Indians' Top 5 left-handed starters: Bell's take

June 1st, 2020

CLEVELAND – 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.

Indians' all-time best: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH | RHP

Here is Mandy Bell’s ranking of the top 5 left-handed starters in Indians history. Next week: relievers.

1) , 1961-71
Key fact: Led the American League in strikeouts per nine innings in six of 11 seasons in Cleveland (five of which led the Majors)

McDowell spent the first 11 seasons of his 15-year career in Cleveland, making his big league debut on Sept. 15, 1961, against the Twins at 18 years old. Once he became a permanent fixture in the rotation in ‘64, the left-hander went 11-6 with a 2.70 ERA in 31 games (24 starts), striking out 177 batters in 173 1/3 frames. The next season, he became a first-time All-Star, posting a 2.18 ERA in 42 games (35 starts) with an American-League leading 325 strikeouts in 273 innings.

The man known as “Sudden Sam” would go on to lead the AL in strikeouts again in ’66 (225) before recording the most in the Majors for three straight seasons in ’68 (283), ’69 (279) and ’70 (304). Of all Tribe lefty starters, McDowell owns the highest bWAR (42.5) and has the most complete games (97), shutouts (22), wins (122), innings pitched (2,109 2/3) and strikeouts (2,159).

McDowell was a six-time All-Star for the Tribe and finished third in the AL Cy Young Award voting in ’70, a year in which he led the AL with 305 innings pitched and was named Sporting News’ AL Pitcher of the Year. The lefty is one of just two pitchers in Indians history to have eclipsed 2,000 strikeouts, joining Bob Feller, who struck out 422 more batters than McDowell in 234 more appearances.

2) , 2001-08
Key fact: One of four pitchers in club history to win an AL Cy Young Award (2007)

If Sabathia gets voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, he’ll most assuredly be choosing the interlocking “NY” to put on his cap, however that doesn’t take away from what he did with the Tribe.

Sabathia, from Vallejo, Calif., was 20 years old when he first took the mound on April 8, 2001. That season, he posted a 4.39 ERA in 180 1/3 innings with 171 strikeouts and a 4.22 FIP, making him the runner-up for the American League Rookie of the Year Award. Over his seven and a half seasons with the club, he accumulated the second-highest bWAR (27.5) of all lefty starters in franchise history and trailed just McDowell in games started (237), wins (106), innings pitched (1,528) and strikeouts (1,265).

In '07, he earned the AL Cy Young Award by going 19-7 with a 3.21 ERA over a Major League-leading 241 innings with 209 strikeouts and a 1.141 WHIP.

“What I don’t think he ever got enough credit for was, you know, the athlete he was,” Indians manager Terry Francona said when Sabathia made his final stop in Cleveland with the Yankees last season. “And what I would marvel at, and still do, is how he can manipulate the ball. ... You watch him just throw, it’s so natural. … He’s been doing it for a long time. He’s not the power pitcher he used to be, but he’s got such a good touch and feel that, I think, that gets overlooked.”

3) , 2002-09
Key fact: One of four pitchers in club history to win AL Cy Young Award (2008)

Meet the third Indians pitcher to win a Cy Young Award. Gaylord Perry was the first to win the honor in 1972, Sabathia followed in 2007 and Lee took home the hardware in ’08. Corey Kluber was the fourth player to win the award in '14 and became the only Indians pitcher to win two in '17.

Lee’s Cy Young-winning efforts also earned him the Comeback Player of the Year Award after a rough '07 season that resulted in his demotion to Triple-A following a groin injury and a 6.29 ERA in 20 games (16 starts). In ’08, he pitched to an AL-best 2.54 ERA and earned a Major League-best 22 wins. He gave up just 12 home runs over 223 1/3 innings, had the best FIP (2.83) in the AL and posted the best walks per nine innings ratio (1.4) in the Majors.

Like Sabathia, Lee won the Cy Young in his final full season with the Tribe. He ended his eight-year stint in Cleveland with a 4.01 ERA and 826 strikeouts in 1,117 innings. His 16.1 bWAR ranks sixth among lefty starters, while his 83 wins rank third. His .634 win-loss percentage (83-48) trails just the No. 4 lefty starter on this list, and Lee made the fourth-most starts among left-handers in club history (178).

4) Vean Gregg, 1911-14
Key fact: Leads all Indians lefty starters in ERA (2.31)

His time in Cleveland may be shorter than anyone else on this list, but Gregg capitalized on his three-plus seasons, accumulating a 22.4 bWAR, which is third-highest among all Tribe lefties. In his rookie season for the then-Cleveland Naps, the 26-year-old posted a career-best and Major League-leading 1.80 ERA (189 ERA+) with an AL-best 1.054 WHIP, finishing 10th in the MVP voting.

In just under four full seasons, he tossed 77 complete games and 10 shutouts, which both rank fourth among lefties in club history. His 72 wins are the sixth-most among Tribe lefties, while his .667 win-loss percentage (72-36) is the best.

  1. , 1955-59
    Key fact: Owns highest strikeout percentage of all lefty starters in club history

Score is another hurler who didn’t spend much time in Cleveland, but he made sure his name would be remembered. He owns the highest strikeout percentage of all left-handed starters for the Tribe (24.4 percent), beating out McDowell’s 24.3 percent. In five seasons with the Indians, he was named to two All-Star Games and won the AL Rookie of the Year Award in 1955. In both ’55 and ’56, he led the Majors in strikeouts (245 and 263, respectively) and his 2.78 FIP was the best in the game in his second season in the big leagues.

Honorable mentions

Greg Swindell posted the fourth-best bWAR (16.5) among Tribe lefties and recorded the fourth-most strikeouts (777). In seven seasons with Cleveland, Swindell owned a 3.86 ERA and a 3.46 FIP, while averaging two walks per nine innings.

played in eight and a half seasons with the Indians, pitching to a 4.18 ERA and the fifth-most wins (74) among Tribe lefties. He made the third-most starts (187), tossed the fourth-most shutouts (10), pitched the fifth-most innings (1,276) and struck out the seventh-most batters (566).

• Jake Miller earned the fifth-best bWAR of all Tribe lefties (16.4) from 1924-31. He finished his eight years in Cleveland with a 3.92 ERA and a 3.95 FIP, while averaging 2.7 walks per nine innings.