While many of the articles created on BurningRiverBaseball are static, to be written and read in a specific time period, then left alone for eternity, a series of pieces written during the 2012-2013 off-season is a little different. In these, I ranked the top ten Indians at every position and every year since I have updated them to include the recently ended season. With the current generation of Indians coming of age, some possibly playing in their final season in Cleveland (Bryan Shaw and Carlos Santana) and others just starting their careers in Cleveland, but doing so in impressive fashion (Francisco Lindor and Jose Ramirez), there’s certainly a lot to update this year. To see the full rankings for any position just click on the position.
Yan Gomes has been hanging on the catcher list at #15 (I know it’s a top 10, but I include an extra five players at the bottom of each list) and this year he moves to #14, surpassing Kelly Shoppach, but remaining behind Duke Sims.
Carlos Santana came into the season ranked fourth all time among first basemen after being initially ranked as a catcher early in his career. He jumped George Burns and, with free agency looming, could very well end his Indians career as the third best first baseman in team history. If he were to return, he could potentially pass Hal Trosky, who is ranked second behind Jim Thome, with one more good season.
After just three seasons, this one could be controversial, but Francisco Lindor is moving from #14 where he was just ahead of George Strickland, to #9. While he is just three seasons in, he has already went to two All-Star games, won a gold and platinum glove and has offensive numbers comparable to short stops who had twice as many games played. He pushes long time Indian Terry Turner out of the top ten and moves Johnny Burnett back to the ten spot. Lindor also passed Larry Brown (now #12), Bill Knickerbocker (#13) and Frank Duffy (#14). He now sits behind Woodie Held.
This is going to be a little funky, but realize we are looking at the long term here, not specifically what has just happened. Because there needs to be a decider at where to place players (such as Held as a short stop rather than 3B), that point is simply where the player had more career games played. Because of that, Lonnie Chisenhall is still considered a third baseman and needs about 120 more games in right field to switch lists.
That being said, Chisenhall came into the season ranked 12th and will stay there after missing half of 2017 with injury. If he plays enough games next year (his last under contract with Cleveland), he will likely move to the right field list and there he is easily a top ten player already.
In addition, Jose Ramirez began the season ranked 15th among third basemen and has moved up a couple spots, passing Matt Williams and Willie Kamm to rank 13th, right behind Chisenhall. Max Alvis at 11 is a pretty big stopping block for both players and it could be a few years until he is surpassed.
After a year stagnated at #7, Michael Brantley used a half season of play to surpass Tito Francona (the original) and Dale Mitchell, moving into 5th best in Indians history behind Joe Vosmik. With one more year under team control, Brantley could potentially move as high as #2 next season if he can get healthy and if the Indians use his option.
What do you get when you combine a position that has only existed since the 1970’s with the fact that the Indians have really only had two players play long term at that position since then? Edwin Encarnacion just blew up the DH rankings. In his first season, Encarnacion already comes in at #8, bumping Reggie Jefferson out of the top 15, also passing Ron Kittle, Johnny Grubb, Joe Charboneau, David Segui, Cliff Johnson, Chris James and Oscar Gamble. He now sits behind Richie Sexson and if he plays out his full four year contract, it’s almost impossible he won’t end up at #3 behind Travis Hafner and Andre Thornton. This list is ugly, but finally has some hope of improving thanks to the parrot.
This is a hard decision as Andrew Miller doesn’t have near the innings as the rest of the top 10, but it’s impossible to ignore what he’s done in his first season and a half in Cleveland. By rate stats, he’d be #1 easily, but we can’t discount the extreme amount of work those before him did. The compromise between the two ideas has Miller breaking into the listt at #7, displacing Tom Hilgendorf and falling behind Paul Assenmacher. Rather than drop the #15 player from the rankings, however, I have decided that Fritz Coumbe no longer qualifies as too many of his innings came as a starter. With that, #12-#15 will remain the same with Bob Allen dropping from #10 to #11.
With his 5th and possibly final excellent season in Cleveland, Bryan Shaw has jumped from 11th among right handed (non-closer) relievers to the number one spot. He passes Eric Plunk, who will fall to #2. Joe Smith came into the season ranked 3rd and he will fall to #4 as he didn’t play in Cleveland long enough this year to pass Rafael Betancourt who falls to #3.
Cody Allen was considered the #1 closer in Indians history after the 2016 season and only further cemented his place there this year. In addition to his impressive stats down the line, he is the most used reliever in Indians history and has pitched more innings than all closers except Dan Spiller, Doug Jones and Joe Heving. With one more season under team control, he will likely surpass all those in innings before he is done.
The barrier for entry due to innings pitched is extremely high for both starting pitcher lists, but Carlos Carrasco broke 900 this year and has been dominant enough in his last four seasons to break into the top 15. He surpasses Willis Hudlin, Cy Falkenberg and Otto Hess to slide into #13 for his first season in the rankings.
Corey Kluber joined the top 15 last year, becoming the 12th best ace in Indians history. After going to his second All-Star game, passing the 1,000 inning and K mark and putting up a season that has him as a strong contender for his second Cy Young, he now ranks 8th. As a reminder to the extremely difficult barrier to entry here, five of the seven pitchers ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame, including #7 Early Wynn. All but three pitched over 2,000 innings for the Indians, two struck out over 2,000 and three lead the Indians to the World Series. He could pass up to three more next year, but the Indians top four aces are on a whole different level.
While post-season performances don’t count for any of the positions above (it certainly seems unfair to take points away from Sam McDowell because he didn’t have an offense or Earl Averill because he didn’t have a pitching staff), it is a deciding force among managers. Each of the Indians top four managers at least won an AL pennant coming into this season and now each of the top five have as Terry Francona jumps Nap Lajoie to move from 6th to 5th. Had I updated these lists after the World Series rather than the regular season last year, he probably would already have been in 5th and I may have to write a similar statement next year if the Indians go on an extended post-season run in 2017. Although a year shorter, his career in Cleveland is certainly comparable to the current #4, Hall of Famer Al Lopez. He would have to manage two or three more seasons in Cleveland and win at least one World Series to compare to the top two, however, in Tris Speaker and Lou Boudreau.