Updated October 2017
If there is one thing that defines the Cleveland Indians as a franchise over the past 110 years it is their tremendous starting pitching. By far more starting pitchers than any other position have made it into the Hall of Fame as Indians. Over the history of the franchise, the Indians have had four Cy Young award winners and Cy Young himself play for the team, but only three of the four will make this list of the top ten Indians aces.
Of the top ten aces in Indians history, five are already in the Hall of Fame and two are not eligible yet. These pitchers are strike out champions, World Series winners and the pitcher who leads all Major League baseball in WHIP (and is second in ERA). While some of the positions covered in BurningRiverBaseball’s top ten lists are relatively new (like the closer and DH), this particular positional history spans the entire history of the franchise and has rarely been held by someone unqualified for the title. This will be the last top ten list for the 2012-13 off-season, so enjoy the top ten aces in Cleveland Indians history.
10. Wes Ferrell – Years as Ace – 1930-1932
Ferrell is a borderline pitcher on this list for two reasons. First, he only lead the rotation for three years, but this was a larger percentage of his time on the team than any of the players listed as a starter, but not an ace. Secondly, he ranks last among those listed in both WHIP and BAA, while ranking second to last in ERA despite playing in the dead ball era.
9. C.C. Sabathia – 2002-2007
Sabathia culminated his time as Cleveland’s ace with his most impressive feat, winning the 2007 Cy Young Award. That year he set career highs in wins (19) and ERA (3.21) and finally became the pitcher he was expected to be since his rookie year in 2001. During his time with the team, Sabathia struck out over 1,200 batters and won more than 100 games as well, both which rank among the best in Indians history.
8. Vean Gregg – 1911-1913
If there is one name on this list that Indians fans might not recognize it would be Gregg, but he deserves a little recognition for his time as the ace of the Cleveland Indians. While he did pitch less than 1,000 innings with Cleveland, he has a better winning percentage than any Indians pitcher with more than 580 innings pitched. He also ranks in the top five in ERA. Gregg took over the team after Joss died, providing a very smooth transition to when Coveleski took over.
8. Corey Kluber – 2014-Present
This is one tough list to crack, but Kluber has finally done it in his fourth year as staff ace and sixth season on the team. To do so he had to win a Cy Young (2014) with another one possibly on the way, post the lowest single season and career ERA since the 1970’s and the lowest single season and career H/9 since Joss during the deadest part of the dead ball era. He’s already struck out over 1,200 in just 163 starts and has only walked 243. A lack of innings still hold him back from the top half of the list, but his rate stats compare to the best of the best and he’s under contract through 2020, so he has plenty of time to make those numbers more significant.
7. Early Wynn – 1951-54, 1957
Wynn is the first Hall of Famer on the list, making it for his contributions to the White Sox as well as the Indians. Wynn struck out more than 1,200 batters and won more than 160 games as well during his time in Cleveland. He was part of an impressive string of aces, taking over for Feller and pitching around Score. Most impressively, Wynn was the ace in a rotation that included Feller, Bob Lemon and Mike Garcia, two Hall of Famers and another great young starter.
6. Herb Score – 1955-1956
Those who think that the best pitcher is the one with the most wins and strike outs won’t like a couple of pitchers on this list and Score is one of them. However, there is more to pitching than accumulating stats by playing for decades. Score holds the record for greatest K/9 in Indians history. Score was the ace for just two seasons, including winning the Rookie the Year in 1955. Score was hit in the face by a baseball that ruined his career. After two seasons of sub 2.85 ERAs, Score was never same after being struck.
5. Gaylord Perry – 1972-1974
Perry was a top ten pitcher for at least two teams, as he played 10 years for the Giants before coming to Cleveland. As soon as he joined the Indians, Perry won his first of two Cy Youngs. Perry only played four seasons for the Indians, but still accumulated some impressive stats, including leading all Indians ever in innings pitched per game and posting a sub-3.00 career ERA for one of the only times after the 1920’s. While he made the Hall of Fame for much more than his time in Cleveland, Perry arguably pitched his three greatest seasons in an Indians uniform.
4. Sam McDowell – 1968-1971
McDowell would be the Indians strike out king if it weren’t for a certain Feller. He struck out just around 400 less batters than Rapid Robert, while pitching in almost 250 less games. He also struck out close to 900 more batters than the next best Indians pitcher. McDowell was also an efficient pitcher, throwing 22 shut outs in just 295 starts, a similar rate to the other great Indians starters, well below only the one ranked number one below.
3. Stan Coveleski – 1916-1924
Coveleski was the ace of the first Indians World Series team, pitching three complete games (winning all three) and allowing just two runs. Of course he couldn’t play at that level through his entire career, but he was incredibly good during the regular season as well. He ended his career ranking fourth in wins and third in innings pitched as an Indian, all while keeping his ERA under 3.00.
2. Bob Feller – 1938-41, 1946-50
Feller is widely considered to be the greatest Indian, not just for his pitching, but also for his contributions to his country in WWII and to the team after his official retirement. Feller ranks first in all the important counting pitching stats, a combination of his ability and his durability. He ranks first in wins, complete games, innings and strike outs despite losing parts of four seasons in service to his country. Long after he retired, Feller was a mainstay around the Indians clubhouse until his death in 2010.
1. Addie Joss – 1902-1909
Far be it for this website to punish a man for dying. Joss continues to hold what looks to be unbreakable records in WHIP and BAA and ranks second in ERA. Most people consider Feller to be number one, but he never had a ten year string as good as Joss. Only tuberculous meningitis could stop Joss, killing him at the age of 31. Joss tossed the second perfect game in American League history in 1908 among his two no hitters. His 45 shut outs also remain an Indians record, despite playing in 300 less games than Feller. Joss remains completely underrated and remains the greatest Cleveland Indians pitcher of all time.