Indians' Top 5 shortstops: Bell's take

January 8th, 2021

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Mandy Bell’s ranking of the top 5 third basemen in Indians history. Next week: Left fielders.

• Indians' All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B

1. , 1938-50
Key fact: Was a player/manager for the Indians during the 1948 World Series season

MLB.com has been going through each position over the last few weeks. No race has been closer than this one. Boudreau and the No. 2 player on this list both have convincing cases to reign supreme, but the former player/manager of the Tribe is going to get the nod with an MVP Award and a World Series ring backing his case.

Of all Indians players, Boudreau places fourth in bWAR (61.6) behind Nap Lajoie (79.8), Tris Speaker (74.3) and Bob Feller (65.2), and ranks far above the second-closest shortstop, Joe Sewell (45.4). His 22.7 defensive WAR also bests all other shortstops. Among Tribe shortstops, Boudreau played the most games and has the second-most hits (1,706), doubles (367), triples (65), RBIs (740) and on-base percentage (.382).

In franchise history, the Tribe has only had three MVP Award recipients: George Burns (1926), Boudreau ('48) and Al Rosen ('53). That award-winning season for Boudreau was especially memorable because he helped lead (as a player and manager) his team to its second -- and most recent -- World Series title. He hit .355 with a .987 OPS, 18 homers, 106 RBIs, 34 doubles, six triples and just nine strikeouts in 152 games. He served as the team’s manager from '42-50 before he left for Boston in '51. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1970.

“He had terrific instincts and was a great competitor," said Feller, his fellow Hall of Fame teammate, according to Boudreau’s Hall of Fame profile page. “As a player-manager, he became so good that he went as far as calling pitches from shortstop. He was always thinking, always in the game.”

2. , 1994-2004
Key fact: Won nine of his 11 Gold Glove Awards in Cleveland

There are plenty of arguments that support Vizquel moving up a tick higher on this list. And just because Boudreau’s World Series win, MVP Award and Hall of Fame election currently have him ranked at No. 1 doesn’t mean Vizquel’s incredible career in Cleveland should be discredited.

Vizquel will forever be remembered as the Tribe’s best defensive shortstop of all time, winning Gold Glove Awards in nine straight seasons from 1993 through 2001. The three-time All-Star’s defensive WAR ranks fourth among all Indians players and second among shortstops, behind Boudreau.

"His defense was remarkable," said former teammate Sandy Alomar Jr. "Omar, he was kind of like the human GPS. He knew where to play. He knew the hitter. On the go, he'd make decisions out there. Now you position players because of all this data that we have. Omar already knew that.”

In 11 seasons with Cleveland, Vizquel hit .283 with 1,616 hits, 906 runs scored, 60 homers and 584 RBIs. He had a standout offensive year in 1999, slashing .333/.397/.436 with 42 stolen bases and a career-high 112 runs scored to earn his second All-Star selection. In his third year on the Hall of Fame ballot, he received 52.6 percent of the vote, as he continues to inch closer to the 75 percent threshold.

3. , 2015-20
Key fact: Holds record for most extra-base hits in a single season by an Indians shortstop

Lindor’s time as a member of the Tribe may have been limited to six seasons (including a pandemic-shortened 2020), but he was still fourth in defensive WAR (9.4) and fifth in overall WAR (28.7), and he's first in homers (138), slugging percentage (.488) and OPS (.833) among all Indians shortstops.

He emerged on the big league stage in 2015 and was elected to the All-Star Game in each season from 2016-19. He won two Gold Glove Awards, two Silver Slugger Awards and quickly became one of the best players in the game. From 2017-19, he recorded the third-most extra-base hits and homers in a single season (among shortstops), and he logged the second-most home runs and hits through the first five years of a career by anyone in club history with 130 and 835, respectively.

"Those things make you open your eyes and say, 'Wow, this kid has some tremendous ability out there,'" Vizquel said in 2016. "He has been exciting to watch. Ever since last year when I first got the chance to see him. It's like, 'Wow. This kid has a lot going on.'"

4. , 1920-30
Key fact: Struck out just 99 times in 11 seasons with the Tribe

Even the Indians’ fourth-ranked shortstop has arguments to be listed higher. The Tribe’s depth at the position over the years has been evident, with Sewell leading all Cleveland shortstops with 1,800 hits, 375 doubles, 868 RBIs and a .320 batting average. He spent 11 seasons of his 14-year career in Cleveland and received MVP votes in six seasons but never won. He was a part of the 1920 World Series championship team after he was called on in September to replace Ray Chapman, who died because of a baseball-related injury. In 11 Cleveland seasons, he hit under. 300 just twice and struck out only 99 times in 6,579 plate appearances. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1977.

5. Ray Chapman, 1912-20
Key fact: Most triples among shortstops in franchise history (81), sixth among all players

In nine years, Chapman collected a 29.2 WAR, which ranks fourth among Indians shortstops, and recorded the most triples of all Tribe members at his position (81). He recorded the fifth-most hits (1,053), drew the fourth-most walks (452), posted the fifth-best on-base percentage (.358) and had the ninth-highest defensive WAR (4.4). He was hitting .303 with an .803 OPS and 49 RBIs through 111 games in the thick of a pennant race on Aug. 16, 1920, when he was struck in the head by a pitch from Carl Mays. He was removed from the game and died at the hospital a day later. Sewell replaced him on the Tribe’s roster, and the team went on to win its first World Series that season.

Honorable mentions
played just under 1,100 games for the Indians throughout parts of eight seasons and ranks fourth in hits (1,272) and RBIs (530) and owns the second-best batting average among Indians shortstops (.297), trailing Sewell.

Woodie Held played seven seasons for the Tribe (1958-64) and is currently tied with Lindor for the most homers by an Indians shortstop with 130.

was selected to two All-Star Games and won a Silver Slugger Award in his eight years in Cleveland. He ranks fourth all-time in doubles (211) and homers (82) among Indians shortstops and sixth in RBIs (430) and stolen bases (69).

owns the third-most home runs of Tribe shortstops with 103 during his eight-year stint with the Indians and has the fourth-highest slugging percentage (.422).