A lot of people have already done this so I figured I’ll throw my hat in the ring and pick my Team of the Decade. From 2010 and through 2019, who deserves a spot on the best team the Braves could possibly put together? Get ready to tell me how wrong I am. Though, to be honest, most of these choices aren’t that controversial.
Catcher – Brian McCann
In two different stints with the team, McCann ran away with this honor with ease. In terms of fWAR, he had 22.5 over nearly 2300 plate appearances with the Braves. The runner-up, Tyler Flowers, finished with 11.6. McCann doesn’t have the hitting edge. If we include all catchers with 500 PA, McCann’s wRC+ of 110 would finish fourth behind David Ross, Evan Gattis, and Kurt Suzuki. But none of them can match McCann’s volume and super-high defensive metrics. One last note – only six catchers reached the 500 PA threshold. A.J. Pierzynski – remember him? – is in last place in fWAR with -0.8. Yikes.
First Base – Freddie Freeman
Only two first basemen hit the 500 PA threshold. So, congrats to the runner-up, Eric Hinske, who amassed 0.5 fWAR. Good job finishing second, ‘Ski. Freeman might as well take home Player of the Decade for the Braves. He hit .293/.379/.504 with a 137 wRC+ and a .376 wOBA. Along the way, he bashed 227 homers and reached 34.6 fWAR. So. Yeah. That choice was easy.
Second Base – Ozzie Albies
Though he didn’t have enough time to really shoot up this list, give some love to Omar Infante, who really turned a corner in Atlanta with a 506 PA sample that included a 111 wRC+. That’s slightly better than Albies. But this spot belongs to Albies after just 375 games in the majors. During that time, he’s hit .279/.332/.473 – numbers that almost seem disappointing considering what he’s capable of. Still, great stats for a second baseman and oh, in case you haven’t heard, he’s pretty nifty at playing second base, too. Oh, and he’s likely only going to get better.
Third Base – Chipper Jones
For the third consecutive decade, Chipper takes the honors at third base. That’s despite retiring three years into this decade. It’s probably telling that the guy who is second in fWAR to the Hall of Famer is Josh Donaldson. Replacing a legend is never easy and while Chris Johnson, Adonis Garcia, and Johan Camargo all had their moments, none could hold the spot for long. Neither could Ryan Flaherty for that matter. If Donaldson returns, he’ll get a head start on the 2020’s Third Baseman of the Decade and give the Braves something they’ve lacked at third base since Chipper’s retirement – stability.
Shortstop – Andrelton Simmons
You can include Camargo in the discussion if you want, but the Braves have had three remarkably similar shortstops. The similarity – lack of offense. Simmons leads a group with an 84 wRC+ followed by Dansby Swanson with an 81 and Alex Gonzalez at 76. But while Swanson and Gonzalez aren’t/weren’t bad options in the field, Simmons easily pulls away with this honor for what he could do on defense which, if you’ve forgotten, was damn near anything. His trade remains unpopular, though Sean Newcomb was a good get and Swanson is an adequate replacement with potential to get better. But Simmons, in 499 games with the Braves, is still missed by those of us who saw him at his defensive best.
Left Field – Justin Upton
In terms of fWAR, Martin Prado is the leader as he was categorized as a left fielder. You could even go with a certain Rookie of the Year, but we’ll get to him in a second. In two seasons, Justin Upton bashed his way to a 131 wRC+ and 56 dongs. While his brother will go down as possibly the worst signing in Braves history, the trade to acquire Upton was a success even if Upton has never quite lived up to the sky-high expectations attached to him. Plus, when the Braves did trade him ahead of his walk-year, it netted them Max Fried. Not too shabby.
Center Field – Ronald Acuña Jr.
You can definitely go with Ender Inciarte here, who has reached 9.9 fWAR in 510 games, but his hitting deficiencies are well-known and unlike with shortstop, we have a plenty-good alternative who can actually hit here. In less than two seasons, Acuña has hit 67 homers, stole 53 bases, and managed a .376 wOBA and 9.3 fWAR. Certainly, his long-term home won’t be in center field, but he can play the position at an adequate level. And, in case no one told you, today is Acuña’s 22nd birthday. Yep. He’s just 22.
Right Field – Jason Heyward
The most controversial choice so far is only controversial if you only remember the current version of Heyward rather than the version that played for the Braves. In nearly every way, the 2010-14 version of Heyward is better than the 2015-19 version of Nick Markakis. Thirty-seven more homers. Fifty-eight more steals. Heyward’s wOBA is 16 points higher and his wRC+ is 14 points better. In fWAR, due to Heyward’s incredible defensive skills with the Braves – but not only that – Heyward beats Markakis in fWAR 19.5 to 6.1. This isn’t quite the contest that people want to believe it is.
Utility Player – Martin Prado
If I want to stay on brand, I would go with Kelly Johnson. If I want to tell the truth, though, this is Prado’s spot. Prado went from decent bench guy to a starter at second, third, and left field with pop, a high-level hit tool, and the ability to play good defense seemingly wherever you put him. He was perfectly suited for the two-spot in the lineup where he could use his excellent hand-to-eye coordination to serve the ball all over the field. His best year came in 2012 as part of a dominant outfield with Heyward and Michael Bourn. Prado was a 4.5 fWAR player that year as he slashed .301/.359/.438 with 17 of his career 40 steals. Atlanta traded him after the season as they balked at his extension demands, replacing the popular player with Justin Upton. There’s always been talk that Prado might return to Atlanta, though he seems fixated on retirement after three consecutive injury-shortened seasons with the Marlins.
Starting Pitchers – Tim Hudson, Julio Teheran, and Kris Medlen
It seems like forever ago since Hudson last pitched for the Braves and this decade’s version of Hudson wasn’t as good as the previous one, but Huddy is my clear #1. In 116 starts, Hudson finished with a 3.33 ERA and 7.9 fWAR. Never the analytical favorite because of his pitch-to-contact nature which relied on location, Huddy was a master at inducing groundballs and frustrating hitters.
Teheran’s run with the Braves was lengthy, eventful, and weird. It is also likely over after the Braves declined his option for the 2020 season. But Teheran was productive despite his numbers declining from All-Star worthy to middle-of-the-rotation at best. In 229 games, including 226 starts, Teheran led all Braves pitchers with 13.7 fWAR in the decade. He was a cornerstone through the good times, the rebuild, and the return to contention.
You can certainly argue other options if building a three-man rotation here. Mike Foltynewicz matches Hudson in fWAR, which is second among Braves starters to Teheran. Alex Wood had a 3.10 ERA over 368.2 innings while fellow lefty, Mike Minor, was the team’s ace for a time. You could even bring up the tragic tale of Tommy Hanson or the rising star, Mike Soroka. But I’m going with Medlen, who maintained a 2.75 ERA and 3.21 FIP over 445 innings for the Braves in an injury-shortened career. When Medlen was on, there were few better than him. Injuries kept him from being on too often, unfortunately.
Bullpen – Craig Kimbrel, Jonny Venters, Billy Wagner
Kimbrel finished the decade second among Braves pitchers in fWAR with 11.0. He also nailed down 186 saves and we witnessed the most dominant reliever in the game for a time. His stats are a marvel to look at. I’m just going to highlight his 2012 season. He maintained a 1.01 ERA, 0.78 FIP, and 0.88 xFIP with a 3.1 fWAR. It’s one of 14 times this decade that a reliever crossed the 3.0 fWAR threshold and it’s the only time a reliever had an FIP and xFIP under 1.00 since at least 2002, the earliest xFIP has been tracked.
Funny enough, as the Braves prepared for the 2011 season, there was talk of using both Kimbrel and Venters as dual closers. It made some sense. Venters had come onto the scene in 2010, was more established than Kimbrel, and was plenty nasty in his own right. It didn’t happen, but for a short time, the Braves had the late-inning combo of O’Ventbrel with Eric O’Flaherty joining Kimbrel and Venters. It was during this time that Venters was at his best. But, sadly, the combo soon parted ways as injuries piled up for the lefties of the group. Venters would miss most of the rest of the decade trying to get back into the majors after injuries put him on the shelf in 2013. He returned as a LOOGY in 2018, even coming back to the Braves after a trade from the Rays. His run was short-lived, unfortunately.
Even though it was just one season to open the decade, Billy Wagner was as dominant as ever in 2010. He secured 37 saves, hit 2.0 fWAR for the sixth time, and set a new personal low with a 1.43 ERA. Unfortunately, an injury on the final play of his career in the playoffs ended his season and he would retire soon after the season. While the Braves only saw a little of Wagner, they saw the best of him.
So, that’s my roster. Did you disagree with any of my choices? Let me know below and feel free to share this article on social media. Thanks for reading.