We’ve done a lot of top ten lists at Burning River Baseball, but to this point, they have generally all had to do with a player’s entire career. We’ve looked at them by position, birth place, number and minor league level, but haven’t gotten into single season stats beyond looking at entire units (like the entire infield, outfield and pitching staff). This year, we’ll be breaking into individual accomplishments, but to simplify things, offensive players will be split into three different groups and pitchers into two.
The two categories for pitchers are power and efficiency. As you would expect, there is a preponderance of pitchers from the early years of Cleveland baseball on this, the efficiency list, and more later pitchers on the upcoming power list. The Tribe hurlers were split into two groups so pitchers of different styles would have a chance to shine and this group includes those who didn’t allow base runners to get on or runs to score at an epic pace. Players only qualify for one list, so none of the seasons on this list will be on the next, even if they struck out a few batters in their day.
10. Cliff Lee 2008
The only player from the 21st century to make this list, Lee arguably could be much higher given his accomplishments occurred during a period of extreme offensive production. The left handed hurler didn’t throw hard, but was a master of control, walking only 34 in 223.1 innings, something he would improve on even further in his later seasons with other teams. This would be his best career season in many ways, however, as he lead the AL in ERA, wins, shut outs, walk rate, home run rate and FIP on his way to the Indians’ second straight Cy Young award (after CC Sabathia in 2007). While we don’t generally rate a pitcher on his record, that he was able to go 22-3 was truly incredible given the Indians decrease in offense over the previous season. He also went 18-5 in a much less impressive 2005 season in front of an even worse offense.
9. Mike Garcia 1952
The first of three straight All-Star appearances for the Big Bear, Garcia finished ninth in MVP voting in 1952 for what would be the best season of his career (he finished behind teammates Early Wynn and Bob Lemon). Given the incredible talent on this team, it’s hard to believe they don’t get more hype, but they fell victim to the greatest run of dominance in baseball history as the Yankees won every AL pennant from 1947 through 1958 that the Indians didn’t. Individually, Garcia won 22 games with a 2.36 ERA and lead the AL in FIP, shut outs and starts despite striking out just 143.
8. Earl Moore 1903
The Indians first ace, Moore joined the team at it’s inception in 1901 and stuck around through 1907, but unquestionably his best season was 1903. His 20 wins and 1.75 ERA set franchise marks that should have lasted for quite awhile, but were both broken the following season by Bill Bernhard and Addie Joss respectively. His ERA, H/9 and 0 home runs allowed each lead the AL. He could be higher on the list, but like Lee getting the benefit of pitching in a difficult era, Moore’s numbers get discounted as ten Indians pitchers held an ERA under 2.00 for a qualified season in the franchise’s first ten years including three in each 1906 and 1908.
7. Bob Lemon 1952
Already a four time All-Star, like Garcia, the 1952 season was the coup de grace for Lemon. He had an identical 22-11 record to Garcia, but allowed fewer total base runners in 18 more innings. Lemon lead the AL in total starts, innings and hits allowed per nine. Despite throwing more than 300 innings, he held an ERA of 2.50 and a WHIP of 1.10. While Wynn got more credit (as shown through the MVP voting where he finished sixth to Lemon’s eighth and Garcia’s ninth), both Lemon and Garcia had better overall season, besting their teammate in nearly every single statistical category except wins, and there they fell just one short with one less loss.
6. Vean Gregg 1911
A nearly forgotten great of the early Cleveland teams, Gregg had a three year run in the franchise’s second decade that compares well among anyone. The 1911 season was the first in this set and his best as he would win 23 games (he won 20 each of the next two seasons) while leading the AL in ERA (1.80), WHIP and H/9. He came in 10th in the AL MVP voting that season, behind Shoeless Joe Jackson on his own team, but third among pitchers behind only Ed Walsh and Walter Johnson, two of the best hitters in baseball history.
5. Addie Joss 1906
The 1906 season was arguably the second or third best season in Indians history for an entire pitching rotation, so it was hard to choose just one (the other two members did make the top 15, just not the top ten). However, Joss was unquestionably the best of the group and was still on his way up in what would ultimately become a Hall of Fame career. His 1.72 ERA wasn’t quite as good as his team record 1.59 in 1904, but his 0.93 WHIP was the new team record. If Joss has one claim to fame beyond his early death that lead to the first unofficial All-Star Game, it is his WHIP, which is the best over a career in baseball history.
4. Gaylord Perry 1972
The Indians first Cy Young award winner struck out a lot of batters (he is also featured on the power pitchers list for a different season), but he was also a control pitcher, especially in 1972. His marks for wins, innings, starts and WHIP that year still rank among the top ten in Indians history and his ERA of 1.92 was the first by an Indians pitcher, barring the crazy 1968 season, since Stan Coveleski in 1918. He did strike out 234, but more importantly walked just 82 and allowed less than 7 hits per nine.
3. Stan Coveleski 1917
Speaking of Indians Hall of Famer Coveleski, his 1917 season was similar, but slightly better than that 1918 mark. His 0.99 WHIP was the first below one since Joss in 1909 and the last until Sonny Siebert in 1965. His H/9 of 6.1 still remains in the top ten in Indians history and lead the AL (as did his nine shut outs). While he only won 19 compared to 22 in 1918 and 24 in 1920, his next two best seasons, as far as the considerations for this list, 1917 was his best.
2. Luis Tiant 1968
1968 was an insane year for pitchers. The Indians had two with an ERA below 2.00 and Bob Gibson held a 1.12 ERA, the lowest by any Major League pitcher since 1914 and fourth best in MLB history. While McDowell’s ’68 will be on the power list, Tiant’s was best suited for this one. His 1.60 ERA ranks third in Indians history (behind Joss twice) and the best since 1908. His 5.3 H/9 was the best in Indians history and the AL that year. With great pitching around the league, Tiant still lead the AL in ERA, shut outs and FIP. Denny McLain won the Cy Young and MVP, but Tiant finished fifth in MVP voting, third among pitchers. Unfortunately, as the mound rose so did his ERA and loss total and the difference between his 1968 and 1969 seasons ranks among the greatest drop offs in baseball history.
1. Addie Joss 1908
Yes, it was the deadball era, but even then no one was doing what Joss was. In this season, he lead the AL in ERA, BB/9, H/9 and WHIP while winning 24 games. His 1.16 ERA ranks 8th in MLB history and remains the Tribe single season record, a number that will likely never be surpassed. It was this season, with a WHIP just over 0.8, that established him as the Major League career leader in this category. The Indians have had many great pitchers since Joss, including multiple Hall of Famers, but none have ever come close to matching his 1908 season or his career when looking at keeping runners off base and from scoring once they got there.