Welcome to the All-Time Franchise Starting Lineup, where every other week, we go through one of the current MLB franchises to determine the players most deserving of making the squad. This week we continue our alphabetical march with the Atlanta Braves. If you missed the inaugural installment on the Arizona Diamondbacks, below are the selection process parameters:
The Ground Rules
- The player’s WAR with the franchise was the primary driver of the selections. However, other considerations were made at our discretion when the WAR values were close.
- We only counted statistics earned with the franchise in question for each player. For example, someone like Albert Pujols won’t be the Dodgers’ first baseman since he only played there for part of a season near the end of his career.
- Players with multi-position eligibility can play any position they played for a reasonable period with the team.
- Outfielders can be shifted between center, left, and right as long as it makes a semblance of sense defensively – especially for center field.
- Since we have universal DH now, we will assign one DH per team. Doing so also allows us to get more deserving hitters into the lineup who played at a log-jammed position.
- Three pitchers will be named – one right-handed starter, one left-handed starter, and one reliever.
Unlike the Diamondbacks, who’ve only been around for 25 years, the Braves have a long and storied history. They were established in 1876 as the Boston Red Stockings but changed their name to the Beaneaters in 1883. In 1907, the franchise changed its name to the Doves, then to the Rustlers after only four seasons. The Rustlers only lasted for one year before the franchise settled on the Braves in 1912, although there was a short period from 1936 to 1940 where they were the Bees.
The franchise left Boston for Milwaukee in 1953 and finally settled in Atlanta in 1966. Over its 147-year existence, the team has a .501 winning percentage with 18 pennants, 27 playoff appearances, and four World Championships. During the 1990s, the Braves were the dominant NL team, making the playoffs 14 years in a row from 1991 to 2005 (not including the strike-shortened 1994 season). In 2021, they won the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros, making the Braves the current World Champions.
Catcher: Brian McCann
Second Base: Bobby Lowe
There were no obvious choices for second base, and Bobby Lowe’s WAR of 23.1 is the lowest of any player on this team. He gets the nod primarily due to his longevity with the franchise. Should current Brave Ozzie Albies stay with the team and continue to produce for a few more seasons, he may replace Lowe in the lineup. Lowe broke in with the Boston Beaneaters in 1890 and was with the club for twelve seasons before being sold to the Chicago Orphans. He was a good hitter with plus speed and excellent power for his day, slugging 70 HRs while with Boston. Lowe played on the 1892 Beaneater team that won the World Series over the Cleveland Spiders in six games.
Shortstop: Herman Long
The other Beaneater to make the squad is Herman Long, Bobby Lowe’s teammate in Boston. Johnny Logan and Rabbit Maranville were considered for shortstop as well, but Long gets the nod as his WAR was quite a bit higher than the other two. Long broke in with the American Association Kansas City Cowboys but was sold to the Beaneaters in 1890 before making his MLB debut. He remained with Boston for the next 13 seasons and thus was also a member of the 1892 World Champions. Long was an excellent defender, exhibited by his having the highest defensive WAR in 1898. His 7,497 plate appearances rank seventh-highest on the all-time franchise list.
Third Base: Eddie Mathews
After Hank Aaron, the two players with the highest WARs were both third basemen – Eddie Mathews and Chipper Jones. We slotted Mathews in at third as his superior defensively and assigned Jones as our DH. Eddie Mathews broke in with the Boston Braves in 1952 – the team’s last season before moving to Milwaukee. He bookended this by spending his final season with the club in 1966 – their first year in Atlanta. On the last day of 1966, the Braves traded Mathews to the Houston Astros, ending his run with the club after 2,223 games. He made twelve All-Star appearances with Milwaukee over nine seasons (there were two All-Star games from 1959 to 1962). A great power-hitter was an excellent eye; Mathews led the league in HRs twice and BBs four times. In his fifth year of eligibility, the BBWAA elected him to the Hall of Fame in 1978.
Left Field: Dale Murphy
The All-Time outfield for the Braves was pretty straightforward. Though Dale Murphy played primarily right and center field, we moved him to left to get him into the lineup. Murphy started his career as a catcher. After a few September call-ups in 1976 and 1977, he made the club as a first baseman in 1978. By 1980, Murphy was primarily an outfielder, and his career took off. He made his first of seven All-Star game appearances that season and became the face of the 1980s Braves. By the end of the decade, Murphy amassed five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, and two MVP awards. He led the league in HRs and RBI twice and played in 162 games four straight years from 1982 through 1985. Murphy’s tenure with Atlanta ended on August 3, 1990, when they traded him to the Phillies.
Center Field: Andruw Jones
Andruw Jones may have been the greatest defensive outfielder of all time. If he’s not, he’s on the shortlist as he owns the highest defensive WAR among all outfielders. He was a pretty good hitter too. Jones made his Braves debut in late 1996 at the tender age of 19. The Braves were coming off a World Championship that season and made it back to the series in October. Jones played well enough to make the post-season squad and made an impression on the world by hitting .400 and slugging two HRs in the series (which the Braves lost). From there, Jones would flourish in centerfield for Atlanta for the next 11 seasons, winning ten gold gloves along the way. In addition, he made five All-Star teams, won a Silver Slugger, and led the NL in HRs and RBI in 2005. Jones signed with the Dodgers after the 2006 season but was never the same, floating around for the last five years of his career.
Right Field: Henry “Hank” Aaron
Henry “Hank” Aaron is among the greatest players of all time, so his inclusion is a no-brainer – especially since he spent all but the last two years of his 23-year career as a Brave. Aaron joined the Braves as a 20-year-old rookie in 1954. In 1955, he made his first All-Star game appearance, where he would return for the next 20 years. In addition, Aaron’s trophy closet included three Gold Gloves and the 1957 NL MVP. On top of this, he led the league in doubles, RBI and HRs four times and won two batting titles. His 136 WAR is the sixth-highest among all hitters in history. Everyone knows about Aaron’s 755 HRs, which he held as the record until Barry Bonds controversially broke it in 2007, but he was much more than a great power hitter. Aaron joined the Hall of Fame in 1982 on his first try with 97.8% of the vote. How this was not 100% is hard to fathom.
Designated Hitter: Chipper Jones
We already mentioned that Chipper Jones had the third-highest WAR in Braves franchise history after Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews. So he was an easy choice as our DH. Chipper was the ultimate Brave, spending his entire 19-year Hall of Fame career in Atlanta. Only Aaron played in more games as a Brave. Jones made his debut in September 1993 but missed all of 1994 due to injury. So his MLB career really got started in 1995, a year that would culminate in a World Series championship for the team. It would be the only ring Jones would win despite twelve more playoff appearances. Jones made eight All-Star games in his career to go along with two Silver Sluggers and the 1999 NL MVP. In 2008 he w0n the NL batting title with a .364 average. 97.2% of the BBWAA voted Jones into the Hall of Fame in 2018 – his first year of eligibility.
Right-Handed Starter: Greg Maddux
Greg Maddux and Kid Nichols had almost identical WARs for the franchise. However, Maddux generated his over 2.5k innings pitched versus 4.5k for Nichols. In other words, Maddux was much more dominant. Maddux joined the Braves as a free agent before the 1993 season on the heels of his first Cy Young Award with the Cubs. The Braves were coming off back-to-back World Series defeats and already had two All-Star level starters in Tom Glavine and John Smoltz. Despite this awesome rotation and a ton of playoff appearances, the Braves only won one World Series during this era. Maddux, however, did his best to get them there. In his 11 seasons in Atlanta, Maddux won three Cy Youngs, pitched in six All-Star games, and added ten Gold Gloves. He left the franchise as a free agent after the 2003 season but definitely left his mark. Maddux was elected to the Hall of Fame in 2014 in his first year of eligibility with 97.2% of the vote. For more on Maddux’s illustrious career, check out our Top Ten pitchers of all time.
Left-Handed Starter: Warren Spahn
Tom Glavine got a bit of consideration as the Braves’ left-handed starter, but in the end, the WARs weren’t very close as Warren Spahn’s was 20 points higher. Some of this was due to longevity, but Spahn also surpassed Glavine in ERA and FIP throughout his Braves’ career. Spahn’s rookie season was in 1942 when he threw a total of 15.2 innings. He didn’t pitch again until 1946 due to his involvement in World War II. By this time, Spahn was already 25 years old. However, this didn’t keep him from launching a Hall of Fame career. He played until 1965 before he finally retired at the age of 44. All except the last two seasons of his career were with the Braves. Spahn played in 17 All-Star games altogether and took home the Cy Young award in 1957. He was a workhorse, leading the league in innings four times and complete games nine times. In addition, Spahn won three ERA titles and four strikeout totals over his long career. The BBWAA put him into the Hall of Fame in 1973 with 83.2% of the vote.
Reliever: John Smoltz
We’re cheating a bit here as John Smoltz was the Braves closer for only three and a half seasons. That said, he did legitimately close for a period, and it was appropriate to get him in the lineup as he is the franchise leader in WAR among pitchers. Craig Kimbrel leads Braves firemen in WAR, but Smoltzy is only two and a half points behind him as a reliever, so pretty close. Smoltz debuted in 1988 and retired in 2009, spending all except the last season in Atlanta. He was with the club for the entire run of dominance from 1991 through 2005. Smoltz was a great regular season pitcher but always seemed to raise his game in the post-season, where he owns a career 2.67 ERA with 15 wins. His resume includes eight All-Star selections, a Silver Slugger, and the NL Cy Young in 1996. He led the NL in wins twice and saves once and joined the gang in Cooperstown in 2015.
The Braves have a long history which features many Hall of Famers and a few all-time greats. From Boston to Milwaukee to Atlanta, they are one of the most storied franchises in MLB history. Up next in two weeks is another such franchise: the Baltimore Orioles.
Featured Image Adapted by Justin Redler (@reldernitsuj on Twitter)