A look at the greatest #3 hitters in franchise history, a list that includes many of the greatest hitters to ever wear a Cleveland uniform.
In 2012, seven different players started at least one game in the #3 spot of the lineup for the Indians, led by Jason Kipnis, who was there for 53 games, and Asdrubal Cabrera, who started there 52 times. Cabrera was the one starting there for most of the season's last few weeks, but it's too early to know who'll be playing there most frequently in 2013.
According to the Play Index at Baseball-Reference, since 1916 (which is as far back as complete box scores go), there have been 296 different players to start a game as the #3 hitter for the Indians. That list includes Coco Crisp, Candy Maldonado, Soup Campbell, and 293 players whose names don't make me hungry. 36 players have collected at least 500 plate appearances while hitting #3. That's the cut-off point for these rankings.
I've attempted to balance rate stats against the counting figures. In other words, while an OPS of 850 is better than an OPS of 825, if the former came in 600 PA and the latter came in 2,000 PA, I'm probably going to favor the second player. I've also attempted to make adjustments for the run-scoring environments of different eras, including an estimated OPS+ for each player, based on comparable figures from their era. Finally, these rankings are based solely on players’ contributions on offense.
TOP TEN #3 HITTERS IN INDIANS HISTORY
10) Tito Francona
265 G, 1156 PA, .306/.354/.473, .824 OPS, ~126 OPS+, 35 HR, 153 R, 157 RBI
Francono regularly batted in the #3 spot for the Indians in 1959, 1961, and 1962. He was spectacular in that role in 1959 (an OPS over 1.000 during fifty games there) and a bit above average there in other years.
9) Roy Cullenbine
184 G, 822 PA, .287/.397/.423, .820 OPS, ~143 OPS+, 16 HR, 104 R, 84 RBI
Cullenbine was the team's #3 hitter (and right fielder) in 1943 and 1944. That was a low-scoring time and Cullenbine's OBP and OPS+ were both among the top ten in the A.L. in each season. By rate stats alone, he was one of the four or five players on this list.
759 G, 3387 PA, .304/.339/.451, .791 OPS, ~111 OPS+, 90 HR, 478 R, 497 RBI
Baerga hit 3rd for the Indians from late 1990 until being traded away in July of 1996. He was more of a solid player than a strong one in that spot, but he started there more times than all but two other Indians and has strong counting totals to go with above-average rate stats.
283 G, 1261 PA, .271/.389/.499, .887, ~132 OPS+, 57 HR, 170 R, 215 RBI
Hafner hit #3 for the Tribe fairly often between 2004 and 2007, but was only there for more than 50 games in 2007, when his decline phase began. He still put up big power numbers and drew walks at a high clip though.
6) Lou Boudreau
266 G, 1180 PA, .325/.413/.481, .893 OPS, ~133 OPS+, 23 HR, 154 R, 166 RBI
Boudreau was the team's primary #3 hitter in 1940, then occasionally over the next few seasons, before reinstalling himself there regularly for his MVP and World Series winning 1948 season. Boudreau also appeared on the lead-off hitter list, but he was better in the #3 spot.
5) Jim Thome
184 G, 833 PA, .295/.427/.607, 1.034 OPS, ~162 OPS+, 58 HR, 144 R,159 RBI
Most of Thome’s time in the #3 spot came during 1996 and 1997, though he played there sporadically in many other seasons too. Thome’s numbers may make him the best hitter from the #3 spot in franchise history, but given the brevity of his time in that lineup spot, I can’t rank him any higher than this.
4) Roberto Alomar
436 G, 1921 PA, .325/.408/.523, .931 OPS, ~137 OPS+, 60 HR, 337 R, 295 RBI
Alomar was the Indians’ #3 hitter during his time with the team, 1999 and 2001. In addition to having been one heck of a hitter in those seasons, Alomar was also a great base runner, with 102 stolen bases taken at an 86% success rate.
3) Larry Doby
476 G, 2088 PA, .285/.389/.512, .901 OPS, ~145 OPS+, 99 HR, 325 R, 351 RBI
Batting #3 throughout his time with the Tribe, but especially from 1950 to 1954, Doby was an All-Star in every season he spent in that lineup spot, leading the league in HR, R, RBI, OBP, SLG, OPS, and OPS+ at various points in that stretch. Doby’s 99 HR from the #3 spot are the second-most in team history.
2) Earl Averill
1060 G, 4821 PA, .317/.393/.526, .919 OPS, ~130 OPS+, 155 HR, 813 R, 758 RBI
Averill was the team’s primary #3 hitter for most of 1929 to 1938, giving him the second-most games in that spot of any player in franchise history. During those years he played in the first six MLB All-Star Games and finished in the top five in MVP voting three times. His 155 HR from the #3 spot are a franchise best.
1) Tris Speaker
1428 G, 6404 PA, .353/.443/.521, .964 OPS, ~158 OPS+, 71 HR, 1054 R, 770 RBI
Speaker played all but a few games of his eleven years with the Indians (1916-1926) as the #3 hitter. He started nearly 400 more games in that spot than any other player in franchise history, and his rate stats there are also almost without parallel (only Thome can compete). He was one of the very best hitters from any lineup spot on any team, from any era, and is an easy choice for the #1 spot on this list.
This is a more impressive list of players than either of the previous two groups (#1 and #2 hitters), which is no big surprise, as we're now entering the heart of the order. The top seven players here each have a strong case as one of the twenty best offensive players in franchise history. Unless Asdrubal Cabrera starts almost every game there and has an MVP-type season at the plate, there's not any chance this list changes in 2013.