Guardians' Top 5 righty starters: Bell's take

November 23rd, 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.

Here is Mandy Bell’s ranking of the top five right-handed starters in Guardians history. Next week: Left-handed starters.

Tribe's Top 5: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF | CF | RF | DH

1. Bob Feller (1936-41, '45-56)
Key fact: Guardians’ all-time leader in bWAR among all starting pitchers

Despite the number of outstanding right-handers that have donned an Guardians uniform, Feller stands out from the rest. The Hall of Famer cracked into the big leagues at 17 years old and was named to his first All-Star Game when he was 19. He gave up four prime years of his career to serve in World War II after proving to be one of the best pitchers in the game over the three seasons leading up to his departure.

In 1939, the man nicknamed “Rapid Robert” for his devastating fastball led the American League in innings pitched (296 2/3), complete games (24) and wins (24), and he posted an AL-leading 246 strikeouts. He returned in 1940 and ’41 to lead the Majors in wins, starts, innings pitched and strikeouts while finishing in the top three in AL MVP Award voting each season.

“It wasn't until you hit against him that you knew how fast he really was,” Hall of Famer Ted Lyons was quoted saying on Feller’s Hall of Fame profile. “Until you saw with your own eyes that ball jumping at you.”

Feller is the Guardians' all-time leader in wins (266), strikeouts (2,581), starts (484), complete games (279) and innings (3,827). He led the AL in wins six times and strikeouts seven times. The righty set club single-season records for strikeouts (348), innings (371 1/3), shutouts (10) and complete games (36) in 1946. He pitched a franchise-record three no-hitters, 12 one-hitters and was a first-ballot Hall of Famer by an overwhelming margin in 1962.

2. Addie Joss (1902-10)
Key fact: Holds MLB’s all-time career WHIP record

Who knows just how long Joss would’ve dominated on the mound if he didn’t die at the age of 31 due to tuberculous meningitis. He was dominant in nine seasons with Cleveland, setting the club record for ERA (1.16) in a single season in 1908, and he's the Tribe’s all-time leader in ERA (1.89, second lowest in MLB history) and shutouts (45).

From 1905-08, Joss had four 20-win seasons, leading the Majors in ’07 with 27. The Hall of Famer tossed a perfect game on October 2, 1908, against the White Sox in the heat of a pennant race, and threw a no-hitter against the White Sox again in '10. Joss led the Majors twice in WHIP (1903, ’08) and owns MLB’s all-time record in career WHIP (0.968).

“Joss sort of hid the ball on you,” Hall of Famer Bobby Wallace said, according to Joss’ Hall of Fame profile. “One moment, you’d be squinting at a long, graceful windup, and the next instant, out of nowhere, the ball was hopping across the plate -- and a lot of us standing flat-footed with our bat glued to our shoulders.”

3. Bob Lemon (1946-58)
Key fact: Elected to the Hall of Fame as a pitcher after beginning his career as a position player

It’s hard to believe that someone who didn’t start his career as a pitcher could end up being one of the best hurlers in Guardians history. While serving in the military during World War II, Lemon pitched in service games and caught the attention of a few other big leaguers who had also enlisted. When he returned to the Guardians in 1946, he attempted to make the transition from infield to outfield, but he eventually took the rubber after word spread about his pitching ability. The rest, as they say, is history.

Lemon tossed a no-hitter during the Tribe’s World Series championship season of 1948, led the AL in wins three times and is third in club wins (207), starts (350) and innings pitched (2,850). In Game 2 of the ’48 World Series, Lemon threw a complete game, allowing one unearned run in a 4-1 victory. He then got the win in the clinching Game 6 after tossing 7 1/3 frames and allowing three runs on eight hits. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1976.

4. Corey Kluber (2011-19)
Key fact: Only two-time AL Cy Young Award winner in team history

From 2014-18, Kluber finished in the top three in AL Cy Young Award balloting four times, winning in both ’14 and ’17. In that five-year span, he had the fourth-best ERA in the Majors (2.85), the third-highest fWAR (30.3), the second-most innings pitched (1,091 1/3, most in the AL) and the third-most strikeouts (1,228). He also tossed 17 complete games and seven shutouts in that stretch while averaging 10.1 strikeouts with only 1.8 walks per nine innings. His 1,461 strikeouts and 27.7-percent strikeout rate rank second in club history among righties with at least 100 appearances.

“I think we had a chance to see Corey grow into one of the best pitchers in the American League,” Guardians president of baseball operations Chris Antonetti said when Kluber was traded this past December. “He went from an unheralded prospect when we acquired him and through a tremendous amount of hard work and dedication, he turned himself into one of the best pitchers in the American League.”

5. Early Wynn (1949-57, '63)
Key fact: Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1972

During the 1950s, no AL pitcher earned more wins than Wynn’s 188. Of his 300 big league wins in his 23-year career, 164 of them came with the Guardians, including four 20-win seasons. He led the club in innings pitched and strikeouts five times each and ranks fifth in wins among right-handed Tribe hurlers.

Wynn is tied with Lemon for the third-most strikeouts in club history (1,277), and his 36.1 bWAR is sixth highest among righties. He was a three-time All-Star with the Tribe and finished his 10-year career in Cleveland with a 3.24 ERA.

Honorable mentions
Stan Coveleski (1916-24) was one of the best spitballers the game had ever seen. The depth of the Guardians’ right-handed starters is proven by Coveleski sitting in the honorable mentions section. The Hall of Famer is second in bWAR among Tribe pitchers (56.7) and finished his nine years in Cleveland with a 2.80 ERA, 856 strikeouts and a 1.251 WHIP in 360 games (305 starts).

Mel Harder (1928-47) is the only player in franchise history to spend 20 seasons in Cleveland. Throughout his long tenure, he racked up the third-highest bWAR among pitchers (48.5). Harder was a four-time All-Star and won the ERA title in 1933 with a 2.95 ERA. He earned 223 wins with the Tribe and finished his long career with a 3.80 ERA before becoming the club’s pitching coach.

Gaylord Perry (1972-75) spent parts of four seasons of his 22-year career with the Tribe. From 1972-74, the righty led the AL in complete games twice, led the AL in wins once, was selected to two All-Star Games, won an AL Cy Young Award and collected a handful of MVP votes in each season.