Tuesday, April 10, 2012

All-Time Teams #2: Atlanta Braves

This is part of an ongoing series where I'm naming an all-time team for each of the current 30 MLB franchises, and using this as a vehicle to discuss their greatest eligible player who is not in the Hall of Fame.

UPDATE (1/8/15): I decided Chipper Jones, as one of the best position players in the franchise's history, needs to be in the starting lineup. So, I moved him to left field, where he was a starter for two years and played 356 career games. As a result, Hugh Duffy moves to the bench, leaving this team with four reserve outfielders and two infielders. Since Jones would still serve as the backup third baseman, this seems odd, but is somewhat defensible. In the end, however, it's because I feel Tommy Holmes deserves the all-time team honor more than any of the remaining third base options.

Hall of Famers who played all or close to their entire careers with a specific team are not necessarily locks to make my version of their all-time team. If they're questionable Hall of Fame selections, they might get passed over, but if it's a toss-up, the Hall of Famer probably gets the nod.

There's an example of the latter situation on this team. It shouldn't be too hard to figure out who I'm talking about.

Franchise History
Atlanta Braves (1966- )
Milwaukee Braves (1953-1965)
Boston Braves (1912-1935, 1941-1952)
Boston Bees (1936-1940)
Boston Rustlers (1911)
Boston Doves (1907-1910)
Boston Beaneaters (1883-1906)
Boston Red Stockings (1876-1882)

An asterisk (*) denotes a Hall of Famer.

C - Joe Torre* (1960-1968)
1B - Fred Tenney (1894-1907, 1911)
2B - Bobby Lowe (1890-1901)
SS - Herman Long (1890-1902)
3B - Eddie Mathews* (1952-1966)
LF - Chipper Jones* (1993, 1995-2012)
CF - Andruw Jones (1996-2007)
RF - Hank Aaron* (1954-1974)

Kid Nichols* (1890-1901)
Warren Spahn* (1942, 1946-1964)
Greg Maddux(1993-2003)
Phil Niekro* (1964-1983, 1987)
Tom Glavine(1987-2002, 2008)

John Smoltz* (1988-1999, 2001-2008)

C - Brian McCann (2005-2013)
1B - Joe Adcock (1953-1962)
SS/2B - Rabbit Maranville* (1912-1920, 1929-1933, 1935)
OF - Dale Murphy (1976-1990)
OF - Wally Berger (1930-1937)
OF - Hugh Duffy* (1892-1900)
OF - Tommy Holmes (1942-1951)

John Clarkson* (1888-1892)
Vic Willis* (1898-1905)
Tommy Bond (1877-1881)
Lew Burdette (1951-1963)

Bobby Cox(1978-1981, 1990-2010)

This is one of the teams where starting pitchers reign supreme. Maybe that will be the case for most franchises with such a long history, but with eight Hall of Fame caliber starting pitchers (thank goodness one of them is also the greatest closer in team history), it was hard to think of someone like Gene Garber as deserving of a roster spot.

Greatest Eligible non-Hall of Famer:

With nine existing Hall of Famers, four virtual locks for future induction (Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, C. Jones) and two additional active players (A. Jones, McCann) on this roster, that narrows things down a bit. In my opinion, the distinction pretty clearly comes down to either Torre or Murphy.

Murphy played a greater portion of his career with the Braves (12+ of 14 full seasons vs. 8 of 16 for Torre), but Joe Torre, in my book, has a greater overall Hall of Fame case.

Joe Torre baseball card from his Milwaukee Braves days

Torre will likely get into the Hall of Fame based on his managerial success with the Yankees in the late '90s and early '00s, but his playing career was, at worst, pretty damn near Hall-worthy as well.

He hit .297/.365/.452 (BA/OBP/SLG) over 8802 plate appearances for his career. 2342 hits, 252 HR, 1185 RBI and 996 runs beef up his resume as well. Those numbers don't really jump out at you as indicative of a sure-fire Hall of Famer, but his 128 OPS+ says he was a pretty great hitter in an era that favored pitchers.

Additionally, Torre's Hall of Fame candidacy gets a boost from the difficulty of the primary position he played. However, one mistake Hall of Fame analysts often make is to compare a player like Torre to other catchers when making a case for him. Catchers, due to the demands of the position and the reduced playing time that results, deserve special consideration, but Torre only deserves partial catcher credit. Here's how his primary positions break out by year for his 16 full seasons (not including insignificant partials at the beginning and end of his career):

C: 1961-63, 1965-69
C/1B: 1964
C/3B: 1970
3B: 1971-72, 1975
1B: 1973-74, 1976

That makes nine seasons (eight full plus two halves) as a catcher, and 3 1/2 each at first and third base. So, a little more than half of his career (less than half if you go by games played, but that's mainly due to the playing time disadvantage of the position) behind the plate.

Torre's 56 WAR over those 16 seasons (3.5 per) would be Hall of Fame worthy for a player who was exclusively (or close to it) a catcher. But, for a guy who was essentially half-catcher/half-corner infielder, they're borderline.

My opinion is Torre falls a little short of the Hall based on his playing career. Of course, that still means he's more deserving than a lot of current Hall of Famers, and he's plenty worthy based on his managerial career. In fact, if you were to evaluate his lifetime of baseball service, it would be hard to say that any player-turned-manager is more deserving.

He and Murphy do share very similar experiences with regard to Hall of Fame support. Torre received consistently greater than the necessary 5% and remained on the ballot for the full 15 years. But, he never even reached 25% in a single year, peaking at 22.2% in 1997, his final year on the ballot. Barring an unforeseen spike in his support, Murphy will drop off the ballot after next year's vote, his 15th unsuccessful attempt at enshrinement. Although it occurred earlier in his campaign (his second year on the ballot), Murphy's peak of 23.2% in 2000 was quite similar to Torre's.

Next Up: Baltimore Orioles


  1. What a weak infield for the team with two of the five best third basemen ever. I'm not sure if this fits your criteria, but I would've put Chipper in left and Duffy on the bench. I'm sure Rabbit can back up third.

    What a pitching staff! Hard to assess him because of his era and his short tenure, but Tommy Bond may be Hall-worthy as well.

  2. Thanks Bryan. I actually thought about Chipper in left field, but decided his two seasons there weren't enough to justify it.

    I struggle with 19th century pitchers. Bond had a handful of very good to great years, then started a sharp decline at age 24. Hard to consider a guy like that a Hall of Famer.

  3. I think its a great list, except that both Chipper and Eddie need to start. Whether thats putting Mathews at first or Chipper at short (came through the system as a shortstop), they both need to be in the lineup.

    Love to see Lowe and Berger getting their due recognition, but i have a question regarding each's position.

    Ross Barnes from the 1860s and 70s could be considered for the team, but I figured that you left him off because he played to early on.

    And what is your opinion on Billy Hamilton? He wears a Beaneaters cap in the HOF, but played more with the Phillies. Do you believe he deserves more credit as a Brave of a Phillie?

  4. Great comment, Anon. I'm actually starting to think I should have put Chipper in left, since he played there two years and it's an easier position on the defensive spectrum. I wouldn't put him at short, though, because he obviously wasn't considered good enough to play at such an important position.

    Ross Barnes played in his prime for the Boston Red Stockings of the National Association. They are not the predecessor to the Braves. His final year, he played with the National League Boston Red Stockings, but that one season wasn't enough to consider him for this all-time team.

    Billy Hamilton was considered, but his best years were with Philadelphia, so he'll get a longer look there.