Tuesday, June 26, 2012

All-Time Teams #8: Cleveland Indians

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

The Indians presented some interesting dilemmas. There wasn't much to choose from at catcher, but that was more than made up for by a plethora of outfield choices, including three Hall of Fame center fielders and one who deserves much more consideration than he'll likely get. Even choosing this team's manager was a tough decision.

Dan Day of The Ball Caps Blog, being a native Ohioan, gave me some input on the team he followed as a youth. I'm honestly not sure where his allegiances currently reside, as he's moved around the country pretty frequently since. I know he spent at least a brief period rooting for the Brewers while attending college at Marquette, and he fairly recently celebrated the Giants' 2010 World Series victory. But, since he's now a central Jersey resident, will he become a Phillies fan? Mets fan? Yankees fan?!?

By asking these questions I'm really just procrastinating my admission that I left his boyhood hero off the team. So, to justify my decision I'm going to explain how I came to a determination as to what outfielders would make the cut.

There were nine outfielders I considered, and only one of them was an absolute no-brainer to make it as a starter. Probably the second and third best outfielders in the team's history primarily played the same position (center field) as that guy, adding to the difficulty of assembling this team.

I decided to compare these players based on who ranked in the Indians' top ten all-time in these statistical categories: WAR, runs, hits, HR, RBI, SB, OPS+ (with a little extra consideration given to being the team's all-time leader in a category). In doing so, a tenth guy was added to the list, but three of the ten were quickly eliminated.

Those three and their top ten categories would be Charlie Jamieson (runs, hits), Elmer Flick (SB, OPS+) and Rocky Colavito (HR, OPS+). The most difficult decision was Colavito, but his closest comparisons among the seven who made the first cut—Albert Belle and Manny Ramirez—were both in the top ten in HR, RBI and OPS+, and superior to him in WAR.

From there, I really needed to drop one more guy, because I could justify six outfielders, but seven would've meant only two reserve infielders, and that seemed like a stretch. That choice came down to Belle or Ramirez, who both played eight years in Cleveland and had very similar statistics:

Belle: 3925 PA, 1014 H, 592 R, 242 HR, 751 RBI, 150 OPS+, 25.5 WAR

Ramirez: 4095 PA, 1086 H, 665 R, 236 HR, 804 RBI, 152 OPS+, 28.0 WAR

Not much daylight there, but there is enough to give a slight edge to Ramirez. Plus, Ramirez had the better overall career, so Belle had to go.

Franchise History
Cleveland Indians (1915- )
Cleveland Naps (1903-1914)
Cleveland Bronchos (1902)
Cleveland Blues (1901)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Victor Martinez (2002-2009)
1B - Jim Thome (1991-2002, 2011)
2B - Nap Lajoie* (1902-1914)
SS - Lou Boudreau* (1938-1950)
3B - Al Rosen (1947-1956)
LF - Joe Jackson (1910-1915)
CF - Tris Speaker* (1916-1926)
RF - Larry Doby* (1947-1955, 1958)

Bob Feller* (1936-1941, 1945-1956)
Addie Joss* (1902-1910)
Stan Coveleski* (1916-1924)
Sam McDowell (1961-1971)
Bob Lemon* (1946-1958)

Doug Jones (1986-1991, 1998)

C - John Romano (1960-1964)
1B - Hal Trosky (1933-1941)
IF - Joe Sewell* (1920-1930)
3B - Ken Keltner (1937-1944, 1946-1949)
OF - Kenny Lofton (1992-1996, 1998-2001, 2007)
OF - Earl Averill* (1929-1939)
OF - Manny Ramirez (1993-2000)

Wes Ferrell (1927-1933)
Early Wynn* (1949-1957, 1963)
Gaylord Perry* (1972-1975)
Mel Harder (1928-1947)

Lou Boudreau* (1942-1950)

Joe Jackson becomes the first non-Hall of Famer to appear on two different all-time teams. He won't be the last, and since he likely would be in the Hall if not for a lifetime ban from baseball, we'll see if an actual Hall-eligible candidate falls into this category.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer

After Kenny Lofton is virtually ignored by the Hall of Fame voters when he becomes eligible next year, he'll instantly become the Indians' greatest eligible non-Hall of Famer. But, since he's not eligible yet, this distinction goes to Wes Ferrell, with an honorable mention to Albert Belle, who was the choice in my original post on the subject.

Similar to Belle, Ferrell may have had a Hall of Fame case if his career—or at least his ability to perform at a reasonably high level—had lasted longer.

The point is often made Ferrell is more deserving of the honor than his Hall of Fame brother, Rick. It's also often suggested that, despite being a pitcher, he was better with the bat than his brother, who was a catcher but is enshrined based primarily on his defensive abilities. In fact, Wes hit more home runs than Rick (38 to 28) in over 5700 fewer plate appearances and out-OPS+'d him 100 to 95.

Ferrell (Wes, that is) enjoyed six 20-win seasons, all prior to his 29th birthday. That's pretty incredible. There are only a few guys who can top that, and their names are the likes of Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson.

Unfortunately, it was all downhill after that. Through his age 28 season (1927-1936), Ferrell was 161-96 with a 128 ERA+ and 46.3 WAR. From that point on (1937-1941), 32-32 with an 83 ERA+ and -1.2 WAR.

In my opinion, that's not quite enough longevity to make a strong Hall of Fame case (and his peak wasn't exactly Koufaxian). But, that certainly qualifies him for my distinction of being the greatest eligible Cleveland Indian not in the Hall of Fame.

Next Up: Colorado Rockies


  1. "(and his peak wasn't exactly Koufaxian)"

    Oh Dan, oh Dan. To say that is to either (1) completely disregard era or (2) completely disregard the offensive contributions of each. I know you won't do the former, and I can see the case for doing the latter.

    I wrote about Ferrell's peak literally being "Koufaxian" here. http://www.beyondtheboxscore.com/2012/1/23/2726560/the-koufaxian-wes-ferrell

    The "new WAR" from B-R both likes Ferrell even better and likes Koufax a bit worse. Here's that last graphic updated: http://darowski.com/junk/ferrell-vs-koufax.png

    1. No, I definitely don't disregard era, Adam. From 1961-66, Koufax's ERA+ was 156. Ferrell never even had one season that high. That's the real basis for saying his peak was not Koufaxian.

      I think a better case can be made that Ferrell's overall career was better than Koufax's than that his peak was. But, as you've said, you have to use the offensive numbers to make that point. Adding in his offensive contributions brings Ferrell to borderline Hall of Famer, in my opinion. I have no problem with your assessment that he is. I just think he falls a little below the borderline.

      I personally think Koufax is a bit over-rated (not his peak effectiveness, but his overall career value).

  2. Everyone bases the Koufax talk on his last four years (disregarding the fact that his 1962 season was also exceptional). A 4-year peak tips the scales towards Koufax. Let's look at a more extended 8 year peak.

    Ferrell 8 years - 2108 IP, 128 ERA+, 46 WAR, 28.8 WAA
    Koufax 8 years - 1961 IP, 141 ERA+, 47.7 WAR, 31.2 WAA

    Koufax is in the lead by a little bit, but Ferrell's additional playing time helps him catch up. So, for a 4 year peak, Koufax wins. For an 8-year peak, it's incredibly close.

    That's with completely disregarding the offensive contributions. That's the thing. How do you measure it?

    In those 8 years, Ferrell was worth 10.0 WAR thanks to a .285/.350/.466 line. We're not talking a pitcher that helped his cause by popping a few dingers. We're talking… probably could have been an average left fielder. He was a league-average hitter, with a 104 OPS and -1 WAR batting runs. League average! From the pitcher's mound!

    Koufax, meanwhile, was worth -3.0 WAR at the plate thanks to an OPS+ of -22.

    Should that hurt Koufax? How much should offense help Ferrell?

    I'm starting to think that the offense tips the scales slightly in favor of Ferrell.

    I'm actually starting to think Wes Ferrell had a better Hall of Fame case than Sandy Koufax. Perhaps I'm crazy. I probably am. But this is what I'm thinking.

    Was Ferrell a better pitcher? I don't think so. But he did more than that.

    1. I'm, obviously, out of my league here and should have devoted more time to analyzing his career before sending the link to this post to the world's foremost Wes Ferrell expert. :)

    2. Seriously, though, I think we agree on a lot of points here. It's just that I'm not quite in the "Wes Ferrell should be a Hall of Famer" camp and you are.

    3. We do. And it was just funny that you actually referred to Ferrell as "not Koufaxian", where I already wrote a blog post called "The Koufaxian Wes Ferrell". I just HAD to jump in there. :)

      But my main goal is to make more people consider Ferrell. He's so unique that you really can't compare him to anyone (save for maybe Bob Caruthers, another personal favorite).

      I said this on Twitter, but we saberists often lament the fact that players who excelled at everything are underrated. I see this as part of it. Ferrell was perhaps the best hitting pitcher ever, but it doesn't really help his case (which was already borderline as it was). I think this pushes him over the edge.

    4. Actually, I originally wrote it as "Koufaxesque," then I remembered reading something where "Koufaxian" was used. Turns out it was something you wrote. So, I kind of stole that from you, but didn't realize it until you linked to your own post.