I was going through the WAR leaderboards on Fangraphs, looking to find the deserving starting candidates. I was surprised when I reached the standings for the NL outfielders. Braun was at the top with 4.3 WAR, followed by the Braves trio of Michael Bourn (3.8), Martin Prado (3.2), and Jason Heyward (3.0). At last check, none were close to being voted in, but hopefully at least two of them will make the trip as reserves.
All three Braves have a UZR rating of at least +7.5, which is great for less than half a season. Andrew McCutchen is just behind Heyward, due to his -8 UZR. Due to the high error margin in defensive metrics, I would not be offended one bit if someone said McCutchen was better than Heyward and Prado this year. There are another four outfielders within three runs of McCutchen, essentially of equal value.
I also wondered how many teams in history have had all three outfielders at such a high level. Since the beginning of professional baseball, only five major league teams have gotten 5 WAR (B-R system) seasons out of all three outfielders. The ’94 and ’95 Phillies, as in 1894 and 1895, had the Hall of Fame trio of Ed Delahanty, Billy Hamilton, and Sam Thompson, needing only around 130 games in the season to accomplish the feat. In 1894, all three hit above .400, though the league batting average was over .300 for the season.
The next two teams to do it were the 1921 and 1925 Tigers. Each team featured Ty Cobb in center and Harry Heilmann in right. The ’21 team had Bobby Veach in left, while the ’25 team had Al Wingo. The last team to do it is the only team with only one Hall of Fame player: the 1980 Athletics. This group was similar to the Braves, in which all three had defensive ratings of at least 18 on the season. Rickey Henderson used his 117 walks and 100 stolen bases to compile nearly 9 WAR. The other D-Murph of the 80’s, Dwayne Murphy, also used an OBP approach to amass nearly 7 WAR. Tony Armas had horrible plate discipline, but also great power to go along with the great defense in right to break 5 WAR.
When I loosened the restrictions to 4 WAR, 41 teams reached that mark. The Phillies threesome also accomplished that feat the previous two seasons. Atlanta did it in ’02 and ’03 with Chipper Jones, Andruw Jones, and Gary Sheffield, while the last team to do it was the immortal ’06 Blue Jays, with Reed Johnson, Vernon Wells, and Alex Rios. It is definitely not a given that the current Braves trio can reach 5 WAR, but it would definitely put them in great company if they do.