What were the best Atlanta Braves franchise seasons - ever? Beyond that, how would they stack up against everyone else's?
This quarantine period has seen some quite ridiculous brackets over these last couple of months -- though admittedly I shouldn't talk much since I once wrote up a bracket to see how the hair of (then) Atlanta Braves GM Frank Wren would fare against the head dressings of his 29 counterparts.
It's been 6 years and a couple of thousand posts since then, but this newest idea coming out of MLB has some merit. At the core, there are two questions being asked here:
- Over the years that each of the 30 MLB franchises has existed, which two years were the best?
- Taking those teams as they existed then (plus 4 selected wild cards), how well would they do against one another in a 64-team bracket?
It's the Out-of-the-Park simulator being used to "play" the games involving these teams -- the same simulator being used by baseball-reference to run through the "as scheduled" 2020 season.
But there's this: are these the best representative teams for the Atlanta Braves?
- 1957 Milwaukee Braves
- 1995 Atlanta Braves
It's hard to argue about these selections since both clubs won World Series titles -- clearly these are the "safe" picks. That said, let's argue a bit about them anyway, since there's other potential entrants that could have been selected.
Atlanta Braves' Candidate seasons
- 1914 Boston Braves (94-59). World Series winners via a sweep of Philadelphia. The Miracle Braves. Hard to place them in the Elite pairing since the club was unable to maintain this greatness.
- 2nd place in 1915 (83-69), 3rd place in 1916 (despite a better record of 89-63).
- Still - they featured Hall of Fame members Rabbit Maranville and Johnny Evers.
- Any of the great Beaneater teams in the 1880's. The trouble in picking these teams -- despite some legendary players -- is the uneven competition that sometimes happened before the 'modern era' began.
- In 1897, for example, Boston went 93-39 (for a .705 win percentage).
- In 1898: 102-47. But how do you measure that against play over the most recent century?
- 1958 Milwaukee Braves (92-62). The chosen 1957 team won a few more games (95-59) and 1958's version lost to the Yankees in the World Series (7 games... after beating them in 7 the prior year). But were they better in '58?
- Hank Aaron (8.0), Eddie Mathews (7.4), Warren Spahn (4.7) and Johnny Logan (4.1) led the team in 1957 WAR.
- In 1958, Aaron (7.3) and Mathews (6.5) were both down a tick, but Spahn (5.9), Del Crandall (4.7), and Lew Burdette (4.1) picked up the slack. Total WAR difference was 1.0 in favor of 1957.
- Pitching was better in '58 (ERA lower by a quarter-run per game), though scoring was nearly 100 runs better in '57.
- I'll give the nod to the '57 squad, but it's close: if you could take the 1958 pitching with the 1957 hitting, you'd have a great combination.
- 1996 Atlanta Braves. Or 1998. Or 1993. Or 1999. All of these teams were excellent. Most won over 100 games. It's the 1996 club that should earn a closer look, though.
- Same checks as above, though the 1996 team excelled in many ways:
- WAR: 46.4 (1996) over 38.7 (1995). Greg Maddux had 9.6 of that by himself in 1995.
- Pitching: very close 3.44 (1995) edging out 3.52 (1996)
- Offense: 1996 leads easily in homers (197 to 168) and run-scoring (773 to 645).
- That doesn't even really count Andruw Jones, who was on the playoff roster at age 19 and came up big early in the World Series.
- This 1996 club had the Yankees on the ropes, but fell dramatically to lose the series in 6 games. It's the one we all wish they could finish differently.
- Ultimately, the 1995 club was chosen because they finished the job... but there is reason to believe that they weren't the best option of those 1990's teams.
Progress for the Atlanta Braves
This virtual "tournament" is underway now. The first round is complete. Here are a couple of notes from that:
- The 1931 Homestead Grays - a Negro League wild card team - won their 1st round matchup against the 1985 Blue Jays. Watch out for them (they get the '61 Yankees in Round 2). Watch out for this club.
- Likewise, the 1942 Kansas City Monarchs defeated the 2005 White Sox. They get the other Yankees representatives: their 1998 incarnation.
- The 1957 Milwaukee Braves beat the 2001 Diamondbacks, an event that included the best line note I've seen thus far: Hank Aaron homered off Randy Johnson.
- The 1995 Atlanta Braves beat the 2011 Milwaukee Brewers... barely. It took a 7th game walk-off 3-run jack by Javy Lopez with 2-outs in the top of the 9th to do it. As Mark Bowman slyly put it:
Javy Lopez drilled what could be the most dramatic homer by an Atlanta player during the computer simulation era.
In other action, the strike-limited 1994 Expos (a third wild card team) are in Round 2 as are the 2019 Nationals -- the defending World Series champs.
Atlanta/95 gets the 2004 Cardinals in the second round; Milwaukee/57 will face off against the 1967 Cardinals - a team that included Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. But they are all tough matchups at this point.
Braves results are to be revealed on the 27th and 26th, respectively, at MLB.com.