Dec 3, 2012; Nashville, TN, USA; Hall of Fame member Phil Niekro talks with a member of the media during the Major League Baseball winter meetings at the Gaylord Opryland Hotel. Mandatory credit: Don McPeak-USA Today Sports

Braves All-Time Team

Ending our look back at Braves history, I now present my all-time Braves team.  Some players will not be at their primary position, but they will be put in positions where they had significant playing time.

C – Joe Torre (1960-68)

In his 4099 PA, Torre secured the starting spot behind the plate, worth more than 30 wins in his Braves career.  His .294/.365/.452 slash line was good for a 131 wRC+, hitting 142 HR.  His one weakness was his penchant to ground into double plays, as his 138 twin killings cost the team 15-20 runs during that span.  Del Crandall was the Braves catcher the decade prior to Torre, posting about 25 WAR, with his 170 HR supplementing his very good defense.  Javy Lopez hit 214 HR as the main source of his 22 WAR, while Brian McCann has been an all-around good hitter to amass 20 WAR so far in his career.

1B – Dale Murphy (1976-90)

And the position jumbling begins…  More known as a center and right fielder, Murphy did get 201 starts at first base early in his career.  His .268/.351/.478 slash line (123 wRC+) was boosted mostly by his 371 HR and 912 walks, producing about 45 WAR as a Brave.  His five gold gloves seem to be an over-estimation of his defensive ability, as his TotalZone rating was about average in the outfield.  Fred Tenney just missed out on the spot, posting just under 40 WAR with a good OBP approach and great defense around the turn of the 20th century.  Joe Adcock provided about 25 WAR in the Milwaukee era, hitting 239 HR in his 10 Brave seasons.

2B – Rabbit Maranville (1912-20,29-35)

Primarily a shortstop in his career, Maranville played mostly second base in his return to Boston.  Not much of a hitter, .252/.313/.329 (85 wRC+), Rabbit rated well defensively, worth just under 30 WAR in his Brave tenures.  Ross Barnes dominated the National Association as a Boston player, piling up 20 WAR in just over 1700 PA.  After that, there is a jumble of 15 WAR players at the position, including Martin Prado, Marcus Giles, Tony Cuccinello, and Bobby Lowe.

SS – Johnny Logan (1951-61)

In a dead heat with Herman Long, Logan gets the nod at the starting spot due to less playing time.  They each provided around 33 WAR, with the same formula of a below-average bat and good defense, but Logan did it in 5500 PA instead of Long’s 7500 PA.  The biggest difference between the two is Long’s 434 steals to Logan’s 19.  George Wright co-starred with Barnes, posting a bit almost 25 WAR in the early 1870’s.  Rafael Furcal used his speed and defense to exceed 20 WAR in his six seasons as a Brave.

3B – Eddie Mathews (1952-66)

The only Brave to play in all three cities, Mathews hit 493 homers and drew almost 1400 walks to post a .273/.379/.517 slash line (145 wRC+).  His 90+ WAR is the second-best total among position players in franchise history.  For those of you expecting a certain someone else here, he wasn’t better than Mathews but he is still forthcoming.  Darrell Evans, Billy Nash, Bob Elliott, and Ezra Sutton all contributed around 25 WAR as a Brave, while Bob Horner and Jimmy Collins provided 20 WAR.

LF – Chipper Jones (1993-2012)

Who knew those 352 starts in left field would lead him to such a prestigious honor?  All joking aside, Chipper rates as the third-best hitter in Braves history and the only player who never played in another professional franchise in his career.  His .303/.401/.529 slash line (141 wRC+) was the combination of tremendous plate discipline and very good power, leading to over 80 WAR in his 10000+ PA.  The position has been a problem for a long time (hopefully not now), as Rico Carty and his 144 wRC+ is the leader among primary left fielders in the franchise’s history.  Other short-time players like Sid Gordon, Ron Gant, and Lonnie Smith provided 15-20 WAR as Braves.

CF – Andruw Jones (1996-2007)

While a negative/disappointing tone is generally used talking about his career, Andruw was worth about 60 WAR in his 11+ seasons as a Brave.  His defense in center was quite possibly the best ever, certainly top 3, saving 20-40 runs per year his first five seasons and 10-20 his last six.  His bat never became elite, but a 114 wRC+ and 368 HR are more than manageable with his defense.  Wally Berger hit for good power during the 30’s, hitting 199 HR and posting a 140 wRC+, good for 35 WAR.  Hugh Duffy and Billy Hamilton thrived in the 1890’s, posting about 28 and 23 WAR respectively, stealing over 600 bases between the two.  In the 60’s, Felipe Alou had a solid line worth over 20 WAR, excelling during one of the best pitching eras ever.

RF – Hank Aaron (1954-74)

No Braves list is complete without Mr. Aaron.  13000 PA, 3600 H, 733 HR, and even 240 SB.  His .310/.377/.567 slash line (156 wRC+), along with a surprising +99 defensive rating, led to about 140 WAR, a top 10 total in history.  His consistency was matched by none, never having a historic season, but reached at least 6 WAR 15 straight seasons.  Tommy Holmes was the WWII star, good for about 35 WAR as a Brave.  David Justice was a key cog in the rise to dominance in the 90’s, nearly reaching 25 WAR to begin his career.

SP1 – Kid Nichols (1890-1901)

When talking about the franchise’s great pitchers, Nichols rarely comes up, but he is probably the best overall.  Pitching through the transition of moving the mound back 10 feet, he posted 100 WAR in his 12 seasons, standing toe-to-toe with Cy Young until Boston couldn’t afford him anymore.  It’s amazing that with his 361 wins, he got less than 5% of the HOF vote six times before the Old-Timers Committee elected him in ’49.

SP2 – Phil Niekro (1964-83, 87)

Another under-rated pitcher of all-time, Niekro and his knuckler compiled 85 WAR in his career as a Brave.  His peak came in his age 35-40 seasons, where a bad Atlanta team overshadowed his amazing 45 WAR stretch in six years.  It also took a lot longer than it should have to get him in the HOF, finally getting in on his fifth try.

SP3 – Warren Spahn (1942, 46-64)

The lefty was a consistent presence at the top of the Braves rotation, amassing 85 WAR while winning at least 20 games 13 times.  Surprising to me, he actually led the NL in K’s four straight seasons, contrary to his soft-tossing perception.  Who knows what his career totals would have looked like if he hadn’t served in the Army during WWII, getting wounded, instead beginning his big league career.

SP4-  Greg Maddux (1993-2003)

The most dominating pitcher on a per IP basis, Maddux was worth about 65 WAR in his 11 seasons as a Brave, highlighted by winning the CYA his first three years (though the first one was a miss by the voters).  He didn’t walk anyone, he kept the ball in the park, and he struck out his fair share of hitters through his early 30’s, all the while missing next to no time on the DL.  While Kris Medlen had a tremendous finish to last season, it’s amazing to think that Maddux essentially pitched at that level for about 10 straight years.

SP5 – Tom Glavine (1987-2002, 08)

Rounding out the rotation, Mr. Changeup used a steady compilation of very good seasons, along with one great one, to amass 55 WAR as a Brave.  He did not excel in any category, but he never gave in, limiting the damage more often than not.  His ’91 season was a legit CYA year, and he helped the team at the plate, adding 7-8 wins there.

SP/RP – John Smoltz (1988-2008)

Just to include some sort of relief contribution, Smoltz finds his way into a hybrid role.  After establishing himself as a top of the line starter, he returned from TJ surgery and re-established himself in the bullpen, then re-re-established (?) himself as a starter, as good as he ever was in his mid-30’s.  Overall, it added up to about 65 WAR as a Brave, probably possessing the best stuff of any starter in team history.

Honorable Mention goes out to a bunch of pitchers who threw their last pitch as a Brave over 100 years ago.  Al Spalding started the pitching tradition with his 50 WAR in the five seasons of the National Association.  Tommy Bond took over with 40 WAR in three seasons before his arm gave out.  The power pitcher Jim Whitney then surpassed 30 WAR in his five seasons.  After a couple down years, John Clarkson held the fort until Nichols came around, posting over 40 WAR in his five seasons.  Vic Willis then supported an “aging” Nichols around the turn of the century, posting about 45 WAR in his 8 seasons.  That is quite the run of pitching…

Just for fun, let’s see what a lineup would look like.

CF  Andruw
LF  Chipper
RF  Aaron
3B  Mathews
1B  Murphy
C    Torre
SS  Logan
2B  Maranville
P    Nichols

Tags: Atlanta Braves

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