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Everybody Hates Cleveland's 2014 Players of the Year

1The 2014 Year in Cleveland sports has proven to be one of the most entertaining in recent history.

No, there were no titles, and in the end, not even a playoff run to speak of, but there were plenty of news stories on-and-off the field that kept the temperature warm, the blood boiling, and yes, even the tears flowing.

The Browns began the year with a new GM and coach, and while the team on the field started off by winning a bunch of football games, finished the year with a giant thud, losing their last five games and ending the year where they so often do: in last place. The entire season was engulfed in the off-the-field issues of their star receiver Josh Gordon, who started-and-ended the year suspended, and Johnny Manziel, the media darling who looked more Paris Hilton than Drew Brees.

Perhaps he needed s Snickers after all.

The Cleveland Cavaliers began the year engulfed in the Andrew Bynum escapades, and after another sputtering season, that found Mike Brown getting fired again, saw their luck change in a decidedly different direction. First, they won the NBA lottery again, and in arguably the richest draft in recent memory. Then the unbelievable happened, and LeBron James returned home. Kyrie signed a new five-year deal, and that #1 pick, which turned into Andrew Wiggins, was flipped to the Minnesota Timberwolves for Kevin Love.

The Cavs have been struggling of late, and rumors of LeBron and Love leaving have already begun. Yes, the ridiculousness of Cleveland sports knows no bounds.

The Cleveland Indians didn't do a whole lot during the hot stove season, and really didn't do a whole lot during the 2014 year, to be honest. Still, they had the best pitcher in the American League in Cy Young winner Corey Kluber, and Michael Brantley finished third in MVP voting. In Cleveland sports, that's a victory.

The Indians signed Brandon Moss and Gavin Floyd to fill their 2015 line-up without losing anyone to free agency, and look to be much improved heading into the 2015 season.

With our first New Year's Day here at #EHC, we are introducing our first annual Player of the Year edition in which EHC's Rich Primo, Steve Orbanek and I will each tackle one of the major sports, picking OUR player's of the year in each. Rich will tackle the Browns, with Steve taking on the Cavaliers, leaving me with your Cleveland Indians.

Without further ado, here are our Cleveland Sports Players of the Year:

Cleveland Indians POY: Corey Kluber, RHP

Do you know what I love about Corey Kluber the most? I never thought he would be a permanent starter for your Cleveland Indians. When the Indians dealt away Jake Westbrook at the trade deadline in a three-team deal, the Kluber return mostly ticked me off.

We all heard the rumors that he had good stuff and velocity, but he had never really done anything to suggest that he would be an effective Major League starter. In my mind, if Kluber eventually stuck in the bullpen, I would have been ecstatic.

I talked about Kluber's ascension at the end of the 2014 season about halfway through November 16th's Sunday Drive. While I (and everyone else) was busy ignoring Kluber's potential, Kluber was re-tooling his pitch arsenal with the help of Mickey Callaway and Ruben Niebla. The rest is history, and not just in Cleveland.

There were so many good starts.

In April, he announced his presence with authority by pitching a complete game four-hitter against KC, while striking out 11 without a walk.

In May, he bookended the month with a 13 K/2 BB game against Chicago to start things off, and a 12 K/1 BB game to finish things off. In his six May starts, Kluber made through seven innings in all but one game, a 6 2/3 inning stint in which he struck out nine, without a walk. The fact that May wasn't his best month really says it all.

From July to the completion of the season, Kluber made 16 starts, eight of which went eight innings or more, with four more seven or more. In his last three starts, he struck out 39 batters in 23 innings, and he walked five.

But the start that will likely be most memorable for Tribe fans, and maybe the one that won him the Cy Young award came on July 30th, when he faced off against "King" Felix Hernandez himself. At the time I'm not sure anyone was seriously considering a Cy Young-run for Kluber. He had missed the All-Star game, and while most of Cleveland was fuming because of the oversight, you could make a fairly strong case that his omission was deserving.

But the rumblings had already begun. As good as Kluber pitched in the first half, he was absolutely blazing after the break. Heading into that game against Felix, he had gone 8 2/3 in a win against the first place Tigers in Detroit on July 19th with 10 K's and a walk, and followed up with a nine inning, 10 K, zero walk performance in a no decision outing that the Indians lost in 14 innings.

It was clear that the stoic Kluber was trying to make a statement. If there was any doubt prior to his start against Seattle, there wasn't after. Kluber out-dueled the former Cy Young award winner with a complete game, three-hit, eight K shutout in which he threw only 85 pitches. Both pitchers were outstanding, but King Felix bowed out after the seventh, having made 103 pitches and giving up four hits, two walks and two runs.

Kluber was the better pitcher that night, and ultimately, went on to beat out Hernandez for the 2014 Cy Young Award.

While his award winning season was more than enough to carry Kluber past Michael Brantley for the Player of the Year award, the cherry on top of the dessert was Kluber's icy and unruffled demeanor on and off the mound. His stoic-ness became a personality all it's own, and was accentuated on May 20th, when Rick Manning and Matt Underwood interviewed the cool right-hander during a game against the Detroit Tigers.

What happened next may have been the top Indians' moment in 2014:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=65wdkNtSJeU?rel=0]

In Kluber, the Indians have found the absolute perfect representative of what a Cleveland starter should be, the ultimate underdog, the blue-collar worker, and quite simply, the Player of the Year for your 2o14 Cleveland Indians.

Cleveland Cavaliers POY: Kyrie Irving, PG

It's impossible to understate the importance of Kyrie Irving during 2014. Yes, it's been one helluva year for the Cleveland Cavaliers.

LeBron James came home. The Cavaliers turned No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Wiggins into Kevin Love.

However, does any of that even happen if it's not for Irving and the five year, $90 million contract that he signed on July 1 just after midnight?

Irving's re-signing set the table for what would ultimately go down as the biggest offseason in Cleveland Cavaliers history. For that, he very much deserves the distinction of Cavaliers Player of the Year. In fact, it could be argued that no player was more important to the entire city of Cleveland than Irving during this past year.

This all might be a moot point if Irving was not performing on the court. That could not be further from the truth though.

For the season, the talented All-Star point guard is averaging 20.8 points and 5.3 assists per game while posting a PER of 19.80. He also is shooting .467 from the field, which is just below his career high. Many wondered how Irving would adjust to playing alongside James, but he answered that question almost immediately as he has done a tremendous job at making the transition.

When this team first got together, it was assumed that Irving would be third fiddle behind James and Love. Fast forward to the present, and it's clear that he's already surpassed Love in this department.

Above everything else though, just take a moment to reflect how far Irving has come in a year. Consider the type of player he was exactly one year ago at this time.

He pouted. He couldn't get along with Dion Waiters. He wasn't just bad at defense--he didn't even play it.

But now, none of that is true. The adjustments that Irving have made on the defensive side of the court have been one of the most pleasant things about the Cavaliers' young season.

The best thing though is that 2014 was just the beginning for Irving. He's still only 22 years old. He's going continue to grow and develop as both a player and a defender. And he's going continue to grow and develop in Cleveland. That's a wonderful revelation.

Cleveland Browns POY: Donte Whitner

With much deliberation, my pick for Browns Player of the Year goes to Donte Whitner. I debated Joe Haden and Paul Kruger, both for their superior on-the-field talent. What made Whitner stand out to me was his leadership. If there's anything these Browns need, it's leaders.

Let's start with some numbers: Whitner led the Browns in tackles, both total (106) and solo (69). I know someone is going to say that it's not good when your safety leads the team in tackles. I'm not disagreeing, though I will point out that he is the strong safety, a position that is important in run defense. The reason they let TJ Ward walk and signed Whitner was for that very thing: Ward was better at defending passes, Whitner better at defending the run.

Whitner also makes some big hits. You may remember that it was his hit on Oakland's Darren McFadden that turned that game around. The team had just come off that deflating loss to the then-winless Jaguars, and was struggling with the then-winless Raiders. The Browns, who had been up 9-0, were holding on 9-6. The third quarter was closing, the Raiders were driving. On 2nd-and-6 at the Browns 29, Oakland handed off to McFadden who was 9 yards downfield when - WHACK! - Whitner hit McFadden and sent the ball airborne into the waiting arms of Joe Haden. From there, the Browns took control of the game and won easily.

But, again, it's the leadership aspect of Whitner that I like so well. He has played in a Super Bowl, works hard, plays hard, but also isn't afraid to call a guy out. (Is he, Justin Gilbert?) Whitner is saying to the media what we are all saying: Some guys need to step up or go. That's right. That's exactly right. This team has been pushed around long enough. If you aren't going to do your best to turn that around, go waste someone else's time.

Whitner, Cleveland born and raised, has that hard-working mentality that this team needs if it ever wants to turn the corner. Guys can't afford to take days off, even if they are on Injured Reserve. Sunday is the by-product of the work you put in Monday through Saturday. Whitner is willing to do that work, and will say something when someone else is not doing the same.

You want an example of his toughness and ability to work hard? When Donte Whitner was 6 years old, he was chasing a football and got hit by a car. He had more than 30 fractures in his legs, was in a full body cast, and was told that he may never walk again. Two years later, he was playing Pop Warner football. Think of, not only the courage and will to put on those pads, but the work that must have gone into his recovery.

It's this toughness and work ethic, combined with his talent and leadership, that makes Donte Whitner my 2014 Browns Player of the Year.

Make sure that you keep visiting the pages of Everybody Hates Cleveland in 2015. In our first FULL year of business, all of the familiar names will be back, but we have a few surprises as the year continues to unveil itself. Some familiar writers from Cleveland's blogging history will be making a return both here at EHC, and with some exciting new partnerships that we have already formed! Have a Happy New Year!!!!
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