In our look back on the best Braves players, we now head to the 1950’s. After three mediocre years in Boston, the franchise immediately became a first-division team when moving to Milwaukee, including a World Series title in 1957.
C – Del Crandall
Despite missing ’51 and ’52 due to military service in Korea, Crandall still put up around 20 WAR during the decade. He was an average hitter, but his great defense behind the plate made him a very good player. Aging veteran Walker Cooper was the starting catcher before Crandall settled in, providing about 8 wins in his four seasons.
1B – Joe Adcock
The sudden rejuvenation when moving to Milwaukee is fairly easily understood when looking at these first two players. Adcock was acquired from Cincinnati before the ’53 season, then proceeded to provide 17-18 WAR the rest of the decade with his great power, which included a four-homer game in ’54 and ending Harvey Haddix‘s 12-inning perfect game with a homer. The best season at the position in the decade was by Earl Torgeson in ’50, after posting a .412 OBP and 23 HR. Frank Torre and George Crowe also had positive contributions in backup roles.
2B – Danny O’Connell
Though his offense suffered quite a bit after his acquisition from Pittsburgh and never fulfilled his potential, O’Connell’s solid defense produced around 7 WAR in his four seasons with the Braves. In his mid-30’s, Red Schoendienst was good for 5-6 WAR in half the PAs as O’Connell, only striking out 3% of the time.
SS – Johnny Logan
Only an average hitter, the fiesty Logan was a great defensive shortstop, leading to over 30 WAR for the decade. No other players at the position made a positive contribution before took Logan took over.
3B – Eddie Mathews
A top 5 player in all the league, Mathews was worth nearly 55 WAR in his eight seasons with the franchise. His 299 HR and 726 BB led to a .281/.383/.548 slashline (150 wRC+). After his rookie season, he was essentially a guaranteed 7-win player the next decade. Bob Elliott had a couple good seasons before making way for Mathews.
LF – Sid Gordon
After coming over from the Giants, Gordon put up a 140 wRC+ the first four years of the decade, good for almost 20 WAR. He walked twice as much as he struck out, while also hitting 25 doubles and homers a year. Wes Covington was never a full-time starter, but he had a tremendous half-season in ’58, hitting .330 with 24 homers in 324 PA. The famous Giant Bobby Thomson also spent a few years with the Braves.
CF – Bill Bruton
After starting his career with four straight multi-hit games, Bruton never became a big offensive force, though his good defense led him to be worth around 14 WAR in his seven seasons with Milwaukee. After a great Negro League career, Sam Jethroe had a couple good seasons in his mid-30’s in Boston, leading the league in steals and showing good power.
RF – Hank Aaron
Much like Mathews, Hank had an average rookie season, followed by over a decade of MVP-type seasons. In his six seasons, Aaron accumulated almost 40 WAR, matching Mathews’ 150 wRC+. Andy Pafko spent most of his 30’s with the Braves, able to provide stability as a backup, but he was nowhere near his Cubs days.
With only Robin Roberts matching up with him during the decade, Spahn was good for about 50 WAR in over 2800 IP. His 2.93 ERA was helped quite a bit pitching in County Stadium, as his average park factor of 93 indicates, but he was still .8 R/9 below average for the decade. Even though strikeouts weren’t nearly as prevalent in the 50’s as they are now, Burdette’s 8.6% K rate was still over 30% below league average, depending greatly on his defense for his 20 WAR. Known more for his Hanson-esque hitting, Buhl was effectively wild, walking as many as he struck out, yet got above-average results, good for about 12 WAR. Bickford also had as many Ks as BBs, as his 311 IP in ’50 likely led to his downfall, out of baseball by ’54. His 8 WAR in the decade still grabs a spot in the rotation. Surkont was good for 6-7 WAR before joining Gordon, Jethroe, and others in a trade to Pittsburgh for O’Connell. Gene Conley and Jim Wilson were worth 4-5 WAR over their few years with the Braves.
Each of these guys good for about 3 WAR, McMahon had a couple good seasons to begin his career. The journeyman was a bit raw with Milwaukee, walking over four per nine innings, but ended up having a very good and overlooked career. The near Brave lifer Johnson was solid out of the bullpen in the mid-50’s, though his announcing was more influential than his pitching. Dave Jolly had a great, but lucky, ’54 season, as he walked as many, or more, than he struck out.