In the latest thread, mvhsbball asked the question-- what is your ideal Braves lineup? A couple of people responded in the comments with their all-time Braves lineups, and that got me curious-- what were the best single seasons, by position, in Atlanta history?
My only rule is that these must be seasons by Atlanta Braves, not Milwaukee or Boston Braves. So, 1966 to now is our timeframe.
I was surprised by a couple of the findings, but for the most part, these are really great players that you should not be surprised to see on this list. We'll start with the starting lineup.
(Note-- all WAR figures are, unless otherwise indicated, fWAR. The triple slash numbers for hitters are batting average, OBP, and SLG, for the uninitiated.)
Batting leadoff, it's...
1. Lonnie Smith, 1989 (.315/.415/.533) [LF]
Being born in 1991, I had no idea Lonnie Smith's 1989 would be the best season by a LF in Braves history. But it arguably was, as Smith added 25 stolen bases to his incredible .415 OBP. Throw in his 23 runs saved defensively, and he is a worthy first addition to the team, and he slots in perfectly as the leadoff man.
2. Chipper Jones, 1999 (.319/.441/.633) [3B]
Chipper deservedly won the MVP in '99, hitting 45 home runs, stealing 25 bases on 28 attempts, and reaching base 44% of the time. His 2008 season came close, but I'll give the edge to '99 because he played in 157 games, compared to 128 in '08. Either way, the combination of power, OBP, and speed makes '99 Chipper a perfect #2 hitter.
3. JD Drew, 2004 (.305/.436/.569) [RF]
Okay, so the obvious question is-- how could I have JD Drew over Hank Aaron? Well, Aaron's best seasons were in Milwaukee, and as I mentioned before, I'm not counting those. Drew's 2004, however, was incredible-- I don't think many people remember how good he was for us. He hit 31 home runs, got on base almost 44% of the time , and played phenomenal defense in right field, posting a 16.3 UZR. Sheffield's '03 came very close, but Drew's defensive contributions give him the edge.
4. Javy Lopez, 2003 (.328/.378/.687) [C]
In Javy's last season in Atlanta, he was one of the best players in baseball. He hit 43 home funs and drove in 109 in just 129 games, posting a 169 WRC+, good for 3rd in MLB behind Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols. The fact that it was from the Catcher position makes it that much more impressive. His absurd .687 slugging percentage and 43 homers make him a perfect cleanup hitter.
5. Andres Galarraga, 1998 (.305/.397/.595) [1B]
Galarraga signed with the Braves prior to the '98 season, and proved that he was not an illusion of Coors Field. He hit 44 home runs, drove in 121, and posted an OBP close to .400, good for the best season by a first baseman in Atlanta history. McGriff's 1994 is a close second, but he only played in 113 games, so I'll give the edge to the Big Cat.
6. Andruw Jones, 2005 (.263/.347/.575) [CF]
Jones's last great truly great season. As a 28 year old, Andruw had his best year, hitting 51 home runs, driving in 128, and playing some of the best defense in the history of the game. He was also extremely durable, missing only 2 games the entire season. While his '00 season came very close, I'll give the edge to '05 for the crazy power numbers. (As an aside, this outfield defense is insane-- Smith, Jones, and Drew each around 20 runs saved apiece.)
7. Marcus Giles, 2003 (.316/.390/.526) [2B]
In 2003, Giles went from being a part-time, light hitting middle infielder to being the best second baseman in the NL. His 7.0 WAR was tied for 7th (With teammate Javy Lopez) in MLB, behind only Barry Bonds, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Gary Sheffield, Todd Helton, and Bret Boone (Really? Bret Boone?). Giles was a doubles machine, hitting 49 on the year, and added 21 home runs. He also played great defense, good for a 9.0 UZR, and added 14 SB for good measure. All in all, a really solid season from Giles, and definitely his best.
8. Greg Maddux, 1995 (1.63 ERA, 2.26 FIP, 209.2 innings) [P]
Yeah, I'm hitting the pitcher 8th. Optimized lineup construction FTW. Maddux was totally ridiculous in 1995, easily the best pitcher in the NL, and won the Cy Young in a landslide. He went 19-2, had an ERA well under 2.00, and helped lead the Braves to their only World Series victory in the 90s. This season barely beats out some other truly terrific ones, including Phil Niekro's 1978 and John Smoltz's 1996.
9. Jeff Blauser, 1997 (.308/.405/.482) [SS]
A truly underrated player, Jeff Blauser's final season in Atlanta was his best. Bluaser played in 151 games, showed solid pop with 17 home runs, and got on base more than 40% of the time. He also played average defense. Rafael Furcal may have had some flashier seasons, but none were as solid as Blauser in 1997.
And here's the rest of the starting rotation. After Maddux, we have...
2. Phil Niekro, 1978 (2.88 ERA, 2.76 FIP, 334.1 innings)
Yes, that says 334 innings, 38.1 higher than the next closest player (Jim Palmer, with 296). And Niekro was 39 years old. It's amazing that Niekro's best season came at such a late age, but he was incredible in '78, probably the best pitcher in the Majors. He only finished 6th in Cy Young voting, probably due to his 19-18 record, but he was more valuable than winner Gaylord Perry, posting a similar ERA (Perry's was 2.73) but throwing more than 80 more innings. Perry's largest edge was in the W-L column, posting a 21-6 record. But, as most fans know by know, W-L record is a very poor indicator of...well, anything. Niekro was the best pitcher in 1978, and had one of the best seasons in Atlanta history.
3. John Smoltz, 1996 (2.94 ERA, 2.64 FIP, 253.2 innings)
Smoltz was crazy good in '96, and won the NL Cy Yound award. Smoltz posted the lowest FIP in MLB, striking out a league-leading 9.79 per 9 innings, while only walking 1.95. Throw in the fact that he was third in the Majors in innings pitched, and Smoltz was perhaps the best pitcher in baseball that year. This was Smoltz's best year as a starter, and he is an unbelievable #3 starter for our imaginary team.
4. Tom Glavine, 1991 (2.55 ERA, 3.06 FIP, 246.2 innings)
Glavine had his best season in 1991, easily winning the NL Cy Young award. Though his fWAR was not the highest in the league, his bWAR was easily the best, at 7.4, nearly 2 wins better than the closest player (Dennis Martinez). The '91 season was obviously a wonderful ride for Braves fans, and Glavine's masterful pitching helped lead the Braves back into the playoffs for the first time since 1982.
5. Javier Vazquez, 2009 (2.87 ERA, 2.77 FIP, 219.1 innings)
Okay, well, those first 4 were easy. Finding the last man to round out the rotation was a little tougher. I initially went with Kevin Millwood here, but I was reminded in the comments that I forgot about a really obvious one-- Javier Vazquez in 2009. In his only year for Atlanta (and his last year before he suddenly forgot how to pitch), Vazquez was incredible, striking out nearly 10 per 9 innings while only walking 1.81. Frank Wren was roundly criticized for trading Vasquez, but after being traded to the Yankees, he suddenly lost 3 mph off of his fastball, and his ERA rose above 5.00. So the Braves even got rid of him at the right time.
And for good measure, we'll throw in a closer--
CL- John Smoltz, 2003 (1.12 ERA, 1.54 FIP, 45 SV)
I guess it's kind of cheating to have Smoltz listed twice, but I don't care-- to me, Smoltz the closer and Smoltz the starter are two different players. While Smoltz had 10 more saves in 2002, he was a better pitcher by a pretty significant margin in '03. Smoltz struck out 10.21 per 9 innings, walking a miniscule 1.12, and only gave up 2 home runs in 64.1 innings. Honestly, this is one of the best performances by a reliever in MLB history, and definitely the best by a Brave.
So, that's what I came up with. What does everyone else think? Am I crazy for leaving Hank Aaron out? Does McCann deserve a spot over Lopez? McGriff over Galarraga? Post your suggestions/criticisms below.