Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports

2017 Indians are better than the 1995 Indians and here's why. Pitching.

The 2017 Cleveland Indians compare favorably with the 1995 version. Two entirely different types of rosters, but the 2017 team is in better position to win the World Series than the 1995 squad.

In 1995, the Atlanta Braves won their city's only professional sports championship and of course it was against a Cleveland franchise, the Cleveland Indians 

The city of Cleveland finally broke the 52-year championship drought (not counting the Cleveland Crunch 94, 96 & 99 titles) in 2016 behind the Cleveland Cavaliers magnificent 3-1 comeback in the NBA Finals. The

The Cleveland Browns haven't won a Super Bowl or championship since 1964. In fact, the Browns have never played in a super bowl. Super Bowl? How about they haven't reached the playoffs but once since their "return" in 1999. Playoffs? Playoffs? Thank you Jim Mora.  

The Indians, meanwhile, are coming off of a memorable season in which they lost in the World Series to the Chicago Cubs, ahem, the previously championship-barren since 1908 Chicago Cubs. While the city of Boston and the city of Chicago whined for years about their lack of baseball championships, these cities had countless other titles to celebrate in football, basketball, and/or hockey. 

Chicago:

Last NFL Championship - 1985 (Chicago Bears)

Last NHL Championship - 2015 (Chicago Blackhawks)

Last NBA Championship - 1998 (Chicago Bulls)

Last MLB Championship - 2016 (Chicago Cubs)

11 Total Championships for Chicago since 1964 (not counting the Chicago White Sox)

Boston:

Last NFL Championship - Last Season (Patriots)

Last NHL Championship - 2011 (Bruins)

Last NBA Championship - 2008 (Celtics)

Last MLB Championship - 2013 (Red Sox)

21 Total Championships for Boston since 1964

Meanwhile, the 2017 Indians are trying to break a 69-year baseball championship drought. World Series appearances in 1954, 1995, 1997, and 2016 all led to disappointing finishes, but the 1995 team was the most dominant of these runner-ups, winning 100 games in a strike-shortened season (144 games). The 1995 offensive juggernaut, which won the AL Central by 30 games, fell short against a pitching-rich Atlanta Braves, which won the NL East by 21 games.

The old axiom says "good pitching beats good hitting any day." Axioms and cliches generally exist for a reason, a lot of truth lies behind them. In 1995, you could say "great pitching beat great hitting." World Series MVP Tom Glavine combined with Greg Maddux and John Smoltz to form, possibly, the best rotation trio of all-time.

Three Hall of Famers atop your rotation should lead to more than one World Series championship, but baseball is a funny game. Unlike basketball and football, the best teams win the championship less often in baseball. Teams have to good, lucky, and peaking at the right time. Coaches will all tell you it's not about how much talent the team has, but how that talent is performing at the most important times. 

The 1995 Cleveland Indians team widely considered one of the best teams not only to not win a World Series, but also is considered one of the best teams of all-time period. The Tribe, which had 6 all-stars, led the league in most offensive categories (including nose hairs...if you don't get that reference, then you probably aren't that big of an Indians fan), would have won a record 112 games according to most metrics if they had played a full 162-game schedule. 

The 95' Indians lacked a true, dominant ace at the top of the rotation which was led by Charles Nagy (16-6 W/L, 4.55 ERA, 1.433 WHIP, 7.0 SO/9) and the two veteran right-handers, Orel Hershiser(16-6, W/L, 3.87 ERA, 1.207 WHIP, 6.0 SO/9) and Dennis Martinez (12-5 W/L, 3.08 ERA, 1.176 WHIP, 4.8 SO/9). Excellent starting pitchers, but not guys who can dominate, which is needed in a playoff series. 

The bullpen lacked a second, quality left-hander to complement Paul Assenmacher (47 G, 9.4 SO/9, 1.148 WHIP, 2.82 ERA).

Jose Mesa finished 2nd in the AL CY Young vote, anchoring the bullpen in 1995 with 46 saves (3-0 W/L, 1.13 ERA, 1.031 WHIP, 8.2 SO/9).

The 1995 Cleveland Indians lacked very little overall. But what they lacked is what cost them a championship. The 2017 Cleveland Indians also lack very little, but their potential shortcomings shouldn't cost them a championship because they have the right formula. Dominant starting pitching. Dominant closer(s). Multiple quality lefthanders in the bullpen. Starting pitching depth at AAA. Quality middle relief. While the 95 Indians went 100-44, this year's version could challenge the 100-win mark with good health and a little luck. 

1995 vs 2017 Cleveland Indians

Position

1995

2017

Offense

Defense

Analysis

C

Pena/Alomar

Yan Gomes

Roberto Perez

1995

1995

The veteran Tony Pena complemented Sandy Alomar perfectly, and filled in during Alomar’s injury. Alomar had 10 HR and an .803 OPS in 203 AB. Easy Advantage: 1995

1B

Sorrento/H.Perry

Edwin Encarnacion

Carlos Santana

2017

2017

Sorrento hit 25 HR in just 323 AB, but his defense was poor and he hit into 10 DP. Encarnacion, the Indians’ major off-season pickup should provide the punch in the middle as he is the only MLBer with 30 HR in each of the last 5 seasons

2B

Baerga

Jason Kipnis

1995

Even

Baerga (whom I played softball with in a recent celebrity game...it’s a long story b/c I’m not a celebrity) had a tremendous offensive season (.807 OPS, 252 TB), but his range was already shrinking as well as the ability to turn the double play. Kipnis is a solid offensive 2B, but not to the level of 95 Baerga, he does get a slight edge on defense.

SS

Vizquel

Francisco Lindor

2017

1995

As good as Francisco Lindor is defensively, he’s not Omar. Lindor is on a different planet, meanwhile in comparison with Vizquel on the offensive side.

3B

Thome

Jose Ramirez

1995

2017

Thome had his first real breakout season in 95 (.996 OPS, 25 HR, 452 AB) much like Jose Ramirez in 2016 (.825 OPS, 22 SB, 261 TB). Defensively, Ramirez easily gets the edge. Yandy Diaz will play into this comparison too.

LF

Belle

Michael Brantley

1995

2017

Belle was the MVP, even if the writers voted for Mo Vaughn because they didn’t like AB. 50/50 Club, I got your cork right here, Mr.Freeze, etc. Brantley coming off of shoulder issues isn’t even close offensively, but still gets the nod on D.

CF

Lofton

Austin Jackson

Tyler Naquin

1995

1995

Kenny Lofton had a spectacular defensive season, robbing home runs left and right. While he had a lower than normal OBP (.362), his 13 triples  and 54 SB led the AL. Tyler Naquin and Austin Jackson will split duties to start the season. Not a bad platoon, but clearly Lofton wins this.

RF

M.Ramirez

Lonnie Chisenhall

Brandon Guyer

1995

2017

Manny was incredible at the plate (.960 OPS, 31 HR, 107 RBI in just 484 AB). Chisenhall and Guyer, again a good platoon and better on defense.

DH

E. Murray

Carlos Santana

Edwin Encarnacion

Even

2017

Murray had his last great day in the sun (.891 OPS, 21 HR, 225 TB) and provided veteran leadership. (Side note: I once exchanged quotes from Forrest Gump with him in a taxi - you can guess which of us did Tom Hanks lines. One of the funniest moments of my life)

Bench

Unused Platooners, Kirby, Espinoza

Unused platooners & Michael Martinez

2017

2017

Defense is the best bench asset of a championship caliber team and the 2017 version (Michael Martinez aside) is better and more versatile.

SP

Nagy

Hershiser

Martinez

Ken Hill

A.Lopez

M.Clark

Corey Kluber

Carlos Carrasco

Danny Salazar

Trevor Bauer

Josh Tomlin

2017

The top 3 of the 95 rotation was solid, but the bottom of the rotation was lacking all year even with the Ken Hill trade. The 2017 rotation has an ace, unlike the 95 team. No disrespect to Charles Nagy, but neither he nor the two vets were dominant, and you must have a dominant ace at the top. The 2017 squad has 3 potential dominant aces at the top, and Bauer isn’t far off as far as pure stuff goes. Tomlin rounds out the deep rotation and there’s minor league depth at AAA (Clevinger, Merritt, Plutko)

RH RP

Tavarez

Plunk

Shuey

Bryan Shaw

Dan Otero

Zach McAllister

Shawn Armstrong

Even

This is a toss-up. Shaw and Otero have logged a heavy burden and may not be able to sustain their efficiency this year. Regardless of people’s disdain for Shaw, he has been outstanding for multiple years in a row.

LH RP

Assenmacher

Poole

Andrew Miller

Boone Logan

2017

The 1995 team lacked a second quality lefty out of the pen, because Jim Poole gave up 7 HR in 42 games, and oh yeah a sort of big homer in the World Series to David Justice. Andrew Miller is a weapon, and the addition of Boone Logan solidifies the lefty side of the pen for the late innings and the playoffs. Kyle Crockett is ready to help at AAA also.

Closer

Mesa

Cody Allen

Andrew Miller

Even

As great as Cody Allen and Andrew Miller are, Jose Mesa was absolutely incredible in 95 (46 Saves, 1.031 WHIP, 58 K, 17 BB, 64 IP). As dominant of a season as you will see from a reliever.

Manager

Hargrove

Terry Francona

Francona

Former Indians owner Dick Jacobs once said “There are two things in the world that every man thinks he can do better than anyone else: cook a steak and manage a baseball team.” (http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?articleid=25647) As a former college head baseball coach, of course I think I could too, but both of these managers have their strengths. Hargrove dealt with some serious personalities and a mix of veterans and youngsters on the rise. Tito allows his players freedom to be themselves and handles the lineup well, giving rest when needed. His love of Michael Martinez aside, he handled the postseason strategy incredibly, but some would argue he rode Andrew Miller too much, leading to his game 7 struggles. But Francona has the pedigree.

Front Office

John Hart & Dick Jacobs

Antonetti/Chernoff & Dolans

2017

The 90s Indians front office and ownership revived a dormant baseball town and franchise with a new strategy of locking up young, talented players before arbitration or free agency. This new concept was a goldmine, mostly because they drafted well and made some solid trades. That said, they also failed to make the correct final move for an Ace or a another dominant bullpen lefty. These two flaws were exposed in the 95 playoffs and in subsequent years too, as well as the inability to lock up one or two of the superstars to long-term deals in free agency.

The 2017 Indians front office and ownership have taken a major step, starting with last year’s Andrew Miller deal and this offseason’s signings of Edwin Encarnacion and Boone Logan. Hard to evaluate this one until the trade deadline or after the entire season. Championship or bust, but the 2017 FO and ownership has the nod.

Stadium

2nd Year

23rd Year

2017

Hard to believe, but the 2017 Progressive Field gets the nod over the 1995 sophomore Jacobs Field. The improvements to the stadium inside and outside as well as the much improved playing surface is a testament to good strategic planning by the business folks at the corner of Carnegie and Ontario. Better food options, ticketing policies and the Corner Bar are just a few of the improvements over 1995.

The 1995 Cleveland Indians hold a special place in most of the hearts of the Northeast Ohio for a million reasons. This was the first playoff baseball most of us had seen in our lifetimes, and the same for most of our parents lifetimes as well. The offensive capability of the 95 squad meant they were never out of a game. Down 8-0 versus David Cone and the Toronto Blue Jays in the 4th inning? No problem. 9-8 win. Yes, they were magical, but the magic wasn't enough.

The 2017 Indians team is better equipped for the playoffs. Would the 95 Indians team have been helped by a playoff run in 1994 if the players strike hadn't occurred? Most likely, which is why the 2017 Indians will be helped by their near miss in 2016. 

Pitching wins championships. Longtime Major League manager Whitey Herzog once said "We need three kinds of pitching: left-handed, right-handed, and relief." The 2017 Indians have all three. 

If the Tribe stays even fairly healthy, the 2017 Cleveland Indians will win the first MLB championship for the city since Harry Truman was the president of the United States. The 1948 Indians had a few pitchers you may have heard of, Bob Feller, Bob Lemon, and Satchel Paige. All three are in the Hall of Fame. 


Atlanta Dugout Top Stories