Atlanta Braves: Ranking the 15 Slickest Fielders in Franchise History

Matt PowersCorrespondent IIOctober 31, 2011

Atlanta Braves: Ranking the 15 Slickest Fielders in Franchise History

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    Fielding is sometimes underrated by casual baseball fans, but it can have the same impact on a game as hitting or pitching. A good fielder at a key position can save up to 20 runs in a season, while a bad fielder can allow an extra 20 runs to be given up. That means the difference between a great fielder and an awful fielder could be 40 runs, or nearly .25 runs per game.

    This article takes a look at the best 15 fielders in the history of the Atlanta Braves. While there isn't a universally accepted statistic to rank fielders, it wasn't hard to pick 15 guys that stood out from the pack. From former stars like Hank Aaron to current players that have some issues with the bat like Alex Gonzalez, this list includes a mix of all types of players from franchise history.

15. Michael Bourn

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    A year from now this ranking probably will not be accurate, but considering Michael Bourn has only played 53 games in a Braves uniform it's hard to rank him any higher. Bourn came over from the Houston Astros at the trading deadline this year and immediately made his impact felt.

    Bourn won Gold Glove Awards in both 2009 and 2010 for his outstanding play in center field, and he could be in line to win a third consecutive award this season. He takes advantage of his game-changing speed to give him great range in center and uses a very strong arm to gun down base runners that challenge him.

    It was a tough decision when it came to adding Bourn to this list or not, but he made some spectacular plays in the season's final two months. Given a full year in Atlanta, Bourn could rank a few spots higher on this list of the all-time best fielders in franchise history.

14. Terry Pendleton

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    Terry Pendleton will be remembered by most Braves fans as a pudgy third baseman who signed as a free agent from St. Louis in the winter of 1990 after hitting only .230, then winning the 1991 National League MVP Award as he helped lead the Braves rise from worst-to-first. Pendleton's presence helped elevate one of the worst teams in the game to a World Series showing while increasing his OPS by .279 as a 30-year old. He will also be remembered for helping lead the Braves back to another World Series the following year and finishing second in his quest for another MVP.

    What fans tend to forget because of his body is that Pendleton won a Gold Glove Award in 1992, the third of his career. Yes, Pendleton was among the best defensive third basemen in the game during each of his first four years with the franchise. He led the National League in assists and putouts by a third baseman two times apiece as well as well as ranking in the top two in range factor three times.

    Pendleton may not have looked like much, but his ability with the glove was a major part of why the Braves were able to turn around so quickly and why the team's young pitchers experienced such success. Pendleton will always be a fan favorite for his contributions to the beginning of the Braves dynasty.

13. Glenn Hubbard

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    Former first base coach Glenn Hubbard had a good career with the franchise even before his coaching career began. From 1978 through 1987 Hubbard was the Braves' starting second baseman, and although he never hit much he was a very strong defensive player.

    Hubbard possessed great range in the field to go with a glove that seemed almost automatic to scoop up anything near him. He was also very skilled at turning the double play. A close look at his defensive statistics will show him in the top 100 all-time in many second base categories, evidence that he was a great player despite never being recognized with a Gold Glove Award.

    Hubbard was a weak hitter who survived in the Major Leagues because of his glove, and not only enjoyed a 12-year career but enjoyed an All-Star career after being named to the 1983 game. His long career as a defensive second baseman, first base coach under Bobby Cox, and trademark full beard will keep Hubbard in fans' minds for a long time.

12. Marquis Grissom

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    Marquis Grissom spent only two seasons in a Braves uniform, but the center fielder managed to win Gold Glove Awards in each of those seasons. Grissom may have been best known for his combination of speed and power, but he also made his mark with the glove before being traded to Cleveland in a deal for Kenny Lofton.

    The speedy Grissom used his wheels to patrol center with great range, an talent which led to many highlight reel plays. He also gunned down 19 base runners with outfield assists during that two-year stretch.

    Grissom's play in center is a great memory considering it was him in center when the Braves won the 1995 World Series title. His ability to make the tough plays certainly puts him into the slickest category.

11. Bobby Lowe

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    Bobby Lowe was one of the first true utility players in baseball when he played between 1890 and 1907. During his time with the Braves he spent significant time at second base, shortstop, and the outfield while also playing some third base.

    According to a 1911 article in the New York times by former teammate Fred Tenney, Lowe was baseball's best all-time "utility-man" because of his great defensive ability at multiple positions even though he wasn't a backup.

    Due to the era he played in, Lowe it's difficult to compare him to modern players. However, it's apparent that he was a very special player on the field.

10. Eddie Mathews

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    Even though he never won any Gold Glove Awards during his long and legendary career, Eddie Mathews' glove was a valuable asset to the Braves. When Mathews broke into the Major Leagues in 1952 the third base position was more of a secondary position, but Mathews is credited by some as one who helped to redefine the position and turn it into what it is today.

    Mathews ranks in the top tier of third basemen to ever play the game offensively, but his defense isn't something that gets much recognition. Mathews' range at the hot corner consistently got him to balls that others could not reach. Not only did he get to balls well, but he was also very efficient as he ranked in the top portion of National League third base fielding percentage on a regular basis.

    Mathews deserves to be recognized for his glove as well as his great bat, because his two-way play helped pave the way for other greats like Mike Schmidt and Brooks Robinson.

9. Herman Long

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    Shortstop Herman Long, who played in the Major Leagues between 1889 and 1904, is one of three players with more than 1,000 errors in his career. Yet he still ranks among the best fielders in franchise history.

    The only reason that Long committed so many errors is because of the era he played in. Due to him having such great range at shortstop, Long got to many balls that others couldn't reach. His range in that era cost him a bit of credit for his ability, but today he is recognized as one of the best fielders of the 19th Century.

    Long falls just behind Rabbit Maranville as the best-fielding shortstop in franchise history, in part because of the errors and in part because of when he played. If there was better data Long could have found himself ranked a little higher, but either way he was still a special defender.

8.Rabbit Maranville

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    Rabbit Maranville is considered by many to be the worst hitter to be enshrined in Cooperstown. Then there are others who believe that his entire body of work is unworthy of the Hall. His career .258 average and total of 28 home runs only support that opinion.

    Maranville made the Hall of Fame largely based on his ability in the field. The slick fielding shortstop spent the first seven and final five seasons of his career with the Braves, sandwiched around a couple of stops with other teams.

    Maranville, who played between 1912 and 1935, is one of the best defensive shortstops in the history of the game and certainly was the best in his era. That's enough to make him the best-fielding shortstop in franchise history.

7. Phil Niekro

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    Phil Niekro is mostly known for his Hall of Fame career where he won 318 games, his knuckle ball and his colorful personality. The thing that usually gets overlooked is the fact that he excelled on defense, winning five Gold Glove Awards with the Braves.

    Due to him being a knuckleball pitcher, Niekro's defensive ability was necessary—especially when you realize that the defense behind him hurt him more than any other pitcher in modern history, according to sabermetric stats.

    Niekro's five Gold Gloves tie him for seventh place all-time, a stat that automatically ranks him among the best defensive pitchers in the history of the game.

6. Felix Millan

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    Felix "The Cat" Millan was an excellent fielding second baseman who won a pair of Gold Glove Awards in the late 1960's and early 1970's. Millan used great range to be able to scoop up any ball hit near him. That range is actually the reason that Millan's error totals were fairly high, as he got to balls that most others couldn't.

    Millan's defense was so good that it led to him making three consecutive All-Star teams with the Braves despite the fact that he only hit above .289 once with the franchise and only topped two homers once during that time.

    Millan is the Braves' best defensive second baseman, but he does have some competition on this list in Glen Hubbard. In the end the awards win out.

5.Dale Murphy

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    Dale Murphy is best known for winning consecutive National League Most Valuable Player Awards in 1982 and 1983, but he also was in the midst of five consecutive Gold Glove Awards during that time. 

    Murphy led the National League in errors by a first baseman in 1978 and came in second in 1979 before Bobby Cox moved him to center field in 1980. The transition from first base and catcher to the toughest position in the outfield came fairly easy to the talented player.

    One of the stars of the 1980's despite playing for some awful teams, Murphy excelled in both center field and with the bat. In fact, until Andruw Jones came around, Dale Murphy was the Braves' best defensive center fielder in franchise history.

4. Del Crandall

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    Four-time Gold Glove Award winner Del Crandall is one of the best defensive catchers to play the game. Crandall is the classic catcher—a big, strong guy that caught 130 games per year regularly, hit with power and gunned down opposing baserunners easily.

    Crandall's arm was probably the strength of his game, although it wasn't his only plus tool. For his career Crandall threw out an impressive 46 percent of baserunners that attempted steals on him and in two seasons threw out more than half the runners who tested him.

    Not only did he possess a strong arm, but he gave up a very low percentage of passed balls. That is part of the reason that he led the National League in fielding percentage for catchers four times in a Braves uniform.

    Crandall's defense was so good that he made eight All-Star teams as a Brave, including some years where he struggled a bit at the plate—something that didn't happen too often as he hit .257 with 170 homers with the franchise. Crandall was an easy selection for the top five despite the presence of many other very strong defenders.

3. Hank Aaron

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    The greatest hitter in the history of the Braves franchise also happens to be one of the best defenders. Hank Aaron may be better known for his 755 career home runs, a Major League record until recently, but he also won three consecutive Gold Glove Awards between 1958 and 1960.

    In part because of his hitting ability and in part because of the presence of a pair of 12-time award winners, Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente, Aaron's defense never fully got the credit he deserved. Aaron's speed allowed him to get to balls easily and he had the prototype cannon arm for a right fielder, consistently ranking highly on the leaderboard for outfield assists despite the fact that opponents rarely tested him.

    Aaron could have won many more Gold Glove Awards if it wasn't for having to compete with two of the greatest defensive players of all time playing in the same era in the outfield.

2. Greg Maddux

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    Lost in the great Atlanta Braves career of Greg Maddux is the fact that he won 10 Gold Gloves in his 11 seasons with the team. Even more impressive is the fact that he won 18 Gold Glove Awards in a 19-year period. Making that even more special is the fact that only one other pitcher has won more than nine Gold Glove Awards (Jim Kaat's 16). Maddux has won two more Gold Glove Awards than any player at any position.

    While Maddux was never flashy, he fielded the position the same way he pitched—intelligently and extremely effectively. Maddux didn't make mental mistakes and made the routine plays while knowing where he needed to be at all times. Fans never needed to worry about Maddux making a mistake, as he only made 29 errors in 363 starts with the team.

    Even though he wasn't flashy and didn't play a key defensive position, such as shortstop, his 10 Gold Gloves in a Braves uniform cements his place at second on this list of top fielders.

1. Andruw Jones

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    Andruw Jones came up for his first full season in the Major Leagues in 1997 as a 20 year-old. By the time 1998 came around Jones became a perennial Gold Glove center fielder, winning the award for 10 consecutive years, including every year in his Braves' career after his rookie season. That total leaves him behind only Roberto Clemente and Willie Mays, who each had 12.

    Jones' flashy play and cannon arm during that ten-year stretch were enough to place him on the very short list of players in conversation for the greatest center fielder in baseball history. It seemed like no balls were out of his reach and runners didn't even want to test his arm, especially after a National League-leading 20 assists in 1998.

    Jones has never been the same player since leaving Atlanta as a free agent in part because of issues with his weight, but that doesn't take anything away from what he accomplished in a Braves uniform. He is without much doubt the best fielder in Braves history.