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The best Cleveland Indians of the last thirty years (#10-6)

Today's entry includes the Tribe's best pitchers of the last three decades...

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This post is a continuation of my countdown of the 30 best Indians of the last 30 years, a list I'm doing because that's how long I've been a fan of baseball in general, and the Tribe in particular. Basically, this series is a way for me to gaze at my navel for a bit, while also giving you all something to weigh in on. This series is a companion to a more involved countdown I'm doing at Ground Ball With Eyes, counting down the 30 best MLB players of the last 30 years. What I've done so far for that project can be found here.

Other entries in this series:

Alright, on to this week's entry, with the next five players in the countdown... (I've also included a link to each applicable player's post in LGT's fantastic Top 100 Indians series, which was created prior to the 2012 season.)

10) Bartolo Colon (#42 in LGT top 100)

If a time traveler had come from 2016 and told me in 2002, when Colon was sent to Montreal in the greatest Indians trade of my lifetime, that he would still be an active MLB pitcher 14 seasons later, I'd have wondered why of all the things they could tell me, they chose the playing status of a somewhat portly right-handed pitcher. Colon made the All-Star team in his first full Major League season, in 1998, but my first real memory is from the end of that year, when he pitched a complete game to beat the Yankees in Game 3 of the ALCS, and it seemed like the Tribe might beat that juggernaut and return to the World Series. (They didn't.) That was the first of four-and-a-half very good seasons for Bart with the Tribe, which included a 4th place Cy Young finish in 1999 and one of just two Opening Day Madduxes on record.

9) Travis Hafner (#33 in LGT top 100)

The great Tribe teams of the 90s and early 00s had a ton of great power hitters, but Hafner arrived (via a trade with Texas) shortly after that run ended, playing his first game for the Indians in 2003. In the years since then, Hafner is the only great power hitter the team has had. His 200 home runs with the Tribe during that time are by far the most of anyone for the team, and his 238 doubles lead the way as well. Pronk's career was slowed by injuries, so his peak did not last long enough for him to be considered an all-time great, but from 2004 to 2006, Hafner hit better than most Hall of Famers ever do. His batting line for those years was .308/.419/.611. His OPS+ was at least 160 each of those seasons; Nap Lajoie and Joe Jackson are the only other players with three consecutive seasons like that for the Indians. My friend Zak is a big White Sox fan, and we used to make goofy bets about who would do better, Hafner or Paul Konerko. Hafner kept me well supplied with Slurpees and Star Wars memorabilia.

8) Omar Vizquel (#29 in LGT top 100)

Vizquel provided the Indians with similar value to Hafner over the course of his time with the team, but I'm not sure you could find two position players who provided their value more differently. Vizquel was allowed to bat second for some of the greatest offenses in baseball history, but he was not a good hitter. The man could play defense though. He won eight Gold Gloves with the Tribe, and made more excellent plays than any of us could possibly remember. He also played in an Indians uniform more times than anyone else in my first 30 years of fandom, and while he had next to no power, his extended defensive excellence made him a valuable player long enough for him to collect 1616 hits with the Tribe, also the most of any player in the last three decades.

7) Charles Nagy (#40 in LGT top 100)

Nagy spent all but 12.1 innings of his career with the Indians, which is the closest there's been to a career Indians over the last three decades. His single best season wasn't quite as good as those of the other pitchers on this list, but he leads the team in starts (297), innings (1942.1), and wins (129) with the Indians during that span. He had seven seasons as a better than average pitcher for the team, while only one other pitcher had more than four, and he's the only starter to post an ERA+ of 130 or better three different times for the Tribe in the last 30 years. I often hear him spoken of as an innings eater or a workhorse, but not someone who displayed greatness. That's a shame, because Nagy was better than that.

6) CC Sabathia (#25 in LGT top 100)

We've come somewhat accustomed to Indians winning the Cy Young, but it hadn't happened for 35 years when Sabathia took home the hardware in 2007. Sabathia combined the peak-season excellence of Kluber or Lee with something close to the longevity of Nagy. (Sabathia ranks second in starts and innings pitched for the Indians during the last three decades.) Sabathia debuted at the age of 20 and would have won the American League Rookie of the Year Award if Japanese superstar Ichirco Suzuki hadn't arrived stateside that same season. Sabathia averaged more than 200 innings during his seven full seasons with the Tribe, never going fewer than 180, and never posted a below average ERA. His was big, he often wore his pants baggy and his hat at an angle, and he could hit (a .300/.317/.475 batting line with the Indians, good for an OPS+ of 107; he also hit 2 of the 5 home runs Tribe pitchers have had since the creation of the DH), which is to say that aside from pitching really well, he was really fun to watch.

Next week, the top five...