Cleveland Sports Life Boat – Cleveland Indians Starting Pitchers

Indians Pitcher Life Boat

Indians Pitcher Life Boat

I am a huge fan of the Ron and Fez show on Sirius XM Satellite radio. They do a bit on the radio called life boat, and I’m borrowing it for Cleveland sports. Here’s how it works. There are four people and only three seats remaining on the life boat. You must work your way through the list of candidates and, unfortunately, someone is designated to try their hand at long-distance swimming.

A couple rules.

1. You MUST pick three people to ride in the boat. “Let them all drown!” isn’t an interesting answer and frankly, you’re not funny. It’s been done, so skip it.

2. Don’t use an overly silly premise for your answer. Life boat is a silly enough premise where you aren’t going to “wow” anyone with your take that you should “keep the fatter guy because at least when we turn to cannibalism, we’ll have someone tasty to eat!”

So, this Cleveland sports life boat is Indians starting pitchers. The candidates are:

Charles Nagy, C.C. Sabathia, Bartolo Colon, and Cliff Lee

I asked Scott Raab his opinion on this question. It’s at the end of our podcast today. Make sure you listen in.

Craig – This one seems difficult at first, but once I talked it through it wasn’t hard at all. C.C. Sabathia is safe. Cy Young award winner who made his bones as an Indian. Yes he plays for the Yankees now, but whatever. The Indians traded him to Milwaukee and it was the right move at the time.1 Cliff Lee also won a Cy Young award and is responsible for some of the greatest pitching performances of my lifetime. I can always get it down to a choice between two.

Charlie Nagy and Bartolo Colon should be easy. Colon was a superior pitcher. In the end though, my heart says I can’t not save Charlie Nagy. He was never the most dominant pitcher like any of the other guys on this list, but Bartolo Colon always seemed like a mercenary. Yes, he was effective, but he was a difficult guy in terms of earning fan buy-in.

Rick – Charlie Nagy was on the leading edge of the Indians’ rise to prominence in the 90’s. He and Sandy Alomar Jr. were the first two ‘stars’ from that group. It’s funny to think of Charlie as a star though, because of his quiet and unassuming nature. He was an all-star 3 times. He had a streak of 192 consecutive starts. Though he may not have had a truly dominant pitch, or struck out a ton of hitters like the others on this list, he gets my first seat. Let’s face it- he never should have been in that situation in Game 7 of the ’97 series. Can’t really blame him.
Sabathia gets a seat. He was just too good for too long with the Tribe. No question he struggled in the post season in big games. But so did a lot of players. Runner-up for ROY. 3 All-Star games and Cleveland’s first Cy Young since Gaylord Perry in 1972. Over 1200 strikeouts.

That means I have to choose between Cliff Lee and Bartolo Colon. Of the 4 guys on this list, Lee had the highest winning percentage. Colon follows. You can’t mention Colon without thinking of the trade that netted the Indians Brandon Philips, Grady Sizemore and one Cliff Lee. Lee of course won the CY Young immediately following Sabathia, leading the league in ERA and winning 22 games. In 2008. In 2007 Lee was a complete mess and ended up being left off the post-season roster. You would have to imagine that if Lee was half as dominant in ’07 as he was in ’08 the Indians would have won it all. I’m keeping Bartolo. My boat, my rules.

TD – this is a very tough call. Extremely. CC and Cliff Lee both won Cy Young awards as members of the Tribe. In 2005, people forget that as the fourth starter, Cliff won 18 games. You could say that Cliff not finding himself in 2007 after his injury cost the Tribe a World Series title considering hos good he was in 2008, but still, any guy who wins a Cy Young award in Cleveland gets saved. Sabathia was a rock and then eventually an ace of the staff. As a rookie he won 17 games at age 20. In eight years in Cleveland, he was never hurt and won 106 games. That narrows it down to Nagy and Colon.

Colon and Nagy both were the beneficiaries of some great Tribe offenses. Nagy made his bones with those early to late 90s clubs, Colon’s first big year was 98 and was traded in 2002 in the midst of a 20-win season. His career ERA in Cleveland was 3.92 and struck out 7.6 per nine innings. He also never missed a start in his five year run as a rotation regular. He was a power pitcher and an ace of the staff by the time he was dealt. Nagy was more of a number three guy, rock solid and consistent innings eater. He won 129 games in 13 years, but won 15 or more games six times. Wins are often an  overrated stat, and that is why I was never a huge Nagy guy. In three years, he had a sub four ERA just three times. In 98 and 99 his ERA’s were 5.22 and 4.95 despite winning 15 and 17 games respectively.

Here is why I am saving Colon: Having him as a trade chip brought the Indians perhaps the biggest heist in baseball history – Colon and Tim Drew for Brandon Phillips, Grady Sizemore, Lee, and Lee Stevens. On top of that, Nagy allowed the hit that lost the World Series in 1997.

Kirk – Right or wrong, this is an easy one for me. You can point to extended success, but I look at three of these guys leading rotations during various Tribe heydays. Sabathia was probably the greatest, and Nagy was a part of the most success. Even in trading Colon, we came away with a king’s ransom of prospects. Cliff Lee to me will always be remembered as the guy who came around a year late to help us win the 2007 World Series. His surly demeanor doesn’t measure up either when lined up against guys like Nagy and C.C. Bye, bye, Cliff… one phenomenal year, two good not great years, and two rotten years does not a lifeboat seat make.

Scott – Carsten Charles and Clifton Phifer get the first two seats based on the Cy Young alone.

There was a game in 2008 where I had a prior engagement that forced me to be (what I had assumed) one or two innings late. Sabathia was starting. When I walked in, it was already the fourth inning and the big man was absolutely dealing — he hadn’t allowed a base-runner to that point. He would go on to retire the last 17 in a complete game demolition of the Minnesota Twins. The game lasted just over two hours — I saw roughly 70 percent of it. I wasn’t even mad — I was impressed.

Lee had about as untouchable of a season as any Indians pitcher in recent history. It’s tough to imagine what would have happened in 2007 has Eric Wedge kept him on the postseason roster.

As Rick said, Nagy was incredibly instrumental within those mid-90s teams. A multiple-time All-Star and the type of guy who obviously built quite the rapport while he was here as he was in the organization as recent as 2009.

The last time Colon was cast away, he provided quite the return. Lets see if he can do it again. In you go, Bartolo.

Andrew – I’m glad we get to make our own rules for who we save on our lifeboat. Charles Nagy is easily the worst pitcher on this list. And he’s the first guy I would save. He’s one of my favorite players ever, a quietly gritty performer, and a guy who helped usher in one of the best eras of Indians baseball.

CC is also an easy save for me. The big fella was a dominant pitcher who bridged the “Era of Champions” to the next playoff appearance in 2007. And he also won the Cy Young.

My final spot comes down to Cliff Lee winning the Cy Young. I can’t overlook that and I have to save him. Nothing against Bartolo. He’s just the least memorable of the 4 on this list for me, so he’s the odd man out.

Jon – To me, both CC and Colon are pretty safe, but let’s stop and explain why.

First, both are very very fat, which is adorable.

But even more than that, both were fairly dominant homegrown forces for the Indians for lengthy stretches.  During Colon’s nearly six years with the Indians he had an ERA+ (adjusted for era and ballpark) of 121, meaning he was 21% better than the average pitcher over that span.  From 1998-2002 he averaged 211 IP, a 3.69 ERA in a dominant offensive era and won almost twice as many games as he lost.  He also pitched in four postseason series with the Indians, including his brilliant but oft-forgotten performance in 1998 against both the Red Sox and the Yankees, giving up just two earned runs in 15 innings.  On top of that, he managed to net the club three of its best prospects of the millenium, so I think he stays.

CC’s brilliance may not have been as sustained in Cleveland as Colon’s was, and his trade return wasn’t nearly as good, but his peak was much higher.  From 2001-2005, CC looked like a good-if-not-great pitcher who won more often than he lost, but walked too many batters and seemed to struggle with mechanical issues that tend to plague “big” pitchers; his K/BB ratio during these years was below 2.00–mainly due to control issues–which is typically not a great indicator for future success.  But then in 2006 he took off, posting a three year period of sustained excellence Cleveland hadn’t seen in perhaps a half century.  His ERA+ was 145 (!).  He started 97 games and finished 20. He managed to improve both his strikeout numbers AND his walk numbers, resulting in a remarkable K/BB ratio of over 4.5 for this three years stretch.  He deservedly won the 2007 Cy Young award, and likely would’ve won again in 2008 if not for the mid-season trade that created split stats in the AL and NL. I’m not sure Cleveland (and unfortunately Milwaukee) has seen a pitcher dominate like this in decades.

So that leaves me with the two skinny guys.  I do think Nagy is getting beat up a little too much here, so I think I’ll stick up for him.  Yes, his ERA was terrible, but I think too often we forget that he pitched in a run scoring environment that is vastly different than todays.  In the mid-90s, teams were routinely scoring 5-6 runs per game, and for all sorts of reasons that’s no longer the world we live in.  Compared against his peers, Nagy performed rather admirably: from 1991-1997 he posted and adjusted ERA 16% better than league average. He was in the top 10 for the AL Cy Young three times and in the top ten in AL ERA three times as well.  While his run was never dominant, he was consistently above average and fairly durable, averaging 187 IP over that span.  I say Charlie is safe here.

Which leaves me to drown Cliff Lee.  He was as good as they come in 2008 for the Indians, winning a Cy Young behind a brilliant campaign wherein he seemed to rediscover his control and his competitiveness all at once.  But I have at least two, if not three problems with Cliff.  One, he really only did it here one year.  You can discuss his 2005 season if you like, but I’d just point out that while he did win 18 games that season, he did it with some really smoky mirrors: a career low (to that point) HR/FB rate of 7.9%, a career-low (to this day) BABiP of only .277 and a fluky career-high spike in infield flyballs (14.4%) all contributed to an actual ERA (3.79) well below the estimators (around 4.25).

So really Cliff had one great season with the Indians, a few partial/mediocre ones, and one lucky one.  On top of that, he couldn’t wait to get traded out of Cleveland, which is never quite as endearing as some players want to believe it should be. Lastly, Cliff just couldn’t get along with Victor Martinez, and somewhat famously got in a shouting match with him on the mound at the end of his execrable 2007 season, when he was bouncing between Columbus and Cleveland.  As a general rule, people who yell mean things at Victor Martinez should drown, and in this case, I’m happy to help make that happen.


Now’s your turn in the comments. And… GO!

  1. despite LaPorta []
  • MrCleaveland

    I toss that bum Sabathia. He was supposed to be our ace, but he completely gagged in the ’07 playoffs. (He also gagged in the playoffs in ’08 with Milwaukee, and was mediocre to terrible for the Yankees in the ’10, ’11, and ’12 postseason. The only good playoff run he had was in ’09.)

    Walk the plank, ya bum.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    He definitely came up short of being an ace when needed the most no doubt.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    I’d probably let Bartolo go heck he could be his own life boat too!

  • B-bo

    Colon is out, if for no other reason than when I think of the Cleveland Indians and pitchers, he just doesn’t jump out to me. Nagy deserves about as much blame for Game 7 as Earnest Byner does for The Fumble, which is to say not much. C.C. was just a fun kid to watch come up–any real hate for him stems from either choke jobs in the playoffs (not unfair) or the fact that he wears pinstripes now (unfair–he could not possibly have turned down that contract offer, the MLBPA would have thrown him off of their own boat, with the anchor tied to his feet). And Lee may have only done it for one year with us, but it was as good a year of pitching as you’re likely to ever see.

    Finally a legit one of these. The first two were far too easy.

  • mgbode

    I agree with Andrew on Nagy. He isn’t in the same class by any measure with the other pitchers. But, I do not care, he is safe. He is the quiet guy who just did his job and was rewarded with love from the fans. And, for how he affected future teams, he (and Kirk Gibson and Montero) couldn’t handle Trevor Bauer and ended up helping gift him to us.

    Next up is Colon. Our second true ace pitcher of my lifetime (I heart Greg Swindell) and first when we had competitive teams. Add in that it was the Colon trade that setup the 2005-2008 seasons (as frustrating as they ended) and he gets his spot secured.

    So, CC or Cliff Lee?

    Cliff Lee was a non-top prospect who struggled mightily at first. He was sent down for our 2007 run before becoming an ace (1 year earlier and we have our championship!). As such, he was never a part of a truly competitive team for us.

    CC was a horse. As big as one and as powerful as one. Loved watching him pitch. He struggled on the brightest stage for us, but he also is a HUGE reason we even got there.

    Ok, Cliff Lee, pack your bag and hope it floats. Off you go.

  • humboldt

    In other words, “See sea, Sabathia”.


  • Harv 21

    Don’t quite get the ground rules – we account for things other than performance as an Indian, like what they brought in a trade or how they pitched for subsequent teams?

    Anyway for me Lee’s safe even though he had just one dominant year here b/c you don’t toss an Indians’ Cy Young winner from this particular group. it’s down to Nagy or Colon. Nagy made all-star teams because of early season win totals inflated by a legendary PED pumped-up offense. He was excellent periodically, but often he pitched his 6 1/3 innings, gave up 4 runs, minimized damage and left with a 7-4 lead that turned into a W.

    Colon had great stuff, and could have been great with some physical fitness or ability to learn how to pitch when he was here.

    I go with the guy who lasted longer, and provided the overall greater benefit to the team. I go with the guy who got the most out of his abilities. Adios, Bart.

  • dwhit110

    I’m tossing Cliff Lee too. For me Nagy is a definite stay just because of the gritty, gutsy, *insert adjective here* way that he pitched. I know a lot of people point to Game 7 1997 with him, but for me it was Game 6 of the ALCS. Mussina pitched an absolute gem, one hit ball over 8 and Nagy somehow kept a clean sheet while allowing 12 runners over 7 1/3. That’s who he was, the rubberband and duct tape, find a way to get it done starting pitcher.

    Also remember he was the first AL pitcher to get a hit in a few decades in that one All Star game when he had to where a Texas Rangers helmet. Style points.

  • dwhit110

    There are no ground rules. It’s your lifeboat. Survival of the fittest. Go.

  • B-bo

    “Let’s go over the ground rules. Rule number 1: No touching of the hair or face… AND THAT’S IT!”

  • maxfnmloans

    tossing Cliff Lee. He never got over the fact he was left off the 2007 playoff roster, which was incredilbly immature. After that is when he dedicated himself and became and ace, and I never escaped the feeling he did it expressly to stick it to the Tribe, which is annoyingly immature. Never liked him after that. Don’t want to be here? See ya.

    So, my 3 lifeboaters are Nagy, CC and Bart.

    One thing I would like to add…TD says (well, lots of people over time too) that one thing they hold against Nagy was that he gave up the winning hit in the 97 World Series. All I have to say to that is (freaking) DUH! Nagy consistently got beat up in the first inning of most of his outing, then settled in and ended up going 7 or so, giving up 3-4 runs and waiting for the softball offense to bail him out and get him a W.

    So I ask whose fault was that hit, really? The guy who did pretty much exactly what he had done his ENTIRE CAREER or the manager who put him in that spot even though he had managed that player his ENTIRE CAREER?

    Leave Charlie alone. Not his fault Grover was somehow expecting anything different. And 15 years later, anyone else who lays it on Charlie is just looking for an easy scapegoat.

  • maxfnmloans

    amazing how many people forget that game against Mussina. That series against the Oriole might have been the best week (or so) of baseball in my lifetime

  • maxfnmloans

    RULES?!? Theres no rules in a knife fight!

    (Harv, Im hoping you get this one, no way anyone younger than me (35) does)


    Duh, this isn’t really a conundrum. Throw CC and Colon in on their backs, and they’ll simply float to safety.

  • mgbode

    if there are no rules, then let’s get this fight started already

    (love me some westerns – and i’m younger)

  • mgbode

    feed them bean burritos first and they’ll have their own motor to get to shore

  • maxfnmloans

    someone say 1-2-3 go!

    (this was one of my Dad’s favorites, now that he’s gone, I love it even more)

    And a BIG +1 for having good taste!


    I always felt that way when people hate on Tony Fernandez for booting that ball in WS Game 7. If he hadn’t hit that game-winning jack in the ALCS, who knows if we even get to the series?

  • Harv 21

    Next time I say let’s go somewhere like Bolivia, let’s go somewhere like Bolivia
    (think I have the right one)

  • Harv 21

    “Cliff Lee was a non-top prospect who struggled mightily at first.”
    Huh? As I recall he struggled in ’07, but came up through the system pretty steadily and I think he won 15 games two separate years before then. Wish Ubaldo would struggle like that.

  • Harv 21

    funny, was one my dad’s favs as well. But nothing could top The Magnificent Seven in his book.

  • mgbode

    he won 14 games in 2004 and 2006. and he was THE example people used as to why “wins” simply are a terrible measure as he was not very good.

    he was much better than I remember in 2005 though and that was for a contending team (fell apart the last week). so, apologies to cliff lee if he happens to read :)

  • jimkanicki

    1-2-3 go!

  • maxfnmloans

    What the hell is Bolivia?
    It’s a country, stupid

  • Vindictive_Pat

    As much as I loved everyone’s comments and although my brain is in complete agreement with Jon’s logic, I am going to drown C.C. I get to do what I want on my boat, and I’m drowning the guy who failed to live up to his #1 billing in the 2007 AL Championship series. He got crushed by the Red Sox and didn’t get over his postseason blues until he went to the Yankees and led them to a World Series win. Unacceptable! Drown!

  • Big Guy

    Leaving Colon off the raft. He’d weigh us all down if he didn’t eat us first.


    Cliff may not have deserved to be on the 07 playoff roster, but it’s understandable that he would be a bit frustrated. If you remember, he had won 46 games from 04 to 06, and some type of muscle strain in spring training completely ruined his season. He felt like he was a key piece to the club and you can’t fault his competitive nature.

    Lee also felt disrespected because management made him compete for the 5th spot in the rotation in 2008! I remember that he didn’t have a great spring, as he didn’t approach it like a competition, but rather worked on his game as a veteran in spring usually does.

    You can also see from his recent comments about Michael young that he really values player team loyalty (he also came back and signed with Philly for less money). I think immature is an unfair term to use with Lee and quite frankly, he might be the most underrated pitcher in MLB over his career.

  • mgbode

    “management made him compete for the 5th spot in the rotation in 2008”

    hmmm, why would they do that?

    2004 14-8 5.43ERA 1.50WHIP 1.99SO/BB
    2005 18-5 3.79ERA 1.22WHIP 2.75SO/BB
    2006 14-11 4.40ERA 1.40WHIP 2.22SO/BB
    2007 5-8 6.29ERA 1.52WHIP 1.83SO/BB

    Oh, it was because by spring of 2008 it sure seemed like 2005 was the outlier of his career. Yes, great respect that he proved to be the 2005 pitcher and not the ’04/’06/’07 version, but you cannot fault the Indians for making him earn his 2008 spot in the rotation.

  • mgbode

    14 and Ubaldo did have basically the same stats other than the “W” column. Cliff Lee is THE mark of why the “W” doesn’t matter.

    2004 Cliff Lee wins 14 games in 180IP w/ a 5.43 ERA
    2012 Cliff Lee wins 6 games in 211IP w/ a 3.16ERA

  • maxfnmloans

    so, you’re his agent? LOL

    This is a frivolous discussion on a frivolous topic during a slow time for sports. For the purposes of this discussion, I chose to leave Cliff Lee “out” because I did not like the way things happened. A lot of that was on Cliff. Undoubtedly, some of the blame also rests on the club. Also, he was what, 28 when that happened? I did some dumb stuff at 28 too, but hey, we all mature as we get older.

    However, I will engage you on this point…you try to ststae that Cliff took less money to return to the Phils as an indicator of his valuing team loyalty…it was widely speculated (and basically acknowledged by everyone) that Cliff was out to get every last dollar he could in free agency. Now this isn’t a discussion of whether that is right or wrong, but it flies directly in contravention of your contention that he “values loyalty above all else”…unless you’re saying he requires unwavering team loyalty, while he feels it is ok for him to chase the benjamins.

    Im sure he’s a great guy, but let’s face it, most of us were immature when we were that age. It’s not an insult. It’s human nature

  • Drew

    To CC’s credit, the Tribe rode his arm into the playoffs that year and once they were there he didn’t have much left physically. Guy led the league in IPs that season. Nagy is the odd man out for me.

  • Kildawg

    It’s all fun and games until someone gets their arm cut off with a machete.

  • mgbode

    “Cliff was out to get every last dollar he could in free agency.”

    as further evidence is the fact that not 1, not 2, but 3 teams traded him in advance of FA because he was seeking such a high paying deal.

  • porckchop

    If nothing else this article brought back a great memory. I was at Cliff Lee’s last win in 07 before he imploded (I remember when he did the sarcastic cap doffing to the boo-birds and thought “Well he’s done here.”) It was a Saturday game against the Rays and a belated 1st fathers day gift for me, my daughter was less than 2 months old and a friend procurred his dad’s company seats 5 rows behind home plate. Lee was amazing, got us out of there in under 2 1/2 hours, and it was part of one of those “perfect days”.
    If that day didn’t happen I toss Lee like Brody tossing chum. But I can’t do it, and regretablly have to chuck Colon. Which sucks, because I have a huge soft spot for fat guy athletes.

  • Harv 21

    this is sound logic and I would have gone the same way had I chosen this methodology. CC got shelled every time he got geeked up – even for meaningless road games in Oakland when his fam and friends were there. He gets his jewelry and cash ripped off by Fargo-level pimps and hos in a downtown Cle hotel, and then acts like he owns the Manhattan night as a Yankee. Yeah, I see him look up at me beseechingly through the water as he plummets to the depths, and it’s good.

  • dwhit110

    I’m excited for the mid-90’s position player version of this with Ramirez, Thome, Belle, and Lofton.

  • Andy

    I’m inclined to toss Colon, but the fact that my mental image of Lee always has him pitching in those God-awful sleeveless jerseys made him a strong contender.

  • saggy

    CC got his jewels stolen because he didn’t pay his debts.

    take that, plus the post-season meltdowns, plus the bad-mouthing of Cleveland recently, and he can drown.

  • saggy

    My lifeboat is the best because I’ve got vision….and the rest of the world wears bifocals.