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Indians of the Decade


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Interesting stuff coming from Let's Go Tribe.


The is the first entry in a series.


As we enter a new decade of Indians baseball, we at Let's Go Tribe thought it would be interesting to look back at the players who played during the past turbulent ten years. The Aughts began with the end of a quasi-dynasty, saw a short return to prominence after several years of rebuilding, and ended with the worst season since the early 1990s. The Indians made the playoffs twice, barely missed the playoffs twice, and won at least 90 games four times. But only once did the Indians have two consecutive winning seasons, and that was at the beginning of the decade.


With this turbulence came almost constant roster change. No player appeared in an Indians uniform every year this decade, and after Omar Vizquel left following the 2004 season, the Indians didn't have a player on its roster who had been with the club ten consecutive seasons. But even with the changes, we watched some outstanding players and great seasons during the first decade of this century. We saw Jim Thome hit 52 home runs in 2002, Travis Hafner lead the league in OPS in 2006, and two Indians win back-to-back Cy Youngs in 2007 and 2008.


This series will look at the outstanding Indians of the decade, starting out with a simple statistical ranking. Then we'll make our cases for individual players. And finally, we'll construct our own personal rankings. Along the way, we'd appreciate your input, both on the players themselves, as well as the methods by which we rank them.


Now, onto the initial rankings....




First, a word on just who is included. A player is eligible if he appeared in one game for the Indians from 2000 to 2009. Only time with the Indians is counted. Seasons before 2000 are included, though those contributions are significantly penalized. In this initial ranking, we used Baseball Prospectus's WARP3 (Wins Above Replacement Level). Seasons with the Indians between 2000 and 2009 are given full credit (WARP3 A), while seasons with the Indians before 2000 are included, but are multiplied by .20 (WARP3 B). I've included the top 35 players, drawing the line between Milton Bradley (3.5) and Ben Francisco (3.3).



Based on their WARP stats, here's the list so far...(hit the link for the full table)


1. Grady Sizemore

2. CC Sabathia

3. Travis Hafner

4. Victor Martinez

5. Jim Thome

6. Jhonny Peralta

7. Bartolo Colon

8. Cliff Lee

9. Jake Westbrook

10. Roberto Alomar

11. Casey Blake

12. Shin Soo-Choo

13. Omar Vizquel

14. Kenny Lofton

15. Bob Wickman

16. Manny Ramirez

17. Rafael Betancourt

18. Asdrubal Cabrera

19. Ronnie Belliard

20. David Riske

21. Kelly Shoppach

22. Ellis Burks

23. Danys Baez

24. Chuck Finley

25. Paul Shuey

26. Steve Karsay

27. Coco Crisp

28. Einar Diaz

29. Fausto Carmona

30. Dave Burba

31. Bob Howry

32. Kevin Millwood

33. Ryan Garko

34. Charles Nagy

35. Milton Bradley


Remember that includes weighted stats from the 90s, and it's just the initial, statistical ranks. More updates will come.



Seems like the only ways to go with Indian of the decade are Victor or CC. The statheads love Sizemore though.

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Part two's a great read. Let's see if you don't get choked up at the end....


I know people don't much care for links....but definitely click through for a much better organized piece.





There's not a lot of argument as to who the Cleveland Indians' superstar position players of the last decade were: Grady Sizemore and Victor Martinez. The first half of the decade was dominated by the last gasps of the 1990s, the final exhale coming with Jim Thome's explosive and, as near as I can tell, rarely mentioned 2002 season. 52 homeruns and nearly as many empty promises later we met 2003 and a lineup that could charitably be described as hilarious. Buried on that team, though, was Victor Martinez. In June of that year, SI described the young prospect in one of those buried sidebars, called "Coming Soon...", assumedly in Scorecard or Inside the MLB:


The top prospect in the well-stocked Indians organization, Martinez, a 24-year-old switch-hitting catcher, was the league batting champ and MVP for Class A Kinston (N.C.) in 2001 and for Double A Akron last year. The 6'2", 185-pound Venezuelan struggled miserably early this season at Triple A Buffalo, hitting .225 in the first 7 weeks, but now that he's learned how to hit off-speed stuff, Martinez is again slicing up opposing pitchers. Last Friday night he hit two home runs, and through Sunday he had seven for the season and had raised his average to .313.


With Cleveland getting little production from starting catcher Josh Bard (.227,16 RBIs through Sunday), Martinez, who hit .281 in a 12-game stint with the Indians last September, will be called up soon. "Victor has been making a lot of progress offensively," says Cleveland manager Eric Wedge. "At some point in time we want to take a look at him. I don't have a specific time frame, but sometime this summer."


Remember that the next time you're itching for a Carlos Santana fix. Do you really believe he's got better bat to ball skills than a 24-year-old El Capitan?



Back in those pre-DSL days, that's all Victor Martinez was to most Indians' fans, even smart ones like yourself. Our hip, young manager Eric Wedge said he was going to be alright and other than that, we'd wait and see. The next season, Vic was named the starter, a title he wouldn't truly surrender until injuries forced him to do so for half of the 2008 season. Four seasons isn't a long time in baseball or in life but it was more than enough time to fall in love with Victor Martinez.


The year that Vic became a full-time starter he was an All-Star, powered into the game by red-hot months of May and June. Months like those, with an OPS over .900, would become staples of Martinez's career in Cleveland. He would often become locked in, hitting everything hard: Martinez spent about 30 months as a full-timer in Cleveland and his monthly OPS topped .900 in eleven of those. Of course, he would also OPS under .700 in seven months. Whether reflective of a reality of his hitting style or just a popular fan perception, Victor always seemed streaky but when he was hot, he scorched.


In the winter of 2006, Ryan astutely pointed out that Victor's two full-time seasons were already two of the top ten seasons by a catcher in Indians' history. Martinez responded by putting up two more seasons in 2006 and 2007 that would've made that list and then bounced back from an injury-plagued 2008 to perform at a level that would've given him five of the top ten seasons in Indians' catcher history had he not been traded to Boston. Victor Martinez is the best catcher in Indians' history, no argument.



Despite his obvious statistical excellence, Victor's impact on the fans of the team went far past the playing field. This doesn't have to be rehashed in depth. Suffice to say that Martinez appeared the clear emotional core of each Indians' team since he arrived.


Fans took to Victor for reasons that made sense: he was very good and he was even better when it mattered. In 2005, the Indians were 15.0 games back on July 22 and Martinez was hitting only .246/.333/.390. The Indians torrid run began the next day and when the dust settled, Victor's line over his final 62 games was .380/.435/.583. His line in the 2007 playoffs was .318/.388/.500, including .353/.421/.588 against the Yankees. How could this guy not be everyone's favorite player?


The answer, of course, is that when Jason Johnson wandered off the mound for a moment, Victor saw Grady Sizemore standing in the outfield. When you're on a team with Grady Sizemore, there's going to be some competition for the hearts of fans.


When Sizemore became the first Indian to appear on the cover of Sports Illustrated since (I believe) Albert Belle in 1996, he immediately became the national posterboy for the Indians in the oughts. There's absolutely nothing wrong with that; Grady is a supremely talented baseball player, ranked by WARP3 as the slam dunk best Tribe player of the decade. His numbers speak for themselves, even with the relative disappointments of the last two seasons. If Grady never reaches the peak that has been forecasted with him, he will more than likely add three more entries to this list before his current contract runs out. That list is all the Indians' CF, since expansion, that have OPS+'ed at least 120. It's a pathetic group, befitting a pathetic era of Indians' baseball but, barring further injuries, Sizemore will come to dominate it.


And, lest we forget, there is still considerable upside in Sizemore. He is about to enter his physical peak and has shown a penchant for refining his game throughout his career; this is a player that could easily become one of the five best in baseball if he stays in CF, stays healthy, and improves just a bit. Grady's comparables have always been stunning and the list hasn't changed a great deal since the sterling performances of just a few years ago: he has stopped comparing most similarly to Duke Snider and has moved on to Barry Bonds. Another name on the list that's always sprung to mind for me is Carlos Beltran, a guy who took some big offensive steps forward in his mid-twenties. Point being, Sizemore still has time to turn into some kind of CF playing Scary Monster, even if the more likely outcome might be Jack Clark.


So, how to choose among these two stalwarts? If you're the analytical type, it doesn't seem to be a very hard decision. Sizemore was the superior player by nearly all statistical measures and Martinez, a player whose defensive reputation has suffered considerably since the 2006 season, doesn't make up any ground by donning the tools of ignorance. I'm not prepared to actually evaluate either's defense in a scientific fashion but I do feel comfortable saying that Sizemore was good enough in CF to, at the least, negate the positional value that Martinez offered.


The numbers, though, are not the entire story here. Let me just make it clear that Sizemore has never done anything particularly wrong. It's just that, now nearly three years into being launched into superstardom by the mainstream media, Sizemore leaves something nebulous yet essential to be desired. Grady is, frankly, boring. In sharp contrast to his high-octane style of player on the field, he is a superstar with no personality, not even a fake, unsatisfying one. Try to think of one moment where you connected with Grady Sizemore the person, not Grady Sizemore the athlete. I can't think of a single instance. On the field, he is anything but dull, climbing walls and clubbing mammoth homeruns with aplomb. What does he mean off of it though?


I'd originally intended to pull some part of that big SI article for this piece, something that would help flesh out who Grady Sizemore was, why we loved him so dearly. In doing so, I came to realize: I don't really love him dearly. I'm not sure I love him at all. I love that he plays for my team, that he's so athletically gifted and wears the Cleveland colors. But would I even be interested in talking to him? The quotes I found were astonishingly boring:


"Good luck getting him to talk about himself. He's such a quiet guy who's only interested in playing baseball and doing what he can for the team."


-Roberto Hernandez


"There is a superstar player on our team, but if you walked into our clubhouse, you'd have no idea who it is. To watch him play day in and day out is a rare treat. All of us, from the front office to the players to the bat boys, are fortunate to see him every day. He is without a doubt one of the greatest players of our generation."


-Mark Shapiro


"He can do it all, but what's so great is he plays the game the right way and he gives your team energy every day. He's a dirtbag. He'll do whatever he can to beat you."


-John Gibbons


"I just want to go out on the field and play. I'm not comfortable in front of the camera. I don't like seeing this mug on TV."


-Grady Sizemore


"I was at the All-Star Game with him last year and I'm telling you, he did not say one word the entire time. Not one word. And it's not because he's a bad guy. He's just that quiet."


-Troy Glaus

It is one thing to be self-effacing or humble. It is another to go to an All-Star Game and not speak to most of your teammates. Perhaps Grady is cripplingly shy or just supernaturally softspoken. Whatever the reason, the end result is that Sizemore does nothing but play baseball extremely well and, in a world where sports is entertainment and quotes and stories are how legend is built, it's questionable as to whether or not that's enough to be the player of the decade for any team. The player of the decade ought to be someone that made me smile for great performance on the field and less obvious, quantifiable reasons. This is a subjective evaluation but, despite claims to the otherwise, sport is not math. Sport is narrative. Prior to this offseason, Grady's performance on the field was as exciting as his performance off the field was lifeless. The best he could offer was a vaguely interesting affection for an old car and old music. And, before December, maybe that would've been enough.


And then, this happened, and, like Lieutenant Aldo Raine, that I cannot abide. The pictures, while harmlessly laughable, are not the sort of thing that legend is made of. If it were more of a runaway, if Grady had not sat out so much of 2009, if Grady's playoff OPS was 1.108 instead of .908 or if his performance in that summer of 2005 had been better than Victor's, if Grady had come out with a clever statement instead of threatening a lawsuit, or, and I know this is unfair, if Grady had been traded instead of Vic and had offered just as powerful an emotional response, then maybe Grady would be the one, great Indian of 2000-2009. But he wasn't and he didn't. He just played good baseball, flashed a great smile, and sat soundlessly at his All-Star Game locker.


On the other side of a ledger we have this:


Victor Martinez sat in front of his locker one last time in the Indians' clubhouse Friday afternoon, with his 4-year-old son, Victor Jose, in his lap.


Martinez sobbed as he explained to his son that he had just been traded to the Red Sox.


"My wife has been talking to him a little bit," Martinez told reporters soon after. "He woke up this morning, and the first thing he said was, 'Daddy, are we still an Indian?'


"I told him, 'So far, yes,' and he started screaming, 'Yes! Yes!'"




Plenty of players talk about loving the team and the fans they play for, but Martinez lived it. And that was evident in the wake of the trade, as he spoke to reporters while wearing black sunglasses that hid red eyes.


"This is my house," he said. "I'm leaving my house."



A player, a moment and an emotion that embodies much of what the last decade's narrative was for Cleveland Indians' fans. The era was defined by a handful of outstanding players, an abundance of character and heart, moments of greatness followed by years of sisyphean toil, and, more than anything, heroes leaving us behind.


Victor embodies or symbolizes all of that. Grady, even for his occasionally Olympian performance, is not nearly as good a representative. Here's to Victor: the Indian of the decade in my eyes. And to Grady: hopefully the Indian of the next.

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CF Sizemore

2B Alomar

1B Thome

C Martinez

DH Hafner

3B Peralta

LF Blake

RF Choo

SS Vizquel


SP Sabathia

SP Colon

SP Lee

SP Westbrook

SP Finley


RP Wickman

RP Betancourt

RP Riske

RP Shuey

RP Karsay










Mgr Wedge

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Can't argue with most of those, but I think I'd give Fausto the edge over Chuck and Westbrook. Yeah, it was one year....but it was a hell of a year. 19 wins, Cy Young finalist. And the bug game had to be the best Tribe moment of the decade for me.

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Here's part 3, focusing on a certain hefty lefty. Click through for the full story.





The is the third entry in a series on the Indians of 2000-2009. The introductory entry can be read here, and Andrew's outstanding essay on Victor and Grady can be read here.


Just as a wildebeest will inevitably be eaten by a lion, or a hyena, or a leopard, or a cheetah, it is an almost incontrovertible rule of the baseball food chain that great players today are destined to be known and remembered as a player for the team they signed a large free agent contract with. Alex Rodriguez, Mariner? Surely you jest. Mark Teixeira, Ranger? Just a prelude to his real career. Manny Ramirez, Indian? Ancient history. The only people who will remember are the fans that watched that player break in, struggle, and finally show those first signs of greatness. And while only memories remain of CC Sabathia, Indian, those memories merit your fondness.


CC Sabathia started the 2001 season a 20-year-old raw specimen, but still good enough to throw 180 innings, and fortunate enough to have a good offense supporting him. But Sabathia's arrival coincided with the last gasp of a dynasty that had begun in 1994, and most of his development at the major-league level would have to come while pitching for bad teams. After the Indians traded Bartolo Colon in June 2002, Sabathia was the ace, but in name only. His arm was still among the best in baseball, but still had to learn to pitch, lessons normally learned by young pitchers in AA or AAA. So Sabathia, despite avoiding the major pitfall of young pitchers - injury - spent several seasons flailing about for his potential.


While he was an All-Star in both 2003 and 2004, Sabathia didn't really become a great pitcher until July 25, 2005. This was his worst start of the season, coming at the end of a string of poor performances. I can't explain why exactly this embarrassing performance in Oakland, his hometown, was the springboard into a great career, but it was after this game that Sabathia seemed to change his approach, take a couple notches off his fastball, and set up hitters in ways he hadn't done before. This approach carried over to 2006, though he missed a month early in the season. In his last start of the season, against Chicago, he shut out the White Sox on four hits, striking out 11. It was a prelude for his Cy Young season, his last full season with the Indians.


2007 was the culmination of the rebuilding process started when Colon was traded, and now the young but talented pitcher who reluctantly took Bartolo's spot at the front of the rotation was now a confident and polished young star. There were no relapses or injuries this season. Sabathia started 34 games, pitched 241.0 innings, struck out 209, and walked just 39. He became the first Indian to win a Cy Young Award in almost 30 years. The Indians made the playoffs for the first time since 2001, and came within a game of the World Series.


A summit had been reached, but instead of a level high plain, the Indians' summit was a sheer jagged peak. The team collapsed around Sabathia, and now the Indians, just having nurtured him into a star, had to figure out how to get something for him before he left. From the Indians' perspective those years of Sabathia developing into a top pitcher used up more than chronological time; it consumed precious service time, and although they had extended their allotted six seasons of control over him by two years when they signed a pre-free agent Sabathia to an extension, there would be no more extensions now. It was time for Sabathia to move on to bigger things.


Sabathia was unquestionably the pitcher of the Aughts for the Indians, leading the team in innings pitched (1528.2 IP), Games Started (237), Strikeouts (1265), and Complete Games (19). To me, he is also the representative player of the decade, in that he was the only player to bridge the gap between the 2001 and 2007 teams.* He was a starting player in seven full seasons in the decade, something no other player on this list did. Because this list is our list, subject to our whims and fancies in addition to cold statistics, Sabathia's departure, and especially who he eventually departed to, are major emotional hurdles to clear when there's Grady Sizemore, a player with just as much production and still an Indian beckoning at the top of the list. To be honest, if I was posting this a year ago, after Sabathia had just signed with the Evil Empire, I would probably have penalized him a lot more, to the point where I'd give the edge to Sizemore or even to Victor. But time and its companion perspective have done their work, and so all those starts, all those innings, and that fleeting but overwhelming success again have significance enough to place him just ahead of Grady Sizemore as my best Indian of the decade.


*Yes, Kenny Lofton played key roles on both the 2001 and 2007 teams, but he left and came back. CC pitched through those intervening years.

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