I started this list a month-and-a-half ago after putting the list together before the season. I now finally review the next five players on the list. So, that may show you how prolific of a writer I am. Either way, here is my attempt to look at the Top 50 players in Braves franchise history. Today, among the five I center on are a phenom that never really lived up to the hype and the first person to ever hit four homers in a game all the way back in 1894.
What are the criteria for such a list? I start with a player’s WAR from both Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference. I then take the average. Here’s an example from a player who missed the Top 50: Bob Horner ended his career with a WAR from Fangraphs of 19.4. Baseball-Reference gave him a WAR of 20.55. That gives him an average of 21.
From there, I added some bonus points. Players get 1 extra point for being on a World Series-winning team or winning an MVP, Cy Young, or Rookie of the Year. They also get a half-point for the number of All-Star Games, Silver Sluggers, or Gold Gloves they had during their Braves career or if they won a pennant with the franchise before the AL and NL merged to form Major League Baseball. Further, I give relief pitchers a little bit of a boost – essentially utilizing any kind of relief award I could find. You can call this exception the Kimbrel rule.
Back to Horner, his total was increased by 1.5 points with a Rookie of the Year and trip to the 1982 All-Star Game, giving him 22.05 points. That left him just .3 short of the Top 50.
One more thing – this list only recognizes a player’s accomplishments with the organization. I don’t care what Tom Glavine did with the Mets. This is all about the Braves. And with that said, let’s get on with it starting with #45.
45. Craig Kimbrel, 22.8 pointsWhen I originally did this list, it was impossible to get Kimbrel on here – which was a real shame to me. So I invented the Kimbrel Rule, which gave Kimbrel a ridiculous amount of bonus points to overcome his relatively lower WAR totals and join the Top 50. Hey, it’s my list.
While his more recent work may taint him in the eyes of many, I am still going to remember the guy who was lights-out dominant on the Turner Field mound. A four-time All-Star in five years with the Braves, Kimbrel had a 1.43 ERA in 289 innings to go with 476 strikeouts and 186 saves. He led the league in saves four consecutive years – including a franchise-record 50 in 2013 – and remains the franchise leader in career saves. Sure, he was just a closer, but when he was a Brave, there was no one better in my eyes. I’ll gladly invent an arbitrary rule to get him on this list.
44. Charlie Buffinton, 22.95 points
Born in Fall River, Massachusetts, about two months after the First Battle of Fort Sumter, Buffinton joined the Boston Red Stockings in 1882 at the ripe old age of just 21. One of his first five starts was the first of 30 career shutouts, including 19 with Boston. While he never outshined his peers by leading the league in any National League categories, he continued to be one of the circuit’s best arms during the 1880s – mostly with Boston.
His best year was, without a doubt, 1884. In 67 starts and 587 innings, because that’s just how they did it, he finished the year with a 2.15 ERA, 0.991 WHIP, and 417 strikeouts. The strikeout total remains a single-season record in franchise history, though many recognize John Smoltz‘s 276 K’s in 1996 as more of the record since it’s closer to the “modern game” we understand. After all, Buffington was only 50 feet from home plate when he released the ball since that was the rule. Nevertheless, only eight pitchers during the 19th century struck out more batters than Buffington.
As was usually the case during this era, arm problems limited him almost immediately leading to Buffinton being shipped off to Philadelphia after 1886. He’d also play a season in the Player’s League and American Association before returning to the NL to finish his career with Baltimore in 1892. He was a shell of his former self and after being asked to take a pay cut, he retired. Buffinton died in 1907 of heart disease.
43. Tim Hudson, 23.3 points
It seems a little weird that Hudson is on this list at first glance. A Cy Young candidate three times in Oakland and a two-time All-Star there, Hudson’s reign in Atlanta was rarely as accomplished. Well, except for his 2010 season where he finished the year with a 2.83 ERA. Yet, he was a calming force as a Brave who appeared in 244 games, threw 1573 innings, and had an ERA of 3.56.
Sure, he wasn’t as noteworthy in Atlanta as he had been as one of the Three Aces with Mark Mulder and Barry Zito. And due to coming to Atlanta at a time in which they were transitioning from the Maddux/Glavine era, he only appeared in three postseason starts, but Hudson was routinely one of the better pitchers in baseball while with the team – even if he often missed starts with one ailment or the other. He ranks 9th in career strikeouts with the Braves, just three shy of 1,000, while also ranking in the top 20 in innings pitched, games started, K/BB rate, win probability added, and adjusted ERA.
42. Jason Heyward, 23.45 points
Okay, yes, his WAR always played louder than the performance we saw on the field. I hear you just fine. And I am more-than-aware that Heyward never reached his sky-high ceiling in Atlanta and, like the band Bush, his debut was better than any of the follow-ups that came after it. I’m not going to try to convince you otherwise. And seriously, just how good was Sixteen Stone?
But if you take away the name, the hype, and the context and simply look at Heyward’s five seasons in Atlanta, you’re left with a .262/.351/.429 slash, 84 homers, 67 steals, and elite defense. Should that be enough to get a player on the Top 50 Braves of all time? Well, according to my rules, absolutely. It will always be a shame that we never saw the ultra-patient slugger of his rookie year again, though. That version of Heyward was transformative.
41. Bobby Lowe, 23.65 points
The first five players I revealed for this list started with Eddie Collins. We end the second article in this series with another quarter of what was once called the best infield in baseball history. We’ll see the other half later.
Lowe joined the Beaneaters in 1890 and needed very little time to establish himself as one of the best second basemen in baseball. In 1893, he became one of the game’s very best players as he hit .298/.369/.433 with 14 homers. He did even more than that the following year, thrilling fans with a .346/.401/.520 slash that looks damn good in any era. Lowe added 34 doubles, 11 triples, and 17 homers – all career highs. He also achieved baseball immortality that year when he bashed four homers in one game – including two in the same inning – as Boston throttled Cincinnati in Boston. So amazed were the fans by what they witnessed that they gave him $160 in silver after the game.
Yeah. In their defense, nobody had ever done that before.
Lowe’s numbers after 1894, while they remained solid for his era, were never that elite again. As he hit his 30s, they slipped even more. After 1901, with Boston’s dynasty over, he was sold to Chicago. Only a year later, he became Johnny Evers‘ backup before moving to the Tigers (with one game with the Pirates mixed in). He became a coach and a scout once he retired after the 1907 season following 18 years in the majors.
One last fun and kind of sad story about Lowe. After Lou Gehrig became the third player to hit four homers in a single game in 1932, Lowe dusted off his old Beaneaters uniform and took a picture with the Yankee Clipper. Speaking fondly of Gehrig, he said he felt “complimented to share the record with so grand a boy.” Unfortunately, despite being 38 years older than Gehrig, Lowe would outlive him by a decade. Lowe would pass away in 1951.
And with that, we are ten names down in our countdown of the Top 50 Braves of All-Time. Feel free to drop your comments below with any thoughts on these five players. Did Kimbrel and Heyward, who both played short careers with the franchise, not belong in the Top 50? Should Hudson be higher? Did you know who Buffinton was? Does Lowe deserve some consideration for the Hall? As always, thanks for reading. Tomorrow, I plan to return to the modern-day with some more Exit Interviews.