In this periodic series, I’ll take a look at one dominant team at a time, and we’ll set an over/under baseline on the amount of hall of famers that team will have from the era.
Today’s team is the 90’s era Braves, they of 15 consecutive division championship fame. The over/under: 4 1/2 hall of famers.
We’ll start with the locks from this era. Greg Maddux: lock. Tom Glavine: lock. Chipper Jones: lock. That’s three hall of famers from the 15 year era. Then there’s John Smoltz, who might not be a first ballot guy, but despite the recent hit his reputation has taken for poor performance, his body of work is almost certain to make him the fourth Brave into the hall from this era.
So if you’ll give me Smoltz, this question boils down to all the remaining players who helped the Braves to 15 consecutive division titles: is there another hall of famer anywhere? Or were the Braves simply a revolving door of good and great players matched up with three hall bound pitchers and one of the greatest hitters of the generation?
Well, let’s just say that I’m not putting my money 0n Vinny Castilla. Let’s go back to the pre-strike days, and throw out some names who just might one day go into Cooperstown with the rest of the great Braves of this dominant era.
*Jermaine Dye and Kenny Lofton are not under consideration because they only had one year each with the Braves, nor are Gary Sheffield or Andres Galarraga who both had two years with the Braves, but at the end of their respective careers. It is not otherwise a requirement that a player had his best years with the Braves.
Won the MVP in 1991, which has gotten his name thrown around in HOF discussions. Accrued 303 total bases in consecutive seasons. He’s assisted by the fact that his best years came from just before the strike and hall of fame era, but he’s not going to get any serious Hall pull. His career was remarkably mediocre. He was a solid defensive player who was above average every season range factor, and he won three gold gloves, but he was a 91 OPS+ guy, and that pretty much means he’s not going in under any circumstances.
Justice was a legitimately great hitter, posting a career 129 OPS+, but as a corner outfielder, he was somewhat undistinguished. Jim Rice posted a career 128 OPS+, and he only went in on his last year of eligibility with the sportswriters. He might have had a shot, but then he was linked to PED’s, and that takes a borderline hall of famer and makes him a very, very easy exclusion. Not to mention that Justice’s best year was his first year with Cleveland after he left Atlanta, and that was in the height of the steroid era.
Even in his peak, he was a tier below Eckersley in terms of reliever quality, but Mark Wohlers was very, very good for a very long time. Where he gets hurt is that he didn’t become the Braves closer until the 1995 world series year (he was already the team’s ace reliever since 1992), and only got one all star appearance when he started to accrue saves. Then, he imploded so spectacularly in 1998 that it really hurt his reputation. He returned in 2000 and offered two more years as a strong relief pitcher for the Reds and Yankees. He was out of the game by age 33. His hall candidacy is about what Eric Gagne’s would be if Gagne wasn’t a known PED user: visible, but not all that strong.
Charlie Leibrandt is a hall of famer in no ones mind, but you know, he’s better than some pitchers who are hall of famers in some minds. He was a very valuable player for a long time, first with Kansas City and then he threw together three front of rotation seasons with the Braves in their upstart years, and got replaced by Greg Maddux in 1993. He provided about as much total value to the Braves as Steve Avery did, but Avery did it at the beginning of his career, which puts him above Leibrandt in the minds of the masses. It was a better career than most realize, but not hall worthy.
Up until this point, we’ve looked at a bunch of Braves who won’t make the hall of fame, for various reasons. Lopez is the first guy on this list that I think might be able to get in. The guy was a truly excellent hitter for a catcher, and perhaps one of the best breaking ball hitters in the history of the game. His 112 OPS+ compares favorably to Ivan Rodriguez (108), and though he was never regarded as a great defensive player like Pudge was, he was a much better one than Mike Piazza. To this date, Lopez has not been linked to PEDs, though it’s pretty clear that his other two contemporaries used. I think, that although he’s going to have to wait, if Lopez’ name is never linked to performance enhancers, he will eventually get the call to Cooperstown.
He was an annual MVP candidate with the Braves, but never put together a single dominant season, and overall, his career numbers were hurt after he left Atlanta. His 112 OPS+ is significantly less than his outfield-mate Justice, and Ron Gant is not really a hall of fame candidate, although it certainly at one point during his career looked like the sky was the limit.
I think so. I know he only played a few years with the Braves, and was generally a journeyman which hurts his overall case, but McGriff was a great power hitter who slugged over .500 in nearly 9,oo0 ABs, numbers not adjusted for age decline. He was a remarkably consistent hitter: as effective at age 38 as he was as a rookie. Interestingly, the worst year of the relevant portion of his career came with the Braves. I ultimately think that McGriff will be a hall of famer, and when he does, it will count towards the hall of famers who helped the 90’s Braves.
Jones is a 10 time gold glove winner and perhaps the greatest defensive outfielder in the last 25 years. He’s still going as well, though the Rangers have moved him out of center field, he’s one of the best defensive corner outfielders in the majors this year, according to UZR. Historically though, Jones has been viewed as a bit of an underachiever, and his best chance to make the hall of fame is to do something great with his bat in the last part of his career. Jones is only 32. He’s got 388 homers. If he hits 500, he’s a sure fire hall of famer given his defensive value. I mean, heck, shortstop may be a glorified defensive position, but Omar Vizquel is going to get some hall of fame support and he has almost no offensive value. I think, and we’ll know a lot more at the end of next year, that Andruw Jones is a hall of famer.
Furcal has been maybe the best NL shortstop in the league over the last five years or so, and as a Brave product who helped to extend the string of division titles past where it perhaps deserved to be based on the peak of players like Jones, Maddux, Glavine, et al. But he’s not going into the hall. He’s a middling hitter in a historical context, and though he has tools, he’s not as good defensively according to UZR as he sometimes gets compared to.
McCann is only 25, is currently the leagues best hitting catcher, but didn’t play that much as a rookie in the 14th consecutive division championship, so putting him on this list might be out of context in the spirit of the list. His 122 OPS+ is excellent for a young catcher, and while it way too early to make a hall of fame case, he’s on the right track.
The interesting thing is that not one of these players fits nicely into the era in question, save Andruw Jones perhaps. But after looking at a lot of the fringe hall of famers from this era, I think I’m going to have to side with the over. I feel like the Braves should have about 6 hall of famers from the era, so 5 seems incredibly reasonable. I’m sold on the hall cases of Fred McGriff and Andruw Jones, and when you add them to a list that includes John Smoltz, Greg Maddux, Chipper Jones, and Tom Glavine, I’d say that this era of Braves dominance will be well represented in Cooperstown one day.