I’ll be honest, I don’t really know how or why this idea came to me. For whatever reason I thought it would be cool to take a look back over the past decade and look at the best and worst players at each position. “Best and worst” are very generic terms and can mean something different to everybody. Some people probably feel that Brooks Conrad was the worst 2B the Braves have had over the past decade. Although he didn’t make that spot on my list, I probably wouldn’t argue with you.
Basically what I did was look at the highest and lowest fWAR compiled at each position. Why fWAR? It is not the be-all-end-all, but WAR is a good proxy that takes into account both performance and playing time. It means I don’t have to arbitrarily assign innings or plate appearance limits, while taking into account both offense and defense, and still gives a very good estimate of “best and worst”. A for the “f” in WAR, I personally find FanGraphs much easier to sort through and manage for these types of posts than its brother Baseball Reference and rWAR. Yes there are some problems with this method. In the "worst" categories, it wound up being more of a collection of players who had really terrible, but short, stretches of playing time.
In the end, I found this project quite entertaining. Some of the names you uncover by doing this simply just make you laugh. Other times I just walked away thinking that there was way this dude wore a Braves uni within the past 10 years. Many of these names I still remember hearing as a young-ish kid on TBS.
Today, you will see the top/bottom 5 starters and relievers as well as top/bottom 3 catchers. Wednesday I’ll feature the top/bottom 3 infielders with outfielders coming on Thursday. FanGraphs makes it very easy to break down starters and relievers. Position players are a little harder because it doesn’t break down WAR at each position played. For example, Martin Prado qualified and made the top 3 list for 2B, 3B and LF. As you’ll see in coming posts, I chose to group him in with the LF’ers where he played the most innings defensively.
Finally, I also included the rank for the team as a whole at each position to give a gauge of how they’ve stacked up across the league over the past ten seasons. I also included which team lead at each position. Anyways, I hope you all enjoy this little mini-series.
WAR: 113.3 – Rank: 17 – Leader: Red Sox
It’s no surprise to see Hudson on top of the list here, pitching for the Braves in nine of the past ten seasons. Team wide, he will go down as one of the team best players over the past decade. Smoltz, who is only being judged based on games he started, had three phenomenal seasons for the team from 2005-2007. All three season he racked up 200+ innings with ERA’s under 3.50 each season. It was really quite incredible considering he made the transition back to the rotation after dominating in the bullpen for 3.5 seasons. Jurrjens and Hanson were neck and neck, racking up most of their value in their early season before injuries and physical breakdown got the best of each. Interesting to see Minor already make the list. With a solid 2014 season, him (and possibly Medlen) could jump past Jurrjens and Hanson on the list
Some cool names at the bottom of the list including 2014 HOF’er Tom Glavine. Glavine came back to the Braves in 2008 after 5 seasons with the Mets. He threw 63.1 innings, posting a 5.54 ERA and 6.02 FIP. Not exactly the best way to go out, but it was great to see him come back to the team who drafted at the age of 42 if you're into that kind of thing. Cormier made 18 starts with the club in 2006 & 2007, stinking up the joint, giving up a remarkable 16 home runs in 45.1 innings in 2007. Lerew only make three starts, giving up 10 earned in 11.2 innings. This is all that really matters though. Jo-Jo Reyes was also pretty bad as a starter. Kameron Loe’s one infamous start from this past season couldn't hide, as he finished with a line of 4.1IP, 11H, 5ER, 3BB, 0K, 2HR, poor enough to make the bottom 5.
WAR: 35.3 – Rank: 9 – Leader: Rangers
I didn’t really expect the top 3 to be anything other than the “O’Ventbrel” trio. Of course, Kimbrel tops the list, putting together three of the most dominant seasons by a closer in baseball history, including a 2012 where he struck out over half the batters he faced. Venters and O’Flaherty have also been two of the best relievers in the game, especially against lefties in which they were nearly unhittable. Soriano, who is now signed with the rival Nats, pitched three seasons with the team. Most off of his value came during the 2008 season where he pitched 75 innings posting a 2.97 ERA. He struck out a third of the batters he faced, limiting hitters to a .190 average. Wagner caps off the list, pitching one season with the team in 2010 before hanging up after his injury in the NLDS. At 38 years old, he appeared in 71 games, striking out 38.8% of batters faced. His 1.42 ERA (36 ERA-) was the third best ERA by a qualified reliever that season. Mr. John Smoltz was 6th on the list, just missing the cut as both a starter and reliever.
Also lot of familiar names on the bottom of the list. I still don’t know how Scott Proctor lasted as long as he did during the 2011 season. He walked more batters than he struck out and gave up 1.53 HR/9. Travis Smith made two separate stints with the Braves, 2004 and 2006. His reliever number came from the 2004 season where he game up 17 runs on seven home runs. Chad Durbin, who was almost the second coming of Proctor, actually had a decent 3.10 ERA, but his 4.78 FIP suggested more damage should have been done. Acosta was actually with the club for three seasons, but consistently put too many men on base to gain any sort of value. Jim Brower was tied with a cast of characters like Tom Martin, Jo-Jo Reyes (again) and Kyle Davies who each were abysmal in short stints in the bullpen.
Side note - Braves relievers had the second lowest ERA over this span.
WAR: 35.9 – Rank: 3 – Leader: Indians
Again, no surprise here. McCann who came up in 2005, ended his tenure with the Braves this offseason, but racked up nearly 30 wins in 1105 games. During the past decade, he has placed himself into the conversation of best catcher in the league. Second was Davis Ross who during his time with the Braves put himself into the argument of best backup catcher in the league. He was consistently worth around 1.5 wins per season and provided a nice right-handed complement to McCann’s left handed bat. In four seasons, he put up around a full seasons worth of PA’s (663) and posted a .269/.353/.463 line – quite remarkable. Estrada surprised me, but his 2004 season was one to remember. His triple slash of .314/.378/.450 seeming came out of no where, by far the best season of his career. According to fWAR, 3.0 of his 3.3 career wins came in that one season. A lot of value on this came from the defensive side of the baseball with all three players.
As for the bottom of the list, at least it was filled with a lot of cool names. Pena never really saw much time with the Braves, but when he did, it was a bit of a black hole in the lineup. It hasn’t really improved much since then either, even though more current teams feel comfortable giving him 200 PA’s as season. From 2005 to 2008 Pena posted a 42 wRC+ in 131 PA. Clint Sammons is not even the best name on the list. Again, never really saw much time from 2007-2009, but did manage to pop one home run in 2008. Corky actually saw time with the Reds last season after being stuck in the minors for the previous two seasons. With the Braves, he put up a scorching 10 wRC+ in 96 PA.
Another side note - Evan Gattis is already 4th on this list.
Ok, more tomorrow and Thursday.