All-Time Atlanta Braves Team: Pitching Staff
This article takes a look at my all-time Atlanta Braves 25-man roster with a focus on the pitching staff. With recent greats like Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz, plus a long history of star pitchers, it was actually tough to decide who belongs and who doesn't.
The rules for the all-time team are that it is a standard 12-man pitching staff (five starters and seven relievers) from players who have been members of the organization from any point from 1876 to the present. Also, trying to make this look close to an actual 25 man roster, I decided not to select starters for the bullpen spots with the one exception being the long relief spot. I'm also staying away from guys with only one full year with the Braves, so as great as he was this year, Craig Kimbrel isn't eligible.
Just Missed the Cut
Here are some guys that just missed out on making the all-time team:
Johnny Sain: Sain was half of the Braves great duo in the late 1940s along with Warren Spahn but, unfortunately, he didn't have enough sustained success to earn a spot. Sain spent five full years in the Boston Braves rotation, plus most of a sixth season, going 104-91 for the organization. Sain led the National League in victories in 1948 and twice led the league in complete games, but with a deep pool to choose from there are better choices.
John Clarkson: Clarkson is a Hall of Fame pitcher from the 1800s who led the National League with 49 wins in 1889, but the reason he missed the list is because he only spent four and-a-half seasons with the Braves. Clarkson got to Cooperstown mostly because of his performance as a Cub, so that's why this Hall of Famer missed out.
Old Hoss Radbourn: Another Hall of Fame pitcher from the 1800s whose best years were with the Providence Grays. In his four years in the Braves organization (then the Boston Beaneaters), he actually had a losing record of 78-81.
Tommy Bond: Bond had an amazing three-year stint with the organization starting in 1877 where he had back-to-back years leading the National League in wins with 40 each season. As if that wasn't enough he had two ERA titles in a three-year period while leading the league in shutouts for those three consecutive years. The reason he's left off the list is because he only pitched four full years in the organization, which keeps him behind some other pitchers with longer resumes. Bond was the last guy cut from the list.
Vic Willis: Willis is a Hall of Fame pitcher from the early 1900s who spent the bulk of his career with the Braves. He won 151 games but also lost 147 and twice led the National League in losses. Willis had a very strong career, but so did the guys who made the team.
Steve Bedrosian: Bedrock appeared in 350 games with the Braves and collected 41 saves. He pitched six full seasons with the organization during two stints along with parts of two more seasons. His All-Star selection and Cy Young Award came with the Phillies, so while he was good with the Braves, he just didn't do enough to beat out the guys who did make the team.
John Rocker: I have to start out saying that I am not a fan of Rocker as a human being, but he deserves mention for what he did on the field. Rocker was great in a setup role for the 1998 team as a rookie, then saved 38 games the next year before the now infamous Sports Illustrated interview. He did add 43 saves over the next year in a half with the Braves before being dealt to Cleveland. Rocker's career playoff resume in a Braves uniform was also great, as he never gave up an earned run over 19.2 innings. His 181 strikeouts in 125.1 innings between 1999 and 2000 are almost Craig Kimbrel-like.
Jonny Venters: Venters has only been in the Major Leagues for two seasons, but he's been one of the game's best setup men each of those years. Venters has pitched an incredible 164 games over those two years, but what's more incredible is that fact that his ERA has been 1.95 or lower in each of his first two seasons. If he had more time in a Braves uniform, he'd make the list as I thought very hard about including him.
Greg McMichael: McMichael was a key piece of the early Braves dynasty, saving 40 games combined in 1993 and 1994. In his five seasons in a Braves uniform he had an ERA of 2.96, but it's his postseason resume that keeps him off the team. McMichael's playoff ERA is 6.32 over 19 postseason appearances.
A few others that I felt were deserving of at least a small mention would be Charlie Buffinton, Tim Hudson, Rafael Soriano, Kerry Lightenberg, Kent Mercker, Rick Camp and Kevin Gryboski.
SP: Greg Maddux
Greg Maddux was very successful before coming to Atlanta as a free agent in 1993, having already won the 1992 National League Cy Young Award with the Cubs. Still, Maddux went on to have the best years of his amazing career with the Braves, as he went on to win the award in each of his first three seasons in Atlanta, becoming the first pitcher to ever win the award four consecutive years.
Maddux pitched 22 full seasons in the Major Leagues, with 11 as a Brave. Of his 355 career wins, 194 were in a Braves uniform. During his Braves career he led the National League in wins twice, ERA three times, complete games three times, shutouts five times, WHIP four times, fewest hits per nine innings once, fewest walks per nine innings six times, fewest homers allowed per nine innings three times, and strikeouts to walk ratio three times.
Simply put, Maddux was amazing. And that doesn't even go into the rest of the awards he collected as a Brave. He was a six-time All-Star, including three starts and won 10 consecutive Gold Gloves. Even if Maddux never pitched for anyone else he would have been a Hall of Fame pitcher based on what he did in Atlanta.
SP: Warren Spahn
Warren Spahn wasn't just half of the Braves' great pitching duo of the late 1940's, he was the better half. Spahn's Braves career lasted parts of three decades and saw him named an All-Star 14 times along with winning a Cy Young Award and World Series ring in 1957.
Spahn won 363 games in his career with 356 coming in a Braves uniform to go with a career ERA which was a strong 3.05. His 63 career shutouts and 382 complete games showed just how durable he really was. Spahn was also a strong postseason performer, as his career playoff ERA matched his career regular season ERA of 3.05.
He led the National League in ERA three times and wins eight times, but wasn't as dominant as Maddux considering his Braves success came over 20 years instead of Maddux's 11. That's the main reason why he came in second among the starters.
SP: Tom Glavine
When it came time for Tom Glavine to decide between a professional career in baseball or hockey, Glavine made the right choice. Glavine ended his career among the best left-handed pitchers to ever play the game.
Glavine won 305 games over his 22-year career, with 244 coming as a Brave. The two-time Cy Young Award winner had a career ERA of 3.54, a number that dropped to 3.30 during the playoffs. Among his other accomplishments were five seasons where he led the National League in wins, as well as a year where he led the league in complete games and another where he led it in shutouts.
Glavine also won four Silver Slugger Awards, showing his great athleticism as he did an excellent job at the plate of getting sacrifice bunts.
It's safe to say the future Hall of Famer has earned his place among the Braves top three starters of all time.
SP: Phil Neikro
Hall of Fame knuckleballer Phil Neikro spent 21 of his 24 Major League seasons in a Braves uniform, where he picked up 268 of his 318 victories. The knuckleballer may have never won a Cy Young Award or World Series, but he went out and performed well more often than not.
Neikro led the National League in wins two times, but he also led it in losses four times. Although he did lead the league in ERA once, he only started 20 of his 46 appearances that year. Neikro's knuckleball allowed him to rack up innings as he had four years where he led the league in complete games and innings pitched.
Neikro was far from dominant, but he was a consistent pitcher who delivered 14 consecutive double-digit win seasons. He wasn't in the picture to be among the top three starters, but certainly is a great fourth starter for the all-time team.
SP: Kid Nichols
Kid Nichols is a Hall of Famer who pitched most of his Braves career in the 1890s. During his 12 seasons with the franchise Nichols racked up 329 wins and a 3.00 ERA.
The highlight of his career was a three-year stretch between 1896 and 1898 where he led the National League in wins each season. It's safe to call Nichols one of the greatest pitchers of the 19th century.
Although little is really known about him due to the era he played, Nichols was a Hall of Famer who had most of his success in a Braves uniform.
Closer: John Smoltz
John Smoltz could have made the all-time team as a starter, but considering he was the best closer the Braves have ever had it was an easy decision where to put him. Smoltz was a great starter, a Cy Young Award winner even, who moved to the bullpen because of a combination of injury and the team's need.
Smoltz spent three years and part of a fourth as the Braves closer before moving back to the rotation. During his three full seasons in the bullpen, Smoltz posted save totals of 55, 45 and 44 (he had 10 more in his partial season) and had 154 in his career. In 2002 he led the National League with 55 saves. He came back in 2003 with an amazing 1.12 ERA.
Smoltz's career in the rotation was also stellar, as he had 204 of his 213 career wins as a Braves starter with a 3.26 ERA. His accomplishments, in addition to the 1996 Cy Young Award, include two years where he led the league in wins and two years where he led the league in strikeouts. In his postseason career he went an amazing 15-4 with a 2.67 ERA.
Smoltz is the only pitcher in the history of the game to have both 200 career wins and 150 career saves, no small accomplishment. Slotting Smoltz as the closer was a no-brainer because of both his dominance and the fact that the Braves have other Hall of Fame caliber starters but no other closer who deserves this selection.
Relief: Mike Remlinger
Mike Remlinger spent five seasons as a Brave between two separate stints and managed three very strong seasons, including one great season. The setup man was named an All-Star in 2002, before the All-Star rosters expanded and really started including setup men in recent years.
Remlinger's first stint in a Braves uniform lasted four seasons, and in those seasons he appeared in at least 71 games each season. In addition to his All-Star 2002 season where he posted a 1.99 ERA, Remlinger went 10-1 with a 2.37 ERA and 12 saves in 1999, and posted a 2.76 ERA in 2001. His second stint in a Braves uniform lasted one season in 2006, at which time he was already 40 years old, but he posted an average 4.03 ERA anyway.
Remlinger's 27 victories and 2.76 ERA over 327 Braves appearances cemented a spot for him on the all-time team. The only real mark against him is the fact that over 19 playoff appearances for the Braves his ERA was 4.43.
Relief: Mark Wohlers
One has to wonder what Wohlers' career could have been if he didn't suddenly lose control of the strike zone in 1998 at age 28. Wohlers had just completed three seasons as one of the better closers in the game with what looked like a long career ahead of him before watching his once bad control slip to awful.
Wohlers spent three and-a-half solid years in the Braves bullpen before earning the closer role in 1995 at just age 25. Wohlers was successful in 1995, going 7-3 with a 2.09 ERA and 25 saves, but it was 1996 where he broke out. While he saw his ERA jump almost a full run to 3.03, Wohlers picked up 39 saves and struck out 100 batters in 77.1 innings. His 33 saves and 3.50 ERA in 1997 were part of another solid season. Then it all fell apart in 1998 shortly after picking up his seventh save of the year on April 27th.
While Wohlers was never the same, he was among the best closers in the game for three seasons and had some success before taking over the closer role. His postseason numbers of 38 appearances, 10 saves and a 2.17 ERA helped earn him a spot on this team.
Relief: Gene Garber
Gene Garber's 141 saves in a Braves uniform rank him second to only John Smoltz on the Braves all-time list, so it's easy to see why he was selected.
After being acquired from the Phillies in 1978 for Dick Ruthven, Garber spent 10 of his 19 Major League seasons in a Braves uniform with 1982 being his career year. He went 8-10 with a 2.34 ERA and 30 saves in '82, something which placed him seventh in the Cy Young voting and also earned him some MVP votes. His Braves ERA of 3.34 matches his overall career ERA of 3.34.
Garber was a pretty easy selection considering the fact he's second in team history in saves and he had some other strong seasons in addition to that special '82 season. Garber was third in the league in saves in 1979 and seventh in 1986.
Relief: Ernie Johnson
Ernie Johnson's name is well known among Braves fans, but that's mostly for what he did off the field. Johnson became the voice of the Braves on television and the radio after his retirement, and his son Ernie Jr. is currently a television announcer. That's not why Johnson made this team however.
Johnson went 36-22 as a Brave with a 3.74 ERA and picked up 18 saves, but if you take out his awful rookie season in 1950, Ernie Johnson was the Braves' best reliever in the 1950s with a 3.50 ERA. Johnson was especially good in 1953, when he posted a 2.67 ERA, and 1954, when he posted a 2.81 ERA.
The voice of the Braves helped his team win the 1957 World Series over the Yankees, as he pitched seven innings over three games and posted a 1.29 ERA.
Relief: Lew Burdette
I said that I'd only take one starter for the relief spots, and technically taking Burdette isn't cheating because he pitched in relief 138 times in his Braves career. Sure the two-time All-Star started 338 games for the Braves, but he pitched a significant amount of games for the team in relief.
In 13 seasons with the club Burdette won 179 games with a 3.53 ERA and had a pair of huge seasons. In 1958 he went 20-10 with a 2.91 ERA and finished third in Cy Young voting as well as 11th in MVP voting. He followed that up in 1959 by going 21-15 with a 4.07 ERA and finished 12th in the MVP voting.
As if that wasn't good enough, Burdette's 1957 World Series performance was simply amazing. In three games against the Yankees he pitched 27.0 innings and went 3-0 with a 0.67 ERA. That stands out as one of the greatest World Series performances of all time.
Burdette led the league in complete games twice, shutouts once, walks per nine innings three times and homers per nine innings once. He made at least nine starts in every full season for the Braves, so he was never really a full-time reliever, but it was tough to pick any of the other true relievers over him.
Long Relief: Tommy Bond
Tommy Bond is a guy many people haven't heard of, but that's because he only pitched four seasons for the franchise between 1877 and 1880 plus a couple games in 1881. That doesn't mean that his dominance should go ignored.
Bond had three all-time great seasons: going 40-17 with a 2.11 ERA in 1877, 40-19 with a 2.06 ERA in 1978 and 43-19 with a 1.96 ERA in 1879. During those years he led the league in wins twice, ERA twice, complete games once, shutouts three times, strikeouts twice and fewest walks per nine innings twice.
Bond was simply too amazing, even if only for a short time, to leave off this all-time team. Due to his limited experience it was hard to place him in the starting rotation, but one of the game's best three-year stretches of dominance speaks for itself.