Ranking the Top 5 Braves Pitchers of All Time

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistJune 28, 2013

Ranking the Top 5 Braves Pitchers of All Time

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    Throughout the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves were the envy of the league for their fantastic pitching staff, with a rotation led by a trio of soon-to-be Hall of Famers in Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz.

    Before that, they had two of the best pitchers of their eras in Phil Niekro during the 1970s and Warren Spahn during the 1950s dating back to their days as the Milwaukee Braves.

    All told there are 16 players in the Hall of Fame who pitched at least one game for the Braves, including eight who appeared in over 100 games for the franchise.

    Even today, while there may not be a future Hall of Famer on their staff, they currently rank second in baseball to the Pirates with a 3.22 ERA as a whole.

    With such a rich tradition of elite pitching, spanning all the way back to their days in Boston, there have been a ton of great hurlers to don a Braves uniform. Here is a look at the five greatest of all time.

     

    *Only performance while playing with the Braves was considered, and all statistics are representative only of the players' time with the Braves organization.

    **It should also be noted, the organization became the Braves in 1941, so only players pitching for the team after that time were considered for inclusion. That excluded Hall of Famers Kid Nichols, John Clarkson and Vic Willis, who pitched for the team back when they were the Boston Beaneaters.

Others Receiving Consideration

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    SP Johnny Sain (1942, 1946-1951)

    Seven years, 257 G, 206 GS, 104-91, 3.49 ERA, 108 ERA+, 1.319 WHIP, 698 K, 1,624.1 IP

     

    SP Lew Burdette (1951-1963)

    13 years, 468 G, 330 GS, 179-120, 3.53 ERA, 102 ERA+, 1.234 WHIP, 923 K, 2,638 IP

     

    SP Bob Buhl (1953-1962)

    10 years, 282 G, 220 GS, 109-72, 3.27 ERA, 110 ERA+, 1.390 WHIP, 791 K, 1,599.2 IP

     

    RP Gene Garber (1978-1987)

    10 years, 557 G, 53-73, 141 SV, 3.34 ERA, 117 ERA+, 1.276 WHIP, 540 K, 856 IP 

     

    RP Mark Wohlers (1991-1999)

    Nine years, 388 G, 31-22, 112 SV, 3.73 ERA, 112 ERA+, 1.385 WHIP, 437 K, 386.1 IP

     

    SP Tim Hudson (2005-Present)

    Nine years, 239 G, 238 GS, 109-72, 3.56 ERA, 116 ERA+, 1.244 WHIP, 973 K, 1,538.1 IP

     

    RP Craig Kimbrel (2010-Present)

    Four years, 193 G, 13-5, 111 SV, 1.47 ERA, 266 ERA+, 0.928 WHIP, 326 K, 189.2 IP

5. Tom Glavine

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    Stats

    17 years, 518 G, 518 GS, 244-147, 3.41 ERA, 121 ERA+, 1.296 WHIP, 2,091 K, 3,408 IP

     

    Career Summary

    Though he played "Robin" to Greg Maddux's "Batman" throughout his time in Atlanta, Glavine was a fantastic player in his own right and goes down as one of the best left-handed pitchers of all time.

    He won the NL Cy Young in 1991 and 1998, and finished in the top three in the voting four other times while he was in Atlanta. He topped the 20-win mark five times, leading the NL in that category each time, and he made eight All-Star appearances.

    On top of his impressive performance during the regular season, Glavine also went 12-14 with a 3.44 ERA in 32 postseason starts with Atlanta and took home the 1995 World Series MVP.

    While his 300th career win came in a Mets uniform, Glavine will go into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Braves and he more than earns a spot on this list.

4. Phil Niekro

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    Stats

    21 years, 740 G, 595 GS, 268-230, 3.20 ERA, 119 ERA+, 1.229 WHIP, 2,912 K, 4,622.1 IP

     

    Career Summary

    One of the best knuckleball pitchers of all-time, Niekro spent the first 20 seasons of his career pitching for the Braves and he has the third-most wins in franchise history.

    His 164 wins during the 1970s were the eighth most in a decade that was known for its fantastic pitching, and he won at least 15 games eight times during the decade while leading the NL in victories twice.

    The right-hander pitched until the age of 48, returning to the Braves for one last start before calling it a career at the end of the 1987 season.

    He was inducted into the Hall of Fame as a member of the Braves in 1997, receiving 80.3 percent of the vote in his fifth year on the ballot.

3. John Smoltz

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    Stats

    20 years, 708 G, 466 GS, 210-147, 154 SV, 3.26 ERA, 127 ERA+, 1.170 WHIP, 3,011 K, 3,395 IP

     

    Career Summary

    One of just two players with 150 wins and 150 saves for his career, the other being Hall of Famer Dennis Eckersley, Smoltz secured his place as not only one of the best pitchers in Braves history but one of the all-time best during his 21-year career.

    From 1988 to 1999, he went 157-113 with a 3.35 ERA, including a 24-8 season in 1996 that earned him NL Cy Young honors.

    His 2000 season was lost to Tommy John surgery though and when he returned he slid into the closer's role. For the next four seasons upon his return, he served as the Braves' closer and in 2002 he saved an NL-leading 55 games.

    He rejoined the rotation as a 38-year-old in 2005 and won 44 games over the next three seasons as he was once again a front-line starter, before finishing his career splitting 2009 between Boston and St. Louis.

2. Warren Spahn

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    Stats

    20 years, 714 G, 635 GS, 356-229, 3.05 ERA, 120 ERA+, 1.189 WHIP, 2,493 K, 5,046 IP

     

    Career Summary

    While guys like Randy Johnson, Lefty Grove, Sandy Koufax and Steve Carlton all have a strong case, an argument can certainly be made for Spahn being the best left-hander in baseball history.

    He won 20-plus games 12 times during the course of his career, leading the league in that category eight times including five straight years from 1957-1961.

    His 202 wins during the 1950s were the most of any pitcher for the decade, and he won 20 games in all but two seasons over that span.

    He earned Hall of Fame enshrinement in 1973, garnering 83.2 percent of the vote on his first year on the ballot. Starting in 1999, the MLB began giving out the Warren Spahn Award to the best left-handed pitcher in baseball, with Gio Gonzalez taking home the honor last season.

1. Greg Maddux

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    Stats

    11 years, 363 G, 363 GS, 194-88, 2.63 ERA, 163 ERA+, 1.051 WHIP, 1,828 K, 2,526.2 IP

     

    Career Summary

    While 161 of his 355 career wins came pitching for other teams, most notably the Cubs for 10 seasons over two different stints, Maddux earns the spot as the best pitcher in Braves history on the strength of what he was able to accomplish in his 11 seasons with the club.

    The right-hander signed a five-year, $28 million deal with the Braves following a Cy Young campaign with the Cubs in 1992, joining what was already one of the best pitching staffs in baseball.

    He then proceeded to rattle off three more Cy Young award-winning seasons in his first three years in Atlanta, and his 1994 and 1995 seasons are among the best in the Modern Era. In 1994, he was 16-6 with a 1.56 ERA and the following year, he was 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA.

    As good as Tom Glavine and John Smoltz were during their time with the team, there's little question that Maddux was the ace of the staff, and he's my pick for the best pitcher in Braves' history.