As you may have noticed if you read the site regularly, I like to make lists. As a separate part of the All-Time Indians section of the site I will be adding position by position rankings of the top ten Indians of all time. Rather than writing individual bios for each player on this page, each name will be linked to the bio I have already written for them, assuming they have one. As I write more complete bios, I will link them to and from this page so you can navigate easily through the historical part of Burning River Baseball. There will be 17 overall lists (CP, LF, 3B, LHRP, DH, 2B, Managers, RHRP, RF, C, SP, SS, CF, 1B, Ace) and they will be released occasionally over the course of the next year. There will also be a top ten ranking for hitters and pitchers who played in Cleveland before they became an American League team.
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. Ernie Camacho – 44 (Saves) – 1984, 1986 (Years used as primary closing pitcher)
Camacho only closed two seasons for the Tribe, but did a fantastic job, especially in the first year when he had an ERA of 2.43 and 23 saves. He finished his time with the Tribe with 44 saves and a 3.67 ERA.
9. Jim Kern - 46 – 1977-1978
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.
8. Steve Olin – 48 – 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.
7. Ray Narleski – 53 – 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.
6. Doug Jones – 129 – 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.
5. Jose Mesa – 104 – 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.
4. Dave LaRoche – 42 – 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 – 94 – 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 – 124 - 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 – 139 – 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 closers role, but for now, this most unexpected of heroes is considered the best Indians closer of all time.
Borderline: Dan Spillner, Joe Heving, Danys Baez, Kerry Wood, Joe Borowski