Best Single Season Indians Lineup


Jul 13, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; Home plate umpire Brian O

Which Single Season Performances Provide Best Indians Lineup?

Sometimes in the process of coming up with ideas for this site I will occasionally stumble upon features from other writers that I just can’t get enough of. This is one of those times and the idea is so good that I wish I had been the one to come up with it. But alas, I was not. Instead, I can only praise the writer for his work and proceed to break it down, critique it, and explain what I would have done differently.

The feature article in question comes to us courtesy of Mike Axisa over at CBS Sports. In his article, which was posted on Monday, Axisa attempts to put together the ultimate lineup for the Cleveland Indians based on the best single season performances for players at each position. It’s a fun idea and, like I said, one I absolutely love. Major kudos to Axisa for taking the time to sift through a massive amount of data in order to determine what he believed to be the best possible Indians lineup.

So what exactly did Axisa come up with? Well, take a look for yourselves.

  1. 1912 Shoeless Joe Jackson, RF
  2. 1916 Tris Speaker, CF
  3. 1995 Albert Belle, LF
  4. 2002 Jim Thome, 1B
  5. 1953 Al Rosen, 3B
  6. 2006 Travis Hafner, DH
  7. 1904 Nap Lajoie, 2B
  8. 1948 Lou Boudreau, SS
  9. 1961 John Romano, C

With the lineup above, Axisa projects that the Indians would have scored 8.13 runs per game and easily surpass the 1,009 runs scored by the 1999 Indians. It’s a solid lineup and one that is hard to argue against. The greater majority of those players are among some of the best to ever wear an Indians uniform. But, what fun would it be if everyone just agreed on this being the best possible lineup that could be put together? Is there a better combination that should have been considered? I think you can make the case.

First though, we have to point out that some of the above choices are no brainers that don’t deserve a second look. For instance, 1995 Albert Belle, 2002 Jim Thome, 1953 AL Rosen, 2006 Travis Hafner, ans 1948 Lou Boudreau far surpass the performances of any other Indian at those given positions. That leaves half of this lineup that could be debated.

Let’s start with right field. Axisa is fair in selecting Shoeless Joe’s 1912 season. He was a great player and his .395/.458/.579 with a 9.6 WAR was impressive. However, Manny Ramirez‘s 1999 and 2000 seasons were almost a statistical anomalies.

It’s tempting to take 1999 Ramirez given the counting number he produced. But, in 2000 Ramirez was even better. He came close to matching his number from the previous season in almost 30 fewer games and 100 fewer plate appearances. Had Ramirez played in 150 games, what might he have done? I don’t know, but For my money, 2000 Manny Ramirez should be the pick for right field.

Next up is center field. Obviously, the other option for this exercise is some season by Kenny Lofton. Looking at Lofton’s peak with the Indians, the obvious choice is somewhere between 1992 and 1996. It was during those seasons that Lofton established himself as one of the best center fielders in Indians history.

Clearly, 1994 Lofton was the most superior version of Kenny Lofton, His .349/.412/.536 slash line was insane. It’s just a shame that his season was cut short by the players’ strike. Had Lofton been able to finish the second half of the season, just how good would he have been? Unfortunately, Speaker’s .470 OBP is too much to ignore. While Lofton hit for more power, .536 SLG to .502 SLG, the name of the game is getting on base. Getting on base means more chance to score runs. In this instance, I’m inclined to agree with the selection of Speaker despite the 80 year difference between when the two men played.

Now, with all apologies to Nap Lajoie, this is one selection I can not agree with at all. Lajoie had a great season in 1904, one of the all-time best even. But, it was 1904 and the Indians weren’t even the Indians just yet. On top of that, while Lajoie’s 1904 season was phenomenal in its own right, .376/.413/.546 with an OPS+ of 203 and 8.6 WAR, how do you ignore 2001 Roberto Alomar?

With a .336/.415/.541 slash line and OPS+ of 150 and 7.3 WAR in 2001, Alomar had one of the greatest seasons we have ever seen out of a second baseman. And that’s not just for the Indians. We’re talking about greatest seasons ever. On top of that, he did that against competition that was far more superior than that of Lajoie. Again, nothing against Lajoie and his 1904 season, but not selecting Roberto Alomar just seems wrong in this instance.

Finally, there is the selection of the 1961 version of John Romano as the starting catcher in this mythical lineup. A .299/.377/.483 slash line is impressive. The 29 doubles, 21 homers, and 80 RBI also provide a nice bit of added evidence in favor of Romano.

However, catcher is one of the positions where the Indians have been fruitful offensively over the years. Axisa presents several of them as possible alternates to Romano. His list includes 1920 and 1922 Steve O’Neill, 1970 Ray Fosse, 2005 Victor Martinez and 2013 Carlos Santana.

But, and this is a big but, Axisa overlooks one of the best and most memorable seasons by an Indians catcher. In 1997, Sandy Alomar put together one of the finest offensive seasons by any Indians catcher ever. His slash line of .324/.354/.545 slash line, 128 OPS+, and 21 home runs to go along with 83 RBI were almost magical. Anytime the Indians needed a big hit, Alomar came through in the clutch. It was his performance that helped lead the team to within three outs of winning the World Series that season. He has to be the pick for starting catcher.

So how does my final lineup look on paper? Well, it looks a little something like this:

  1. 1916 Tris Speaker, CF
  2. 2001 Roberto Alomar, 2B
  3. 2000 Manny Ramirez, RF
  4. 1995 Albert Belle, LF
  5. 2002 Jim Thome, 1B
  6. 2006 Travis Hafner, DH
  7. 1997 Sandy Alomar, C
  8. 1953 Al Rosen, 3B
  9. 1948 Lou Boudreau, SS

The end result of this lineup, as predicted by Baseball Musings’ lineup analysis, the same system used by Axisa for the analysis of his lineup, a whopping 8.297 runs per game compared to the 8.13 runs per game produced by Axisa’s lineup. Over the course of a 162 game season, that translates to 1,344 total runs or an additional 27 runs scored. That’s a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

That said, where do you come out on this? Do you agree with Mike Axisa’s assessment of the Indians single best season lineup and his heavy use of old-time players, or do you fall more in line with my lineup which relies more on players from the past 20 years? Let us know via email,, or on Twitter, @wahoosonfirst and @WahoosBrian.

And once again, major credit to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports. I thoroughly enjoyed reading his article and learning the logic behind his lineup. It’s a great conversation starter and a topic that really made me think.