It's about time for a new season, and it's a good time to have a look over the Braves' record book. As you might suspect, Chipper Jones left his mark on the Braves team records, and his retirement leaves a bit of a void as far as current Braves being in a position to establish new records.
Most of the time, when a MLB team relocates, it assumes a new identity and wipes its record books clean of its former existence. For example, the Texas Rangers do not officially retain any records from when they were the Washington Senators. The Braves are different; they retain all franchise records going all the way back to the founding of the National League in 1876, and due to the changes in the game over the years, some of those records (such as Kid Nichols' 476 complete games pitched) are now unassailable. Therefore, cracking the Braves record book can be quite difficult, and doing so is usually a notable accomplishment.
So let's start with an ending: the wrapping up of Chipper Jones' career. He ends up as the franchise's all-time leader in career walks (1512) and career on-base percentage (.401). And in many other career hitting categories (games played, hits, runs, doubles, and RBI, to name a few), he finishes second to Hank Aaron. His career slugging of .529 is third among modern-era players behind Aaron and Wally Berger, and his 468 home runs are third behind Aaron and Eddie Mathews.
Of the players currently on the Braves roster, Brian McCann leads in career hitting stats in most categories. He's 27th in games played, at 1003; 28 in hits at 979, 17th in RBI at 604, 22nd in walks at 375, 13th in doubles at 214, and 12th in home runs at 156. If McCann remains in good health this year, he could be in 21st at the end of the season; he needs to appear in 116 games to move in front of '70s-era infielder Jerry Royster. Unfortunately, he will probably not be able to appear in the 149 games that he would need to pass Hugh Duffy and move into 20th. Given the conventional wisdom that the Braves won't be able to re-sign McCann after this year, it appears that he will end up just out of the top 20, sadly. He does have a shot at the top-20 in hits: 147 hits will move him ahead of Milwaukee-era outfielder Bill Bruton, as well as passing recent Braves Javy Lopez, Jeff Blauser, and MIchael Tucker. Heap needs five home runs to move ahead of David Justice for 11th on the home run list, and 15 to move ahead of Dal Crandall and break the top-10.
(And just for fun: Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville is the Braves' all-time leader in triples with 103. No one currently on the roster is in the top 50.)
In single-season hitting records, most of the marks in the averages-type categories are held by 19th-century players and are unbreakable today. In fact, Hugh Duffy's 1894 batting average of .440 is the all-time ML record. The modern-era team single-season batting average records is held by outfielder Rico Carty, who batted .366 in 1970. Chipper is second on that list with his batting-title-winning .364 in 2008, followed by Aaron's .355 in 1959. No player currently on the roster ranks in the top-100 in this category. Duffy also holds the single-season records in OBP and slugging; in the modern era, the record holders are Rogers Hornsby, who had a .498 OPB in his sole year with the Boston Braves in 1928, and Aaron, who slugged .669 in 1971. Marquis Grissom holds the record for most at-bats in a season with 671 in 1996; Duffy holds the record for hits with 237 in 1894 (modern era: Tommy Holmes, 224 in 1945); RBI, Duffy with 145 in 1894 (modern era: Mathews, 135 in 1953); walks, Bob Elliott with 131 in 1948. Surprisingly, the leader in HR in a season is not who you might think -- not Aaron or Mathews or Joe Adcock or Darrell Evans. It's Andruw Jones, who hit 51 in 2005. Dan Uggla is 33rd on that list with 36 home runs in 2011; he is the leader among players currently on the roster.
Now let's look at the career pitching records. The all-time record for wins in a Braves uniform is held by Warren Spahn, with 356. With the changes in the game since then, that's probably unbreakable. The whole top-10 is worth repeating because it's an interesting mix of players from different eras:
- 356 Warren Spahn
- 329 Kid Nichols
- 268 Phil Niekro
- 244 Tom Glavine
- 210 John Smoltz
- 204 Al Spalding
- 194 Greg Maddux
- 179 Lew Burdette
- 151 Vic WIllis
- 149 Tommy Bond
Spalding and Bond are from the very early days; Nichols and WIllis are deadball-era. Then we jump to the Milwaukee years, where we have Spahn and Burdette. Niekro is from the '70s, and Maddox, Glavine and Smoltz you know about. Now, we all know about starting pitching as a stat; piling up a bunch of wins is mainly a function of longetivity. Nonetheless, longevity is pretty good evidence of a player's talent. Which brings us to Tim Hudson, who is 16th on the list with 105 wins in a Braves uniform. We all know Huddy, while still talented and effective, isn't getting any younger. How much further up the list can he go? Five wins will put him ahead of Milwaukee-era pitcher Bob Buhl and up to 15th, but the next pitcher after that, Boston-era pitcher Dave Rudolph, is at 121. Given Hudson's age, I think his chances of making the top-10 are slim. On the other hand, we have to remember that Hudson pitched for six seasons on Oakland before putting on the tomahawk jersey. He starts the season with 197 career wins, and we can look forward to him reaching 200 in a Braves uniform.
Phil Niekro is the leader in total pitching appearances with 740. The leaders on this part of the list are all guys who pitched both ways; Niekro had 595 starts and 245 relief appearances, and there are similar mixes among other pitchers in the top-10 such as Spahn, Burdette, and Rick Camp. Among pure relievers, 1980s-era reliever Gene Garber is fourth on the list with 557 appearances, all in relief; Tom Glavine leads among pure starters with 518 appearances, all starts. The leader among players currently on the roster is Eric O'Flaherty, 23rd on the all time list with 276 appearances. (The recently departed Peter Moylan is 17th with 295.) 32 appearances will put O'Flaherty up to 15th, just ahead of Rick Mahler; if he manages 60 appearances this year, he will be up to 13th, eight ahead of Mike Remlinger. Jonny Venters is 37th on the list with 230 appearances. If only starts are counted, the all-time leader is Spahn with 635; Huddy is 14th with 222, and if he makes 33 starts this year, he will just break into the top-10, passing 19th-century pitcher Jim Whitney. In total innings pitched, Spahn leads with 5046; Hudson is 24th with 1441.2. He should be able to move into the top-20 this year; he needs 118 innings to take 20th from Rick Mahler.
John Smoltz is the franchise all-time leader in strikeouts with 3011. Hudson is 11th on that list with 902, and he only needs ten to pass 19th-century pitcher Charlie Buffington and move into the top-10. 22 K's puts him ahead of Burdette to 9th, but after that, there's a big gap to Jim Whitney with 1157. Hudson isn't going to break Smoltz's record, but we're moving into an era where there is more emphasis on pitchers throwing strikeouts, so that record is not unbeatable. The next current-roster player down the list is in 71st; that would be one Craig Kimbrel who has racked up 283 K's in two and a fraction seasons. He will probably never accumulate enough innings to challenge Smoltz's record, but that's a pretty good record in a short time. Four down the list from him we find Kris Medlen with 277K. Could Meds' repaired elbow hold up long enough to challenge Smoltz (assuming he remains with the Braves)? We'll see. The career ERA record is a bit muddy because of some vague stats on the early pitchers. We do know that Maddux leads among modern-era players (not counting Dick Rudolph, part of whose career was in the dead ball era) with a 2.63; that's doubly impressive considering that Maddux pitched during the steroids era. Hudson is 23rd on the list with a career 3.52.
In single-season records: Looking at wins, you have to go an awfully long way down the list to get out of the 19th century. John Clarkson went 49-19 in 1889; Al Spalding had two season better than that, including an incredible 54-5 in 1875, but that was during the National Association years when some of the opponents were amateur teams. Way down the list in 37th we find Smoltz, who went 24-8 in 1996; Johnny Sain, who compiled a 24-15 record in Boston in 1948, and Tony Cloninger, 24-11 with the lame-duck 1965 Milwaukee Braves. After that, we have a bunch of the usual suspects -- Maddux, Glavine, Smoltz, Spahn, Sain, Neikro, and Lew Burdette appear over and over. Spahn had thirteen 20-game-winning seasons in his career. You have to go way down the list, to 125th place, to find Hudson's 17-game winning season in 2010. (The Braves' most recent 20-game winner was, huh, Russ Ortiz who went 21-7 in 2003.)
Peter Moylan holds the top two spots for most pitching appearances in a season -- 87 in 2009, and 85 in 2010. The latter is tied with Jonny Venters, who appeared 85 times in 2011. For starts in a season, you once again have to go a long way down the list to get to a modern-era player. John Clarkson made 72 starts in 1889; Phil Niekro is in a tie for 26th on the list with 44 starts in 1979. No one on the current staff is in the top 100. The story is similar in innings pitched; Clarkson pitched 620(!) innings in 1889, and Nierko leads modern-era pitchers with 342 innings in 1979, 41st overall. Smoltz leads modern-era pitchers with 276 K's in 1996'; he's 4th all time behind Buffington, Whitney, and Clarkson. Surprisingly, among players on the roster, the leader is Brandon Beachy with 169 strikeouts in his rookie season in 2011, 63rd overall. Hudson's best was 158 in 2011, 78th overall.
Finally, we get to saves, which has not been an official stat for very long compared to the overall length of baseball history. Smoltz leads in career saves with 155, followed by Gene Garber with 141 and Mark Wohlers with 112. Kimbrel is 4th with 89. Two more typical seasons and Kimbrel will be the record holder. The single-season record is held by Smoltz who saved 55 in 2002, followed by Kimbrel with 46 in 2011.
I won't belabor too many of the single-game records, since you never know when one of these will be broken. None were broken in 2012. A few interesting ones: Red Barrett pitched a two-hit shutout for the Braves against the Reds on August 10, 1944. In this (a complete nine innings) Barrett threw only 58 pitches -- not only a Braves record, but the ML record. The Braves record for RBI in a game is 9, set by Tony Cloninger on July 3, 1966 in a 17-3 drubbing of the Giants. In that game, Cloninger hit two grand slams. He was the first player in the history of the National League to do that (it had been done in the AL before). Didn't we see Cloninger's name a few paragraphs up? Yeah, that's right -- he was a pitcher. He was and still is the only pitcher ever in the history of Major League Baseball to hit two grand slams in one game.