Friday, May 27

Mount Tribemore (post-1985)

Why post-1985? Because Andy started watching baseball in 1986, that's why. Check out my previous post on the all-time Indians greats atop Mount Tribemore, then check out Figgs' and my picks below for which quartet best represents the Indians of this generation.

Jim Thome, Omar Vizquel, Kenny Lofton, Manny Ramirez

I went all 1990's here, which shouldn't be surprising considering how successful the Wahoos were in that decade. I really started getting serious about my sports watching in the mid-90's, when I wasn't quite the Buckeye fan I am now and the Browns blew, so I was a full-blown diehard Tribe supporter. They were just such a fun team to watch. I can tell you where I was at for so many of the memorable moments that these teams produced. I'll let Andy take care of providing you with all the stats (which may end up making my choices look stupid once he backs up his picks and I don't, but oh well Ed: I'm coming hard with the stats, but they very much vindicate Figgs' choices), I'm just going to briefly talk about what I remember from each of my selections.

Jim Thome is a no-brainer here. A mainstay in the middle of the Cleveland lineup for nearly a decade, Thome will go down as one of the greatest power hitters of all time. This is especially true when you consider that he is one of the very few players in the Juiced* Era that has never been linked to performance enhancing drugs (Ken Griffey and Frank Thomas are the only other two names I can think of). Although he eclipsed 40 homers in only three of the eight seasons he was playing full-time in Cleveland (including a career best 52 in '02, his last season wearing the Wahoo), his total dipped below 30 only once - when he blasted 25 in 1995. Although some people :cough:Nick:cough: will resent Thome forever for the way he left the Forest City, his production during his tenure cannot be ignored.

If Thome is considered 1A in this scenario, then Vizquel is 1B. Certainly, the first thing that stands out about Omar was his dazzling defense. He made tough plays look routine, and made the impossible ones possible while racking up nine consecutive Gold Gloves during his 11-year Indian career (he added two more for good measure with San Fran in '05 and '06). Another thing that made Omar special was that he was a genuinely good guy, always joking around with his teammates and just having fun playing the game.

Just like Omar, Lofton will be known for his defense more than anything, at least in my mind. Thinking back on all of the baseball I have watched in my life time, there are only five outfielders that I can say that I was truly excited about watching because it seemed they made you utter "holy shit!" (or something to that effect) on a daily basis. Kenny was one of those players on the short list (along with Junior Griffey, Torii Hunter, Andruw Jones, and Jim Edmonds, if you were wondering). Lofton got on base at a .375 clip during his decade-long stint with the Tribe, and when he got on he terrorized opponents, leading the league in stolen bases five straight years, including a stupid-good 75 swipes in '96. One image I will never forget is Lofton coming home and being mobbed at the plate after scoring the game-winner in the Impossible Return. He wasn't the greatest, but Kenny was my favorite Indian of all-time.

Let's just get this out of the way, Manny Ramirez was an idiot. He certainly wasn't all there, has failed more than one drug test, and was just an overall ass. With that all being said, dude could flat out rake. Similar to Thome's Indian career, ManRam came in to the league in the early 90's, hit in the heart of the order year after year for playoff teams, and left Cleveland on a sour note with the fans. Obviously the biggest difference between the two was that Thome was such a fan favorite while playing for the Tribe, whereas Manny was said ass. It was just too hard for me to over look Ramirez's numbers to leave him off the rock, however. His best year in Cleveland came in 1999 where he led the AL with 165 RBI and finished third in the MVP voting.

The players I had the most trouble leaving off were Albert Belle, C.C. Sabathia, Charles Nagy, and Grady Sizemore. I went back and forth between Manny and Albert, ultimately deciding to leave Belle off. Like Ramirez, Belle was a total head case, but an unbelievable masher. His 50/50 year in '95 was unforgettable, as was when he flattened Fernando Vina on his way to second base (pictured right), chased down hooligans who egged his house on Halloween on his 4-wheeler, and pointing to his flexed bicep mouthing "cork that" after homering in a game where the umpire previously checked his bat for cork. I ended up without a pitcher, although both Sabathia and Nagy deserve high consideration. Andy will tell you why CC should be on, and Nagy was the heart and soul of the rotation, possibly the team, throughout the entire 1990's. Grady is my favorite and most deserving current Indian, but doesn't compare to these guys.

Figgs may have been on to something by picking all '90s Tribesmen, because looking back on things, the Indians were really bad for much of my early (late '80's) fandom and have been only sporadically good in the '00's (and fantastic in 2011!) I mean, they actually made a movie about how bad we were, way back when. The weird thing was, as a kid, I didn't care about how lousy the Indians were. I loved baseball and I loved the Indians. I used to copy their (losing) box scores into a notebook every day. I used Indians beach towels. I watched entire games to see how phenom Mark Lewis (yes, THE Mark Lewis) would do. I know who Thomas Howard is. But despite my early foray into die-hardism, the fact remains: they sucked.

The best season the Tribe posted in the post-Francis, pre-Jacobs Field era (1986-1993) was 1986's 84-78, a .519 mark that somehow landed them in 5th (fifth!) out of seven in the old AL East. Man, things were hard before the Wild Card. The rest of that span saw them put up a Piratesque .439 win percentage, including a 61-101 campaign in '87 (the infamous SI "Indian Uprising" year and the occasion of my first game attended at Municipal, a 13-3 drubbing at the hands of the A's) and a 57-105 mark in 1991 (the year they moved back the fences to take advantage of Alex Cole's speed).

Why am I telling you this? Because, (1) there clearly aren't going to be any Wahoos from my youth on this list and (2) to foreshadow a future list including such luminaries as Joe Carter, Greg Swindell, Brett Butler, Jerry "The Governor" Browne, and Brook Jacoby. But for now, let's get to the top players of the past 25 years.

Clearly the best pitcher of the modern-era Indians, CC Sabathia is one of the few hurlers from my lifetime to make a dent in the Indians' all-time leaderboard, posting an Indians career WAR of 28.2 (10th), striking out 1265 batters (5th in total, 6th in rate), making three all-star teams, placing second in the 2001 RoY voting (behind only "league MVP" Ichiro Suzuki), and claiming the 2007 Cy Young Award. It's been said that it took CC a long time to develop from merely a "thrower" into a true "pitcher," and the numbers back that assertion, as the Hefty Lefty had an ERA+ of 107 in his first five years with the Erie Warriors and a sparkling 140 over his last two full seasons. Sabathia has remained among the league's elite starters since being traded, but: who cares. And since that's all the representation for the pitchers on Modern Mount Tribemore, how about some pitching Fun Facts?

Fun Fact #1: Dave Burba had a K/9 of 7.1 as an Indian.
Fun Fact #1: As I write, today (May 24) is Bartolo Colon's birthday!
Fun Fact #3: Bob Wickman is the club's all-time saves leader.
Fun Fact #4: Bob Feller had 36 complete games. In 1946.

OK, enough fun facts. No other Cleveland chucker had what it takes to crack this list, so we'll fill it out with three beloved (and of course highly valuable on the field) Erie Warriors from recent years.

Jim Thome was quite simply the easiest choice for this list. The modern Indians leader in WAR (46.5, 4th in club history behind only the three everyday members of my all-time Mount Tribemore and of the Hall of Fame), 3rd in OBP (.414), 3rd in slugging (.567 - Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez are 1-2), 3rd in OPS, 10th in doubles, 2nd in RBI, 1st in walks, and 1st in home runs by almost a hundred over Belle.

In fairness, Thome is also the club leader in K's by some 550 punchouts over 2nd-place Jhonny Peralta, but we sabermetrically-inclined fans see that as just another out by a guy who made outs at a low rate. And does anyone understand how he continues to absolutely mash, even at the age of 40? Clearly a first-ballot Hall of Famer, Thome will be the first to go in wearing a Chief Wahoo cap in a long time.

Plus on a less fact-focused note, Thome was one of the most likeable and classy guys on the team, winning a 2003 Plain Dealer poll as most popular Cleveland athlete ever, rollerblading comically in a McDonald's commercial, and winning the prestigious Roberto Clemente award in 2002 for his off-field heroics. I'm not going to go after Nick personally, since last time we talked he'd softened his anti-Thome stance, but after all Jim Thome did for the club on and off the field, I'm not going to kill the guy for taking an extra year and $20 million more to sign with Philly when the players' union wouldn't have let him do anything else anyway.

That having been said, and all of Thome's remarkable career recapped: "YOU DON'T BELONG HERE ANYMORE!!!"

You know who I figured I was going to cut when I initially thought through my list, but ended up including? Kenny Lofton, that's who. With a career WAR of 45.5, Lofton ended up just a tick below Thome for his career, and in just 9.5 seasons wearing the Chief (to 12 for Thome). Lofton's accomplishments are considerable - 2nd in Rookie of the Year (losing to Pat Listach in one of the stupidest votes ever conducted), six straight all-star teams, four Gold Gloves (which are stupid but Lofton was a fantastic outfielder, as Figgs notes), five straight years leading the AL in steals, and a career OPS+ of 109 as an Indian. Lofton ranks 3rd in club history in runs, 1st in steals (almost 150 more than 2nd-place Omar Vizquel), and 1st in "Power-Speed #", which I have no clue what that means.

Lofton could flat-out play - his tablesetting prowess (OBP .375 with the Tribe) and defensive skills (dWAR of 10.0, trailing only Lou Boudreau all-time) made him one of the most exciting Indians of the mid-90's baseball renaissance. I'll always have four memories of Kenny:

1) "Kenny Lofton disease," whenever he'd hit a home run and decide he was a home run hitter for like a week and then pop out until Lou Brown made him do pushups.
2) That year we swapped him wth Marquis Grissom to see if anyone would notice.
3) His stirring return to the Tribe during the '07 playoff run, including his HR in Game 4 of the ALCS.
4) Being lifted in the air by Ed Taubensee after Jolbert Cabrera's hit plated him with the winning run in the Impossible Return.

The last slot, as always, is the most challenging. My finalists were Albert Belle, Charles Nagy, Manny Ramirez, Grady Sizemore, Omar Vizquel, and Wayne Kirby. With the exception of Kirby, they're all defensible from a statistical standpoint. Check out their WAR as Indians:

Sizemore 29.0
Vizquel 28.6
Ramirez 28.2 (inlcuding a comical -4.6 as a defender)
Belle 25.8
Nagy 22.9
Kirby 2.3

Quick digression: it's tough for a pitcher going just on WAR - you saw where the legendary Feller ended up relative to the other guys on my all-time list - hence I give CC a bonus even though his is identical to Manny's.

It's easy enough to drop the last two - Nagy was a fan favorite and really gave it his all over a long career, but his career ERA+ as an Indian was 101. I can't take a barely league-average pitcher as one of my top 4. Can't. Belle was good, but he was also a cheater and kind of a cock. And Wayne, well Wayne, you'll always be my homey.

If it hadn't been for Sizemore's knee, there's absolutely no question he'd be on my Modern Mount Tribemore. Two more solid seasons by his standards would have put him over 40 WAR for his career and an easy pick, but we haven't had two more solid seasons, we've had three lost ones, and sorry, but losing those years in his prime hurts his candidacy despite a slight edge in player value. I know it's tough, Grady, but you still have a golden chance to crack this select list.

Now we're left with two Indians titans from the '90's juggernauts: Omar Vizquel and Manny Ramirez. Could we maybe think of two more different types of players to compare? Yet in the unique sport of baseball, they brought roughly the same value to the Tribe during their tenure.

I'm taking Omar Vizquel, for several reasons, and if you've read this far, you know I'm sparing no detail today.

1) WAR doesn't account for Omar's defensive value very well. While Lofton posted a dWAR of 10.0 for his Indians career, Omar's is just 4.0. Yes, apparently the greatest defensive player of our generation was only worth 4.0 wins above a replacement shortstop during his 11 years in Cleveland. For reference, Shin-Soo Choo (a right fielder) has earned a 3.4 during the past three seasons. There's some flawed accounting here - I don't think this number even comes close to reflecting what Vizquel did with the leather (see item #4). I know Gold Gloves are dumb, but it's impressive that he won nine in the AL even with sportswriters drooling over Jeter's leadership skills and lack of range.

2) 11 years in Cleveland to only 8 for Manny.

3) Omar was never busted for failing drug tests - Manny was nailed twice. Seriously, if anyone takes Ramirez over Thome because of Thome's awkwardly-handled free agency and lets Manny off the hook because Manny was too spacey to know to care about Cleveland and ignores him being a known cheater, then I have to wonder what sort of judge of character they are.

4) The part in that one Indians video where he wears that hilarious leather jacket when Tom Hamilton is trying to interview him.

So those are my four: CC Sabathia, Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton, and Omar Vizquel. All great players, all guys I'm proud to call Cleveland Indians.


Joe Figgs said...

Your lists are pretty decent, but when this topic was first brought up to me, one of the first names that came to my mind was Sandy Alomar Jr. I was surprised not to see him mentioned. He spent 11 seasons with the Tribe and his work behind the plate defensively was phenominal. For a guy that is 6'5", he was able to block balls in the dirt better than most guys in the league. He also threw out over 31% of the runners trying to steal against him. His stats offensively (.277 avg, 92 HR, 453 RBI in his 11 seasons with the Tribe) might not quite stack up with some of the others, but he always seemed to come up with the clutch hit when it really counted. None of us will ever forget his magical 1997 season when he won the MVP in the All Star game and came up huge in the playoffs (5 HR and 19 RBI). So he would make my Mount Tribemore and I felt I would share my thoughts with you guys.

Andy said...

Hey Joe,

Thanks for writing in. I considered Alomar, but his WAR (11.8) and OPS+ (92) during his Tribe career just don't quite measure up to the four players I picked. He was a solid contributor to those '90's clubs though.

Alomar's career postseason OPS was .611, compared to his Tribe career regular season mark of .734, so in general I'd argue that he didn't necessarily raise his game in the postseason.

I'm curious: who would your other selections be?

Joe Figgs said...

Besides Sandy Alomar, my other three choices would be Jim Thome, Kenny Lofton and Omar Vizquel. Thome is my all time favorite Indian (Hafner was well on his way to passing him until his 3 year slump put a sour taste in my mouth). Kenny in his prime was the greatest leadoff hitter in the post Rickey Henderson era and did some amazing things on the base paths (I think my boner lasted about 3 days when he scored from 2nd on that wild pitch). Kenny was to the Tribe what Eric Metcalf was to the Browns for me. And Omar was hands down the greatest defensive shortstop I've ever seen with no apologies needed to Ozzie Smith (doing backflips is entertaining and all, but has nothing to do with on field ability). Also, Omar's offense was drastically underrated. He had several clutch hits and could steal a great deal of bags as well.
That would be my list. If I had to include one pitcher, it would probably have to be C.C., just out of shear numbers. Colon was great for a while, but didn't do it for as long as C.C. I was the biggest Jaret Wright fan, but injuries ruined what would have been a promising career. My two favorite pitchers were probably Charles Nagy and Jake Westbrook. Outsiders don't notice guys like that because they don't strike out a ton of guys and won't win 20 games, but they simply get guys out. And winning 15 a year is something I'll take anytime. (That is why I really love Josh Tomlin on the current Tribe team. I think he is the current version of those two guys and barring injury will give us a solid 15 wins for the next several years).

John said...

What no David Justice or Juan Gonzalez? Over the time frame specified no Indians pitcher really deserves to be on this list. The Indians despite having back to back Al Cy Young award winners have never really had a dominate pitcher for more than a year or two in this modern FA era. And really that's OK, its not great but the Indians are the kind of team that can put together a rotation like the Phillies so 5 solid or more likely 4 solid starters has always been the hallmark of what the Indians have try to accomplish and occasionally achieved in short time frames. Chad Ogea where are you?

One thing that hasn't been questioned here is the real Mount Rushmore. Do all four really represent the four best presidents at the time it was carved? Is one or more undeserving and or on there for political reasons? Too bad Presidents don't have good statistics. Andy you should work on that.