With the offseason now starting to wind down, we can now take a look back at the history of the Braves franchise. Every few days, I will be coming out with a new Braves all-decade team, eventually ending with an all-time Braves team. I will be using WAR to go position-by-position through the best players from each ten year span. There may be some players moved to non-primary positions to get as many of the best overall players in there as possible. Without further adieu, here is the 2000-2009 team.
C – Brian McCann
Edging out Javy Lopez by about 3 WAR, McCann’s first 4+ seasons at about 15 WAR grab the catcher’s spot. Half of the difference between the two is explained by McCann’s 500 extra PA, but B-Mac was also the better hitter. His AVG was 11 points higher, OBP 20 points higher, and his 156 doubles offset Javy’s better HR rate. Lopez did have the best single season behind the plate, hitting 43 HR for a 6-win season in 2003. David Ross and Johnny Estrada were the only other catchers to post a positive WAR in the decade.
1B – Mark Teixeira
Yes, the man who, through no fault of his own, started the demise of the minor league system was the best Braves first baseman in the decade. Despite spending only one calendar year with Atlanta, Tex put up a .295/.395/.548 slash line, good for 6 WAR. Adam LaRoche and Julio Franco had at least double the PA, but were nowhere near as productive as Teixeira. It’s amazing that the Braves were able to end the division title run with guys like Rico Brogna, Wes Helms, and Robert Fick getting significant time at the most offensive-dependent position.
2B – Marcus Giles
In his six seasons with Atlanta, Giles put up about 17 WAR with an all-around above-average game. His 2003 season is one of the most overlooked great seasons in recent memory, hitting .316/.390/.526 and playing great defensively, good for around 7 WAR. He was the other end of the Mark Prior collision, as the concussion he received from that hit likely led to his dropoff and retirement. Kelly Johnson succeeded Giles and was average for his four seasons. Quilvio Veras put up a .376 OBP at the beginning of the decade, while Martin Prado was just settling into the position at the end.
SS – Rafael Furcal
Furcal was a full-time starter for six seasons with Atlanta, which will get you a long ways in this process. While his bat and defense were average, his baserunning and positional adjustment got him above average, accumulating about 20 WAR through 2005. Edgar Renteria had a solid two seasons in Atlanta before Yunel Escobar finished the decade at the position. There was no standout season at the position, unless you count Furcal’s 2005, where he had a suspicious DRS of +24, leading to a 6-win year.
3B – Chipper Jones
While this seems like the most obvious pick in the history of obvious picks, the next pick will show you why I considered him for left field, where he spent 2+ seasons. While this does not include his MVP season, his 50 WAR for the decade left him behind only Alex Rodriguez, Albert Pujols, and Barry Bonds in all of baseball. The various players who filled in for Chipper when he was in left field, mainly Vinny Castilla, Wilson Betemit, and Mark DeRosa, were all essentially replacement level during that stretch.
LF – Matt Diaz
For those of you who think that left field has only been a recent problem, think again. A player on the short end of the platoon was the best left fielder in the decade. Johnson only played 73 games in left his rookie year, so I couldn’t justify putting him in this spot. Escobar only started 19 games at third base, so I couldn’t put him at third. The list of sub-par left fielders in the decade includes Reggie Sanders, B.J. Surhoff, Ryan Langerhans, Willie Harris, Gregor Blanco, and Garret Anderson. The two highest positions on the offensive spectrum were a problem most of the decade.
CF – Andruw Jones
Another easy choice here, Andruw was a top 10 player in the decade through 2007, his last year in Atlanta. UZR and DRS had his defense at +140 and +180 respectively during those eight seasons, and he managed to sneak 288 home runs in there too. Fangraphs had him at 50 WAR during the span, while B-R had him at 41 WAR. Either way, he was really good and it’s sad that he is now relegated to playing in Japan next season. Mark Kotsay and Nate McLouth each spent 2/3 of a season in center for the Braves, the only others with more than 200 PA at the position.
RF – Gary Sheffield
While there was a lot of turnover at the position early in the decade, it was generally at a fairly high level of talent. In his two seasons with Atlanta, Sheffield hit .319/.412/.562 and managed to play average defense, uncharacteristically good for him. The best season at the position was the following year, when J.D. Drew posted an eight-win season in his only season with the Braves. Brian Jordan put up Heyward-like defensive numbers to start the decade, though his offense was around average. While I did say playing time helps a lot, Jeff Francoeur shows that it doesn’t mean everything, as his 2500 PA still left him tied for third at the position.
The first four guys should not really be much of a surprise, even with the Big Three starting the decade in their mid-30’s. Smoltz began the decade rehabbing from TJ surgery, then spent 3.5 seasons as the closer before making 110 more starts as a Brave. His 25 WAR will pale in comparison to the 90’s team, but it puts him at the top of the rotation on this team. Maddux was with Atlanta through ’03, throwing 225 IP a year, averaging 4-5 WAR and walking 3% of hitters. Huddy was worth 12-13 in essentially four full seasons, above average but not the ace we sometimes thought he was. Glavine left for New York after the 2002 season, accumulating about 11-12 WAR in those three years, before his ill-fated comeback attempt at the end of the decade. In close competition with Kevin Millwood and John Burkett for the fifth spot, Jurrjens’ good fortune won out. His DIPS-defying performance led him to about 8 WAR his first two seasons. Aside from Maddux’s 2000 season, the best single-season performance in the rotation probably came from Javier Vazquez in 2009, posting a 2.87 ERA and matching FIP and xFIP at 2.77.
Aside from Smoltz, there really wasn’t an long-time impact reliever in the Braves bullpen during the decade. Remlinger had three solid seasons to start the decade, including a 1.99 ERA in his walk year, to accumulate 5 WAR. The lefty then fizzled out with the Cubs before ending his career with Atlanta in ’06. Soriano was the primary closer in ’08, posting 3 WAR total in his 2+ seasons with the Braves. Moylan also only spent 2+ seasons in the majors during the decade, accumulating just over 3 WAR in his setup role. Aside from Smoltz in ’03, the best relief season of the decade came from screwball artist Chris Hammond in ’02, posting an 0.95 ERA in 76 IP in his first big-league action in four years.
It’s mean to do this, as each of them earned their way to the majors while I couldn’t even make it to the minors, but Jo-Jo and Davies were bad in Atlanta and allowed to try to work through it. They really were just lefty/righty complements of each other, both, despite having decent stuff, posted poor K/BB ratios, not able to keep the ball in the park, and each had high BABIPs allowed, ending up with identical -2.8 WAR totals. Reyes did have a bit lower LD% and higher GB%, recently signing a minor league contract with the Angels. Meanwhile, Davies did not pitch anywhere in 2012 and likely won’t have another shot at the big leagues.