The last time a Cleveland Indian won the Most valuable Player award was 1953, when Al Rosen won it going away. He hit .336/.422/.613 with 43 home runs, earned 10.1 WAR and received every single first place vote. Since then the only superlatives the Cleveland players have earned have been Cy Youngs, Gold Gloves, and Silver Sluggers.
Whether through lack of talent, bad luck, bias press (and surly players) or Mike Trout, Cleveland players have repeatedly been the bridesmaid, never the bride. Even this decade they've had 11 players get at least a vote somewhere, including a couple top 10 finishes. Here those vote getters' seasons are, ranked.
11. 2015 Michael Brantley - .310/.379/.480, 3.4 WAR, 28th place
Brantley had a great follow-up year to his incredible breakout, but this was as much buoyed by name recognition as it was his actual performance. He was probably the third or fourth best player on his own team. He did lead baseball in doubles, giving him back to back 45 two-bagger seasons, but the power drop off and getting hurt when he ran into a wall in September taxed him, thus placing him in this least illustrious of places.
10. 2011 Asdrubal Cabrera - .273/.332/.460, 5.0 WAR, 20th place
A lot of false hope came from this team, from Matt LaPorta morphing from powerful prospect to the living embodiment of replacement level, to Grady Sizemore flirting with a comeback, to Justin Masterson's false breakout and a couple dances with .500. Amid all that, Cabrera was very good, experiencing a sudden and incredible power spike that nobody expected. He also made beautiful defensive music for a time with Orlando Cabrera at the keystone. He helped make the Indians watchable in what became an interminable season as they ground towards October and the Tigers ran away with the division. But he did allow for a dream of brighter days, even if he wasn't involved.
9. 2013 Carlos Santana - .268/.377/.455, 4.2 WAR, 25th place
The first appearance of a playoff participant on the list, though you'd think it'd be higher. Perhaps because the expectation out of Santana at that point was to be Victor Martinez Mk. 2, and now we expect more power from him, it's hard to rate him higher. He suffers from his own success. That, along with the fact he's simply not as good as the guys higher on the list. His votes came because he was a power-hitting catcher, even if he was bad at catching. He was actually worth negative 1.2 defensive wins according to Baseball-Reference, worse than the negative 1.1 he was this year when he was mostly a DH and merely experienced that position's adjustment in the rating. So he was real bad when the bat wasn't in his hand. While it was a nice portent, he was just misused.
8. 2016 Jose Ramirez - .312/.363/.462, 3.9 WAR, 17th place
I desperately wanted to rank him higher on this list because he was awesome. But there's simply better players that received votes. Ramirez was still excellent in 2016, especially his incredible timeliness at the plate. He hit .366/.423/.521 with men in scoring position with two outs, .301/.370/.479 in Late and Close games(7th inning or later with it a one run or less game) and .363/.413/.540 in all high leverage situations. Just imagine the RBI numbers he'd have had if Mike Napoli hadn't cratered horribly in the middle of August. Showing up in big moments gets you votes. He just didn't have quite the flash, prospect pedigree or consistent playing time all year as one of his teammates, also on this list. For the combination skill award/popularity contest the MVP is, especially with votes down ballot, Ramirez suffered.
7. 2015 Jason Kipnis - .303/.372/.451, 4.6 WAR, 16th place
I bet that two month stretch where he hit .397/.480/.607 is what got Kipnis noticed. Of course it did though, it was amazing and he was generally excellent and it helped him hit over .300 for the season. He did hit .270ish the rest of the season. Even with that streak though, he was still very good. Having a second baseman with punch that can work the ball around the field will always help, even if it only means 16th place. He improved defensively and hit consistently. He just set a high precedent for himself in that two month stretch. The Indians were in contention and Kipnis was at the heart of it, and that earns him at least a 7th place ranking. Plus he was handed the leadoff role and flourished. It was excellent.
6. 2010 Shin-Soo Choo - .300/.401/.484, 5.9 WAR, 14th place
Choo was the lone bright spot on a miserably bad team. There's something about a 93-loss team that is just dreadful, almost more so than a 100-loss team. Like they were merely crappy instead of truly, commitingly awful. I am not a fan of equivocation, so merely bad isn’t enough for me. This was also the year Carlos Santana hurt his knee in Boston. It wasn’t a lot of fun. But Choo was incredible. Only Michael Brantley has had a better offensive season judged by OPS+. He out-hit designated hitter Travis Hafner, 147 OPS+ to Pronk's 130, he led the team in home runs and he flashed that incredible cannon on his shoulder whenever possible. The right field assist is one of the prettiest plays in baseball. By WAR he was actually right behind second-place finisher Miguel Cabrera's 6.4, but losing 93 games can hurt you. I am surprised he got as many votes as he did, but that’s the voters for you. That they even noticed an Indian is impressive.
5. 2013 Jason Kipnis - .284/.366/.452, 5.7 WAR, 11th place
The first repeat offender on this list, and a much more well-rounded outing from Kipnis. He wasn't quite as effective defensively in 2015, whereas he was definitely a positive here. The first of two years that makes that 2014 disappointment of a campaign such a travesty, because it still affects his ZiPS and PECOTA projections. Which is probably better since he continues to be underestimated. it gives him a fake chip to wear on his shoulder if he wants. This was his best offensive season, even with 2016's 23 home runs. Since everyone was hitting homers last year, his league-comparing OPS+ was much lower. He was the best player on this playoff team, and it's proven to not be a ruse. This was one of my favorite player seasons.
4. 2016 Corey Kluber - 215 IP, 3.15 ERA, 227 K, 6.5 WAR, 19th place
Amid the chaos of the starting rotation in 2016, the steady rock that was Corey Kluber was everything the Indians needed. He got Cy Young votes, he was amazing in the postseason (doesn't really count in awards voting, but whatever. It’s my list.) and he got better as the season wore on. In the second half he held a 2.61 ERA and averaged nearly seven innings a start. That allowed Andrew Miller, Cody Allen and Bryan Shaw to do their work. If not for a bunk start or two late in September he would have had that Cy Young. With all the excellence offensively, Kluber was pretty much the key to the Tribe season. Well, almost.
3. 2016 Francisco Lindor - 301/.358/.435, 5.7 WAR, 9th place
That almost is because of this man. A 21-year old probably shouldn't be the most important player on a league champion, but Francisco Lindor wasn’t just some 21-year old. He made the entire infield defense better, which made the pitching more confident, which meant less pressure on the offense. Plus he batted cleanup and excelled. PLUS he was entertaining as hell. I'd have put him first if not for the overall better performance of the guys above him. If he develops a real power stroke, talking 20+ homers, he's going to flirt with MVP's in a real sense. Well, non-Trout MVP's, but that's all we can hope for anymore.
2. 2014 Michael Brantley - .327/.358/.506, 6.8 WAR, 3rd place
The breakout of breakouts. One of them on this list anyway. When you're ultimate average hitter becomes one of the best in the game, and in such an aesthetically pleasing way, you just have to take notice. Maybe it's a little frustrating that he's faced such struggles this past year because we know what he CAN do, but he was excellent this whole season.
1. 2014 Corey Kluber - 235.2 IP, 2.44 ERA, 269 K, 7.4 WAR, Cy Young winner, 11th Place
This is the other breakout. One of the loudest Cleveland has ever heard. Like with Brantley, KLuber's shocking arc of going from the most average player to dominating was stunning and totally unexpected. It just kept happening all year, too, he never let up. While that season did end in disappointment, it was Kluber, not Justin Masterson as was expected, that led a rotation rich with youth and inexperience. That team was very inconsistent, but Kluber was stone solid, and has held that true for years on. He's probably the best Indians player of this decade, and he's definitely deserving of being the top here. In the future, Lindor has every chance to take the top spot, but for the last few years Kluber has been the Indians' most MVP-y MVP.