We now head into the heart of the “Rotten Years” in our all-decade list, as we hit the 1970’s.
C – Earl Williams
As you can already see, this team isn’t going to be too strong. Williams did win the 1971 Rookie of the Year, showing a decent bat, but he was never much for defense. He combined for a -45 TZ between catching and the corner infield spots, leaving his value at around 3-4 WAR with Atlanta. Biff Pocoroba and Vic Correll were the other catchers more than one full season of playing time, each performing around replacement level.
1B – Orlando Cepeda
While this decade only includes his last good season along with a couple partial seasons, the Baby Bull’s 5-6 WAR gets the nod at first base. Mike Lum was nearly as valuable, but he had three times as many PA’s to do so, knocking him out of the spot. Before his move to the outfield, Dale Murphy had about 75 starts behind the plate and 200 at first, but he was about replacement level through age 23.
2B – Davey Johnson
A complete fluke of a 43 HR season in 1973 gets Davey on the team, despite him only playing two years plus 1 PA with Atlanta. The current Nationals’ manager’s 6-7 WAR beats out Felix Millan for the spot.
SS – Marty Perez
A replacement level player, Perez struggled mightily at shortstop his first couple seasons before rebounding as a second baseman. Darrel Chaney and Sonny Jackson played some time there, while the decade’s worst player will be featured later.
3B – Darrell Evans
The team’s best player for the decade, Evans provided 25-26 WAR before his 1976 trade. His ’73 season was another overlooked season in Braves history, as his .959 OPS and tremendous defense at the hot corner was worth about 9 WAR. Bob Horner started his career with a nice bang, hitting 56 HR in his first year-and-a-half.
LF – Ralph Garr
The “Road Runner” earned the left field spot with his tremendous contact skills and great speed. However, his lack of walks and inability to play a decent corner outfield only left him as a 13-14 WAR player through 1975. Rico Carty, Jeff Burroughs, and Jim Wynn (despite his .207 average) all had decent seasons at the position.
CF – Dusty Baker
Another manager on the list, Dusty was above-average in all facets of the game in his four full seasons before heading to LA. His 14-15 WAR far exceeded anyone else, including his successor who will be featured later.
RF – Hank Aaron
Despite starting the decade at age 36 and only playing the first five seasons with Atlanta, Hank put together 23-24 WAR, primarily due to his .971 OPS. His OPS+ of 194 in ’71 was the best of his career, not bad for age 37. Gary Matthews Sr. had three solid seasons with the Braves, posting about 9 WAR.
To make this more visually accurate, there should be two or three gaps between Niekro and Morton, as Phil’s 60 WAR for the decade was only behind Seaver in all of the majors. He was the best pitcher in the last half of the decade, yet he never finished higher than 6th in the CYA voting. Despite not striking out many hitters, Morton kept the ball in the park, leading to three good seasons, worth about 15 WAR, with the Braves before his arm gave out in ’76. Reed, who also played with the Detroit Pistons in the 60’s, was a peripheral underperformer, as his ERA was half a run higher than his FIP. Putting more weight on the results, he was probably closer to 10 WAR before his trade to St. Louis. Ruthven had a similar ERA/FIP difference, but the horrific defense explains a lot of that, since Ruthven pitched later in the decade. His 8 WAR is enough to make the list, but I couldn’t leave out someone involved in a trade with Ozzie Osborn. The original free agent, Messersmith had a solid year-and-a-half with 6-7 WAR before injuries derailed his career. Buzz Capra had a very good ’74 season and that’s about it, while Pat Jarvis had a solid ’70 season.
Not exactly the strongest group, most of House’s value came in ’74, between his 1.93 ERA and catching Aaron’s 715th home run in the bullpen. Leon was never great, but lasted over five years with Atlanta, giving him a few wins of value. Garber started his Brave career with a bang in ’78, providing about 3 WAR after a mid-season trade. Dave Campbell, not to be confused with the ESPN announcer of the same name, debuted with a great ’77 season, but only pitched one more season in the majors. A cousin of fellow Braves pitcher George Stone, Cecil Upshaw started the decade rehabbing a severed ring finger, pitching two decent seasons after that before his trade to Houston.
You know it’s not a good decade when three players get this distinction. Office took over for Baker in center field and proceeded to cost the Braves four wins over his six seasons with the team. It’s amazing he got over 2200 PA when he was a -54 run bat, -38 run defender, and was caught stealing more often than he was successful. Rockett managed to do at least as much damage in 20% of the plate appearances, putting together a .539 OPS and -38 defense at shortstop in 459 PA. Royster makes this list because of one historically bad season. In ’77, a common year for all three of these players, Royster had a .566 OPS in almost 500 PA, about 36 runs below average. To make matters worse, spread out between second, short, and third, he rated -25 defensively, a season four wins below replacement level. I’m surprised that ’77 team even won 60 games.