The Cleveland Indians are sending five men to Miami to represent the team in the All-Star Game, and a generally warm, happy feeling imbues the fanbase. The recent losses to the San Diego Padres and general less than perfect performance nothwithstanding, this is the summation of a slog through the wilderness earlier in the decade.
The men representing the Tribe — Jose Ramiez, Corey Kluber, Francisco Lindor, Andrew Miller and Michael Brantley — aren't just warm bodies or required representatives. These are great players, true stars of the game. Starters in the All-Star Game, even.
They're wonderful baseball players.
It wasn't always this way. Since Major League Baseball demands all teams are represented, some real stinkers were laid by the Tribe. Let's take a look back at the worst the Indians have had to offer so far this millennium. After all, it's important to remember where you came from.
The worst position player All-Star of the new millennium: Matt Lawton, 2004
I'll be honest, I forgot this guy was even on the team, or a baseball player in the Major Leagues in general. It's not as though he was overly terrible, hitting .277/.361/.421, which was good for a 111 wRC+. Historically he’s important as the progenitor of the Indians' post-Manny tradition of low power corner outfielders, one that that carries on to this day.
Lawton used the classic tactic of having an immense first half to earn his way to the All-Star Game, hitting .305/.377/.474 and launching 15 of his season's 20 home runs in the first half. What a tease, huh?
I wasn't able to find any information as to an injury or anything like that, but his second half production cratered, amounting to five home runs and a .248/.352/.396 slash line. His BABIP dropped from .329 to .248, but his batted ball profile held similar.
The grounder to fly ball ratio was 1.52 in the first half, 1.47 in the second, he didn't start pulling more or less, and was hitting the ball just as hard. He just was worse. It's kind of a mark of excellence that the Indians' worst position player to represent them in the All-Star game since 2000 is a 32-year old who was still worth 1.3 WAR, and did have an admittedly All-Star caliber first half. Plus the coat tails of CC Sabathia and Victor Martinez and being on a fringe-y team might have helped.
Lawton is all but forgotten in the mists of time, but he had a good career and a decent first three or so months of 2004. You could do worse. The Indians did.
The worst starting pitcher All-Star of the new millennium: Roberto Hernandez, 2010
We all knew this was coming. As said before, somebody had to represent Cleveland in 2010. That team stunk. They still scraped together 70 wins somehow despite playing some of the most uninspired baseball in recent memory.
There were glimmers of the future that season, with Carlos Santana and Michael Brantley both debuting, and a lone bright spot in Shin-Soo Choo. That's the real trouble here, is that Choo had probably his best season as he hit .300/.401/.484 with 31 doubles and 22 home runs, earned 5.3 WAR and was pretty much the only reason to watch the Indians in 2010. He got ousted in favor of Ichiro Suzuki (fair, he's dope), Josh Hamilton (when he was a god), and Carl Crawford, who, admittedly, was excellent that year too. But Nick Swisher? That's ridiculous.
Meanwhile Hernandez, the Opening Day starter and possessor of a 4.05 FIP, 11.6 percent strikeout rate and 8.6 percent walk rate in the first half, was first among dreck in the Indians' rotation. He was the only above-average starter on the team, and barely even that. It makes no sense — why not a reliever in his place? Raphael Perez was alright that year, and the game did Matter at that point. Or Choo, who in that one season nearly matched Hernandez's entire career WAR output?
It's the weirdest All-Star choice I've seen in a long time, driven mainly by "name recognition" and I guess every other pitcher not being able to go? He didn't even pitch.
What a waste.
The worst relief pitcher All-Star of the new millennium: Chris Perez, 2011-12
No list of players that received undue acclaim would be complete without the former don of the Bullpen Mafia. Those days seem like so long ago now.
Perez was actually pretty good in 2010, though the 1.71 ERA belies a 3.54 FIP and 4.13 xFIP, and the 23.4 percent strikeout rate is dragged down a bit by the 10 percent walk rate. But he stranded 86.1 percent of runners, so he seemed like he had the cold-bloodedness a great closer is known for.
All that surface goodness in 2012 lifted his stature the following two seasons enough to be one of two Tribe representatives in the Mid-Summer Classic, joining Asdrubal Cabrera each year. But in 2011 Perez lost his ability to get strikeouts, with his strikeout rate falling to 15.7 percent, though he did have a 2.43 ERA going into the break. Just, you know, ignore the .223 BABIP. He was just terrible in the second half, and that carried over into 2012. That was actually a kind of odd year — he struck out 24.7 percent of hitters, walked a career low 6.6, and owned a decent 9.1 HR/FB ratio. But his 3.59 ERA was the highest it had been as an Indian. He did log a career best 3.34 FIP though, that’s something. He was probably more deserving that season, but it still is a little amazing he got on the team. Was there literally no other good choice? People knew who he was, but he was still on a mediocre team in a small market.
Every team goes through these eras of forgettable All-Stars. I literally did forget about Lawton. This year with guys like Brad Hand for San Diego, maybe Brandon Kintzler from Minnesota or Jason Vargas in Kansas City or Justin Smoak from Toronto, there’s a good chance you could look back in a few years at the 2017 rosters and be confused.
Not all All-Stars are created equal, and the Indians have shaken off the doldrums of the last 17 years to present some legit stars to the world. But some things are indelible, particularly the era around 2010. Yeesh.