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Comparing Braves' Lineup with Justin Upton to the 1995 Championship Team

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJanuary 8, 2017

Comparing Braves' Lineup with Justin Upton to the 1995 Championship Team

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    The Atlanta Braves already had a good lineup to begin with, but Thursday's addition of Justin Upton transformed their lineup into something special.

    After finishing in the middle of the pack in the National League in runs scored in 2012, the Braves should be among the Senior Circuit's best offensive clubs in 2013. Their lineup also has the look of a unit that could do plenty of damage in October, perhaps all the way to a World Series title.

    The Braves had a pretty decent lineup the last time they won the World Series in 1995. It featured names like Fred McGriff, David Justice and Marquis Grissom, as well as budding stars like Javy Lopez and Chipper Jones.

    For the sake of a few kicks, here's a fun question: How does the 2013 Braves lineup compare to the 1995 Braves lineup that won a championship?

    Let's take a gander.

    Note: Traditional stats (and dWAR) courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Sabermetric stats courtesy of FanGraphs. 

Catcher: Javy Lopez vs. Brian McCann

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    Javy Lopez was still a pup in 1995. He was only 24 years old, and the season saw him play in 100 games for the first time in his career.

    Lopez made the most of the increased playing time. He hit .315 with an .842 OPS and 14 home runs. His batting average was the highest among Braves regulars.

    Lopez was still developing defensively, and not exactly at a rapid pace. He threw out only 22 percent of base stealers, well below the league average. He also posted a 0.0 Defensive WAR, technically making him a merely average overall fielder.

    Lopez did, however, have a good rapport with Braves pitchers, who had a 3.31 ERA when throwing to him.

    Brian McCann is further along in his career now than Lopez was in '95, and obviously a much more accomplished hitter. Health woes contributed to a down season in 2012, but he still owns a career .826 OPS and 117 OPS+, and he's averaged over 20 home runs per season over the last seven years.

    McCann can generally be counted on to gun down 25 percent of would-be base thieves, and he had a 0.7 dWAR in 2012 and he owns a solid 4.5 dWAR for his career. Like Lopez, McCann also has a very good rapport with Atlanta pitchers. In 2012, Braves hurlers had a 3.34 ERA when throwing to him.

    Put the Lopez of then and the McCann of now side by side, and McCann gets the edge due to his offensive prowess and his slight advantage on defense.

    Edge: McCann

First Base: Fred McGriff vs. Freddie Freeman

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    Fred McGriff was an established star by 1995, as he had compiled a .288/.390/.545 slash line and hit 242 home runs between 1988 and 1994.

    Though McGriff's numbers tailed off a bit from where they were in prior seasons, 1995 was still a solid campaign for him. The Crime Dog led the Braves with 27 home runs and posted a .280/.361/.489 slash line while playing in each of Atlanta's 144 games.

    McGriff hasn't gone into the books as one of the great defensive first basemen to ever play the game, but he did have a fairly solid year on defense in 1995. His minus-1.2 dWAR made him close to an average defender.

    Freddie Freeman isn't nearly as established now as McGriff was back in 1995, but he's coming along. His OPS has been in the .790 range each of the last two years, and 2012 saw him hit 23 home runs and nearly drive in 100 runs.

    Freeman is also making strides defensively. The UZR metric rated him as a slightly below-average fielder in 2012, as did the dWAR metric. He did, however, rate as an above-average fielder in the eyes of the Defensive Runs Saved metric at plus-three.

    The best is still yet to come for the 23-year-old Freeman, but he's not close to being on the same level as McGriff in 1995.

    Edge: McGriff

Second Base: Mark Lemke vs. Dan Uggla

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    When you think of the great Braves teams of the 1990s, Mark Lemke's name doesn't exactly spring to mind.

    But he was a decent enough player. He wasn't much use as an offensive player, as he had neither legit pop nor speed to burn on the basepaths. He finished the 1995 season with a .681 OPS. 

    Lemke could certainly field the ball, though, and the 1995 season was one of his better defensive years. He made only five errors all season and accumulated a dWAR of 1.6.

    Dan Uggla, by comparison, is traditionally not such a great fielder. He had a good defensive year by his standards in 2012, posting a 2.0 UZR and a plus-four DRS. But for his career, his DRS checks in at minus-44 and his UZR/150 is minus-4.5.

    Uggla, however, is significantly more of an offensive threat than Lemke ever was. Though he hit only 19 home runs in 2012, an average season for Uggla consists of about 30 bombs and an OPS over .800. He only has a .750 OPS as a Brave, but he could be in for a big season in 2013 if he combines the patience he showed in 2012 (14.9 BB%) with the power he showed in 2011 (.220 ISO).

    Defense should never be overlooked, but you're doing something right if you're getting offense out of your second baseman. So between Lemke and Uggla, I'd take Uggla.

    Edge: Uggla

Third Base: Chipper Jones vs. Chris Johnson/Juan Francisco

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    Chipper Jones wasn't quite Chipper Jones yet in 1995, but it was the very year in which he started to get everyone's attention.

    In what was his rookie season, Jones hit 23 home runs with an .803 OPS in 140 games. He ended the season with 25 errors, but he still managed to finish with a dWAR of 0.1. Despite his occasionally erratic fielding, he was technically an above-average defensive third baseman (albeit very slightly).

    Third base is the one position on the diamond that today's Braves team is a little shaky at. They acquired Chris Johnson in Thursday's trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks, but David O'Brien of the Atlanta Journal Constitution has heard that the plan is to use him in a platoon with Juan Francisco.

    Both Johnson and Francisco have their flaws. The righty-hitting Johnson is actually a better hitter against right-handers than he is against left-handers, with a career .775 OPS against righties and a career .667 OPS against southpaws. He also strikes out a lot and doesn't take his walks.

    Likewise, Francisco's impatient approach at the plate results in far too many strikeouts and too few walks. He does tend to hit right-handers very well, though, as he has an .806 OPS against them for his career (compared to a ghastly .446 OPS against lefties).

    Given the flaws of Johnson and Francisco, there's really no comparison here. I'll take the then-budding all-time great.

    Edge: Jones

Shortstop: Jeff Blauser vs. Andrelton Simmons

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    Similar to Mark Lemke, Jeff Blauser isn't a name that comes to mind when you think of the old Braves teams of the '90s.

    But he was a halfway decent player as well. He struck out a lot, but he took his walks and showed off some pop now and then. He only hit .211 in 1995, but he did have a .319 OBP thanks to his 11.3 walk rate. He also hit 12 home runs, which was about par for the course for him.

    Defensively, Blauser was about as solid as his double play partner. He booted 15 balls in 1995, but he still finished with a 0.9 dWAR that qualified him as an above-average defensive shortstop.

    In Andrelton Simmons, however, today's Braves have a guy who should win many Gold Gloves throughout his career. He only played in 49 games as a rookie in 2012, but he made it clear enough that he's already one of the game's elite defensive shortstops.

    Simmons compiled a 10.4 UZR and a DRS of plus-19, insane numbers for a 49-game sample size. He also compiled a 2.4 dWAR, meaning he's going to be a lot like Brendan Ryan in that his glove alone will make him worth a few wins above replacement.

    Simmons isn't too shabby at the plate either. He posted a solid .289/.335/.416 line in 2012, which is a very acceptable slash line for a guy who's supposed to be a defense-first shortstop.

    He gets the edge in this comparison by a mile.

    Edge: Simmons

Left Field: Ryan Klesko vs. Justin Upton

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    Though he logged more time in left field than any other Braves outfielder, Ryan Klesko was essentially a part-time player in 1995. He played in 107 games and only logged 381 plate appearances.

    Klesko made the most of those plate appearances. He compiled a .310/.396/.608 slash line with 23 home runs, and he absolutely destroyed right-handed pitching. He hit 20 of his 23 homers against righties, and knocked them around to the tune of a 1.069 OPS.

    The trade-off was that Klesko was no prize defensively, as he made seven errors in 1995 and compiled a dWAR of minus-1.8.

    Today's Braves should get much better defense than that out of Justin Upton in 2013. Though he's a right fielder by trade, Upton has traditionally been an above-average defensive outfielder, with a career 2.0 UZR/150 and plus-17 DRS. His strong arm has helped him gun down 23 runners in his career.

    Despite his down year in 2012, Upton still owns an .832 career OPS and has averaged roughly 20 homers and 20 stolen bases over the last four seasons. And though much was made of his poor numbers from this past season, the real problem was a lack of power that shouldn't be a recurring problem.

    Klesko was death on right-handers in 1995, but here he's up against one of the game's best all-around talents.

    Edge: Upton

Center Field: Marquis Grissom vs. B.J. Upton

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    Marquis Grissom was a productive player between 1992 and 1994 with the Montreal Expos, but his first season in Atlanta in 1995 was a struggle.

    After averaging a .766 OPS, 15 home runs and 56 stolen bases between '92 and '94, Grissom managed a mere .693 OPS, 12 home runs and 29 steals with in '95. His OPS+ of 80 was a new career-low.

    Grissom did, however, get it done on defense. He made only two errors and piled up nine assists, and ultimately ended the year with a solid 0.7 dWAR. 

    B.J. Upton doesn't have his younger brother's immense upside, but he's definitely one of baseball's best power/speed combination players. He's averaged 20 home runs and about 40 stolen bases over the last four seasons, and he's fresh off a year that saw him hit a career-high 28 homers.

    The problem with Upton as an offensive player is his approach. He strikes out a lot, and he took fewer walks than usual in 2012. The end result was a sub-.300 OBP, and his OBP over the last four seasons is a mere .316.

    The Braves will take Upton's power and speed, however, and he tends to be a solid defensive player in center field.

    All things being equal, Grissom and Upton actually measure up pretty well against one another. But since 1995 was such a rough year for Grissom, Upton gets the edge here.

    Edge: Upton

Right Field: David Justice vs. Jason Heyward

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    David Justice was a big-time producer in 1993 and 1994, totaling 59 home runs and a .905 OPS, but he experienced a slight regression in 1995.

    Justice hit a modest 24 homers in '95 while compiling an equally modest .253/.365/.479 batting line in 120 games. His 118 OPS+ was the lowest of his career to that point.

    Justice did play solid defense, however, making only four errors and compiling a 0.7 dWAR. Combine his defense with his still respectable offensive numbers, and he was still a well above-average player.

    Jason Heyward, meanwhile, was quietly one of the best all-around players in baseball in 2012. He compiled a .269/.335/.479 slash line with 27 home runs and 21 stolen bases, both new career highs.

    Defensively, Heyward was the best right fielder in the league in 2012. He led all right fielders with a 22.9 UZR, also compiling a DRS of plus-20 and a dWAR of 1.5. His arm was just as good as his range, as his 11 outfield assists placed him among the league leaders among right fielders.

    Justice was more advanced as a hitter by the time the 1995 season rolled around, but Heyward established himself as one of the game's best players in 2012. He gets the nod here.

    Edge: Heyward

Overall

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    The final tally out of eight: Six points for today's Braves lineup, and two points for Atlanta's 1995 lineup.

    Surprised? Shoot, I'm not.

    The Braves had some noteworthy names in their 1995 lineup, but they were not one of the National League's top offensive teams. They finished second in the NL in home runs, but only sixth in collective OPS and ninth in runs scored.

    The 2013 Braves are set to have above-average offensive producers from the top of their lineup all the way down to the bottom, and they'll be able to beat teams in variety of ways. They may not have the most efficient offense in terms of OBP or OPS, but they will hit home runs and steal bases.

    In 1995, it was great pitching that led the Braves to a World Series title. If they win it all in 2013, it will be thanks to their offense.

     

    If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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