wynn the curve and slider. Wynn even used a knuckleball after the deal as an offspeed pitch, and he turned into an ace. He went 11-7 in 1949, his first season, but he was on the verge of greatness.
In 1950, Wynn led the league with a 3.20 ERA and won 18 games. In 1951, Wynn led the league with 34 games started and 274 1/3 innings, and won 20 games for the first time in his career. He followed that up with an even bigger season, winning 23 games with a 2.9 ERA.
In 1953, he fell to 17-12 with a 3.93 ERA, but rebounded in 1954 with another 23 win season, which led the league in wins. He also led the league in starts again, with 37, and strikeouts, with 184. He pitched well in the Series that year, but lost 3-1.
He fell to 17 games again in 1955, but again rebounded to win 20 games in 1956. His final season was his first losing season with the Indians, as he went 14-17. The Indians dealt their ace to the Chicago White Sox for Fred Hatfield and Minnie Minoso.
In ten seasons in Cleveland, Wynn went 164-102 with a 3.24 ERA…on his way to the Hall of Fame.
#5: Addie Joss, RHP (1902-1910)
I really struggled with where to put Joss. He certainly fits in as an Indians’ pitcher, as the end of his career certainly lends one to wonder just what might have been.
Joss wasn’t only good, he was considered one of the best pitcher of all-time during his playing days and after. In Joss’ first ballgame, he pitched a one-hit, 3-0 shutout. He went on to go 17-13 during that season in 1902, pitching in 269 1/3 innings as a 22-year old rookie.
He won 18 games the following season, and dropped his ERA to an incredible 2.19. pitching in 283 2/3 innings. In 1904, an illness would hold him to only 24 starts, but he would make the most of those starts, winning 14 games. He led the league with a 1.59 ERA.
He was healthy in 1905, and Joss won 20 games for the first time in what would be a run of four seasons. His ERA would “skyrocket” to 2.01. It was the last full season in which his ERA would creep above 2. In 1906, Joss went 21-9, and lowered his ERA down to 1.72. For the fourth time in five years, he pitched over 269 innings, and for the third time in for years, he pitched at least 282 innings.
In 1907, Joss led baseball with 27 wins, winning his first ten games in a row. Joss’ ERA was 1.83, and he pitched in 338 2/3 innings. He followed 27 wins with 24 in 1908, and led the league with a ridiculous 1.16 ERA, and rolled out another 325 innings. His ERA that season is the eighth-lowest single-season ERA in the history of baseball. He walked only 30 batters.
Joss would never win 20 games again.
He only won 14 games the next season, and struggled with exhaustion that season. In 1910, he pitched a no-hitter, and had 10 assists in the game. He tore a ligament later that seasons, and went 5-5 that season. It was his last.
Joss looked to rebound in 1911, and was planning on sitting out until May to give the arm rest. On April third, he fainted on a baseball field waiting for an exhibition to start for the Indians. He turned 31 on April 12th while in the hospital. He died on April 14th of tubercular meningitis.
Joss finished his career with a 160-97 record in nine seasons with a career 1.89 ERA, and was dead at 31.
#4: Stan Coveleski, RHP (1916-1924)
Coveleski’s best pitch was the spitball, and he used it to become one of the most dominant pitchers in all of baseball. In his first season with the Indians, he went 15-13 with a respectable 3.41 ERA in 232 innings. He got even better in his second season in Cleveland, winning 19 ballgames and dropping his ERA to 1.81. He led the league with nine shutouts, and upped his innings to 298 1/3.
In 1918, Covaleski won 20 games for the first time in his career. He went 22-13 with a 1.82 ERA in 311 innings. He followed that up with a 24-12 season with a 2.61 ERA in 286 innings.
In 1920, Coveleski’s wife died during the season, after he had won his first seven starts. Coveleski was also pitching for the Indians the day that Ray Chapman died. Chapman won 24 games with a 2.49 ERA, and had a league leading 133 K’s.
In the World Series that year, he pitched three complete-game victories, including a shutout to clinch the series. He had a 0.67 ERA.
Coveleski won 23 games in 1921, and led the league with 40 games started.
He would never win 20 games again with the Indians, but would continue to pitch well, winning 17 in 1922, 13 games in 1923, and 15 games in 1924, his final year with the Indians. He led the league in ERA during the 1923 season.
The Indians were slowly being dismantled, and Covaleski was traded to the Washington Senators for Carr Smith and By Speece.
His final numbers with the Indians were 172 and 123 with a 2.80 ERA in 2,502 1/3 innings during his nine years.
#3: Bob Lemon, RHP (1946-1958)
A lot is made of Bob Feller’s missed years when he served in World War 2, and for good reason. He missed several years in his prime. Bob Lemon also missed years of service. The difference was that it was at the start of his career, and who knows what might have been different had he not served.
You see, Lemon was drafted as a position player, and in 1941 and 1942 had two stints with the Indians as a utility player. As a matter of fact, Lemon was the Tribe’s centerfielder during Bob Feller’s second no hitter when he returned from serving in 1946. Lemon had pitched for the Navy during WWII, and manager Lou Boudreau and Lemon decided that his best bet would be as a starter.
Fairly. Good. Move.
Lemon wasn’t sent to the minors, but began on-the-job training at the big league level. In 1946, he spent most of his time in the pen, making 32 appearances, with only five as a starter. It was more of the same in 1947. Lemon made 37 appearances, and 15 were starts. Over the two years, Lemon was 15-10 with about a 3.00 ERA.
From 1948-1956, Lemon would win 20 games seven times and would be a major part of two World Series teams. In an era that is considered the golden age of baseball, Lemon may have been one of the top two or three starters in all of baseball.
In 1948, Lemon went 20-14 and led the league in shutouts, complete games and innings pitched. He threw a no hitter that season, which was the first ever under the lights, and won two games in the ’48 World Series, including the game six clincher. While Feller was the greatest pitcher in Indians history, Lemon was the true leader of the Big Four staffs that dominated for Cleveland in the late 40’s and first half of the 50’s.
In 1949, Lemon would win 22 games with a 2.99 ERA in 279 2/3 innings, and in 1950, he led the league in wins with 23. He also led the league in games started, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts. His three-year streak of 20 win seasons ended in 1951, when he went 17-14, but still led the league in starts, and had 263 1/3 innings under his belt.
In 1952, Lemon began a new string of 20-win seasons, winning 22 games with a full season career best 2.50 ERA. He led the league in starts for the third straight season, and led the league in complete games with 28, and innings pitched with a career best 309 2/3. He won 21 games in 1953, again leading the league in innings pitched for the last time in his career, but for the fourth time in six years.
In 1954, he led the league in wins, and perhaps had his best season to date. He went 23-7 with a 2.72 ERA, and led theleague with 21 complete games. Lemon pitched well in game one of the World Series that season, and took 2-2 tie into the tenth inning before a three-run jack by Dusty Rhodes ended the game. Manager Al Lopez brought Lemon back on three days’ rest in game four, but the venerable starter got hit hard, and the Indians were swept.
Lemon was far from done, and led the league in wins again in 1955 with 18, breaking another three-year, 20-win run. He won 20 one final time in 1956, and lead the league in complete games for the fifth time in his career. Lemon struggled in 1957 and he retired after starting the 1958 season with the Indians.
His final numbers in 13 seasons, all with the Indians, were very impressive. He went 207-128, with a 3.23 ERA in 2,850 innings, played in seven consecutive All-Star games, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1976.
#2: Cy Young, RHP (Spiders, 1890-1898/Naps, 1909-1911)
It’s kind of funny having Cy Young SECOND on any starting pitching list, but he is on this one. Most folks don’t associate Young with Cleveland baseball, but at the end of the day, the Ohio native spent 12 years playing professional baseball wearing the Cleveland jersey.
He joined the Cleveland Spiders in 1890 and was an immediate success. He only won 9 games that year, but that was the last time he’d win less than 20 games for the Spiders. He won 27 games in his first full season in 1891, then a league leading 36 games in 1892. He also led the league with a 1.93 ERA, and nine shutouts. In the next six seasons in Cleveland, he won 34, 26, 35, 28, 21 and 25 games, leading the league with those 35 games in 1895. He was shifted to St. Louis after the 1898 season.
In 1909, Young was traded back to Cleveland, and he went 19-15 with a 2.26 ERA at the ripe old age of 42. That was his last big season as a starter. He went 7-10 in 1910 and 3-4 in 1911, and he was released.
In Young’s 12 seasons, he went 270-164 with a 3.02 ERA. I mean, c’mon, it’s Cy Young.
#1: Bob Feller, RHP (1936-1956)
I hope this isn’t a surprise, and regardless of opinions, I can’t fathom there’s anyone that would argue the point that Bob Feller is the most important starting pitcher in Cleveland Indians history. He is. It’s just that simple.
There isn’t anything about Feller that you are going to learn here that you haven’t heard at one point or another. He had god-given talent that turned into a legendary career.
His rookie season was in 1936 when he was all of 17 years old, and he went 5-3 with a 3.34 ERA. In his first start, on august 23, 1936, Feller pitched a complete game, striking out 15 and walking four. He lost his next two games, but rebounded with two more complete game victories. He struck out ten in the first, and 17 in the second. In 62 innings that year, he struck out 76 batters.
Feller won nine games in 1937, but really grabbed hold of his talent beginning in 1938.
He won 17 games that year and led the league in strikeouts for the first time, with 240. Of course, he also had 208 walks. He did strike out 18 batters that year, which set the strikeout record for both leagues at the time.
Feller was just getting warmed up. Over the next three seasons, he led the A.L. in wins with 24, 27 and 25. He led the league in innings pitched with 296 2/3, 320 1/3 and 343. He led the league in strikeouts with 246, 261 and 260. He led the league in complete games twice, with 24 in 1939 and 31 in 1940. He led the league in both games and games started in both 1940 and 1941. At the end of the 1941 season, he was 22 years old.
He was on his way to being the greatest pitcher in the history of baseball. He already had 107 wins.
Then came Pearl Harbor, and Bob Feller was the first player to enlist in the war effort. He missed all of 1942, 1943 and 1944 before returning late in 1945. He’d start nine games that year.
In 1946, he was only 27 years old. He won 26 games that year and struck out 348 batters. He’d lead the league in K’s in 1947 and 1948 as well. In 1947, he won 20 games, then 19 in the 1948 season when the Indians went to the World Series. Feller would struggle in that series, losing both starts, but his path to greatness was already well traveled.
He won 15 games in 1949 at the age of 30, and 16 at 31. Just when you thought that his time may be winding down, he went 22-8 in 1951 as part of the Big 4. From 1952 through 1956, Feller’s career was clearly on a downturn. He went a combined 36-31.
When it was all said and done, Feller was 266-162 with a career 3.25 ERA. He struck out 2,581 batters, and was a sure-fire Hall of Famer. But Feller was so much more than that as a player. He was as famous a baseball player as there was. My grandfather used to chuckle about Joe DiMaggio. I remember him saying, “DiMaggio had nothing on Feller.” He was “The Natural” before Roy Hobbs. He was a cover story in Time magazine.
Then there are those missing military years. In the five full seasons that sandwiched those three seasons, Feller averaged 24 wins a season. He was 23, 24 and 25 in those seasons, so it’s not unrealistic to think that he could have added 72 wins in the three full seasons, and another 15-20 wins in the more than half-season he missed in 1945. Put it all together, and you add 90 wins to 266. That’s 356 wins for those counting at home.
Of course, that’s an unknown, as anything could have happened during that time, but it’s not a stretch to think he would have WON MORE games during that time period. Of course, he just as easily could have gotten hurt.
There’s so much to the legend of Feller that will be for another day (real soon, I promise), but to me, it’s not even close. Bob Feller is the best starter to ever step on the mound for the Cleveland Indians.
My current All-Indians Team:
Catcher: Victor Martinez
1st Base: Jim Thome
2nd Base: Nap Lajoie
3rd Base: Al Rosen
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau
Outfield: Tris Speaker, Earl Averill, Larry Doby
CF: Tris Speaker
LF: Albert Belle
RF: Manny Ramirez (executive decision over Flick)
IBI Power Poll All-Indians Team:
Catcher: Sandy Alomar (I just don’t buy it. Alomar was a great all-around catcher, but was on the shelf far too much)
1st Base: Jim Thome
2nd Base: Nap Lajoie
3rd Base: Al Rosen
Shortstop: Lou Boudreau (but it’s close—85-83)
OF: Tris Speaker, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez
CF: Tris Speaker
RF: Manny Ramirez
LF: Albert Belle
Your chance to vote in past polls:
Now it’s time for you to vote:
Jim is currently the senior editor and Columnist, as well as the host of IBI's weekly online radio shows, Smoke Signals and Cleveland Sports Insiders. You can follow Jim on Twitter @Jim_IBI, or contact him via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What a history.
That was tough picking only five.
McDowell pitched the way he had to pitch given the team he played with. He could have won many more games and pitched a lot longer had he played for better teams.
Sam was the equal of anybody in ability and performance for a short time.
Feller or Cy Young could be defended as the greatest pitcher of all time along with Mathewson, Johnson, Spahn, Koufax, Gibson, Maddux & very few others.
I'd vote for both in a tie for greatest ever.
And if it were just the Indians/Naps/Bronchos franchise then I'd add Gaylord Perry because his 1972 season was really impressive.
My list from about WWII and beyond: