Updated October 2015
The first ranking will be of the Indians best closers of all time. This was chosen as first mostly to put Chris Perez’s career numbers in line with the rest of the Indians closers, but also because it is a relatively new position. The earliest member of the list was made closer first in 1954, so it is definitely slanted towards the modern age with the vast majority of the pitchers listed having pitched since the mid 1980’s. This is not simply a top ten list of who has the most saves in Indians history, but is instead combining single season and career records to find out who actually was the best. There are very few closers who pitched more than one season missing from the list, but there is one conspicuous name missing. He was left off because being a closer is more than just recording saves.
10. Jim Kern – 1977-1978 (Years as closer)
Kern has the worst WHIP and second worst save completion percent of those pitchers in the list. He, along with Camacho and Olin are only listed as the Indians haven’t had 10 really great closers yet. Only two closers in the top 10 in saves have been excluded from this list due to their absolute repulsiveness while pitching the ninth. Kern is just slightly better than those other closers.
9. Steve Olin – 1991-1992
Olin has the saddest story on the list. He was primed to take over for Doug Jones as the Indians closer in the early 1990’s, but his life was cut short by a fatal boating accident with fellow reliever Tim Crews. During his short tenure as a closer, Olin racked up 48 saves in 62 opportunities with a 3.10 ERA.
8. Ray Narleski – 1954-1955, 1957
Narleski is the oldest closer on this list and the only one who pitched before save opportunities were recorded. He is included on this list as the first good pitcher used exclusively as a closing pitcher. Until he was changed into a starting pitcher in 1957 (old habits die hard) he had started just 3 games in his previous three seasons. In over 100 games during his two main closing seasons (’54-’55) Narleski struck out more than 140 batters and earned a then team record 32 saves.
7. Doug Jones – 1987-1990
Jones was the Indians first long term closer, closing in parts of five separate seasons before being replaced at the end of his career with the young fire-baller ranked at #8. He had the most save opportunities of any Indians player ever and the second most total saves. While he wasn’t the best at anything other than longevity, Jones was still an above average save artist for his entire time with the Indians and any team would be happy with the results he gave the Tribe.
6. Jose Mesa – 1995-1997
In 1995 Mesa was amazing. He allowed only 8 runs in the entire season while setting the team record with 46 saves. Disappointingly, he allowed 52 runs over his next two seasons and was replaced by a pitcher who was more consistent (and not a psycho path) who is ranked higher than Mesa on this list.
5. Cody Allen – 2014-Present
The Indians current closer has to be considered one of the greatest ever due to his extreme efficiency in converting saves and outs in general. No Indians pitcher ever can come near to matching his 11.5 K/9 rate and his 2.65 ERA is equally impressive. He has only had 71 save opportunities (some of those came as a set up man between 2012 and 2013) so he can’t compare to the top three on this list yet, but if he continues to dominate, he could easily take over the number one spot before his career ends. Of course, as closers tend to be very volatile, he could also move back down after a bad year.
4. Dave LaRoche – 1975-1976
LaRoche was the first closer to be used in consecutive seasons after Narleski did the same in the 1950’s. Major changes in closing philosophy started occurring around this time and are the reason this list is so slanted towards the present. LaRoche has the honor of holding the lowest ERA among Indians closers at 2.51. He also pitched during a particularly bad time in Indians history, so the fact that he was able to secure 42 saves over two seasons is actually spectacular.
3. Mike Jackson – 1998-1999
Here is a reason Jackson is listed ahead of Mesa. In their respective post season careers Jackson threw 20.1 innings, Mesa 28.1. In those innings Jackson gave up 4 runs and 14 hits, while Mesa allowed 11 runs and 36 hits. While Jackson was never given the chance to win a World Series, at least he didn’t lose one. Jackson’s 1998 season is undoubtedly the second best closer season in Indians history as he gave up less hits than Mesa did in 1995 and maintained an ERA of 1.55. His .895 save conversion rate is the best in Indians history.
2. Chris Perez – 2009-2013
Perez doesn’t rank as the favorite player for many Indians fans, but it is hard to deny his effectiveness over the duration of his career with the Tribe. He ranks third all time in total saves as an Indian and third in conversion percent as well. He pitched in more games and innings than the next three best closers and had a greater K/9 rate than all other pitchers considered outside of LaRoche. It may take a few years away from Cleveland for Indians fans to truly appreciate him, but he should already be considered the second best closer in team history.
1. Bob Wickman – 2001-2002, 2004-2006
Wickman was the longest tenured Indians closer and despite his rosy cheeks and tummy that shook like a bowl full of jelly, he was quite the pitcher. When measuring a closer, the first question asked should be, “did he get the job done.” Bob Wickman did 89% of the time, better than all but one Indians closer in team history. He holds the record for most saves as an Indian and he did it in less chances than the second place Jones. He will certainly be unseated as more emphasis is placed on the closer’s role, but for now, this most unexpected of heroes is considered the best Indians closer of all time.
Borderline: Ernie Camacho, Dan Spillner, Joe Heving, Danys Baez, Kerry Wood