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The 20 worst A-Braves pitchers: #20 Denny McLain

The Braves traded a future Hall of Famer to acquire Denny McLain halfway through the 1972 season. Granted, Orlando Cepeda was nearing the end of his career, though he’d have one more productive year before retiring.

McLain, however, was done by the time he got to Atlanta. He was worth a gamble, pardon the pun, considering he was only 28 and just four years removed from winning 31 games for Detroit. The Chicago native had 114 wins by his 25th birthday but only 17 afterward — three with the Braves.

The ’72 Braves had the third best BA in the NL and finished second in homers. But their pitching was abysmal beyond Knucksie, who had a 3.06 ERA and 1.087 WHIP. Enter McLain, who showed no trace of his old form, sucking as a starter (6.47 ERA) and reliever (5.73 ERA). He allowed 10 hits per 9 IP and struck out only 3.5/9.

The Braves kept him on the roster the following spring but McLain couldn’t crack a pitching staff that would finish last in the NL in ERA, just as it did in ’72. He was released in March, never to don a major league uniform again.

Trivia question: McLain was one of three Braves from the 1970s (that I know of) to serve prison time. Can you name the other two?

PED apologists violate their own liturgy

Familiar language from ESPN’s Christina Kahrl, who claims the HOF is already compromised by PEDs.

I mean, c’mon, no Mike Schmidt or Hank Aaron in the Hall of Fame? By their own admission they broke the same baseball rule on the books that Bonds did, and they did so for the same reason — to enhance their performance.

She’s talking about amphetamines, which were once doled out like Morrison’s peppermints in most, if not all, of baseball clubhouses. That doesn’t make it right, but they weren’t consumed in the shadows. Eddie Mathews wasn’t snorting lines with Hank in a toilet stall, for instance, a la Canseco injecting McGwire. Greenies didn’t give one player a significant advantage over another.

Besides, it’s ridiculous to compare the banned substances.  The proof is in the stats, yet the apologists ignore the evidence. Perhaps because it totally destroys their argument.

What else explains Bonds’ production in the twilight of his career? Bonds’ lowest OPS, in four seasons from ages 36-39, was 1.278. His highest OPS in the prime of his career, from ages 26-29: 1.136. He had 69 more homers from ages 36-39.

Fortunately, someone else crunched the numbers typically required by the statistically obsessed.

Below are the top 15 OWPs of all time, regardless of age. Before 2001, no player had reached .924, Bonds’ OWP for the whole period that covers ages 36-39. Notice how unusual it is for someone aged 36-39 to have such a great OWP. It appears that no one has aged as well as Bonds.

Rank

Player

YEAR

OWP

AGE

1

Barry Bonds

2002

0.942

37

2

Barry Bonds

2004

0.929

39

3

Barry Bonds

2001

0.922

36

4

Mickey Mantle

1957

0.915

25

5

Babe Ruth

1920

0.913

25

6

Fred Dunlap

1884

0.909

25

7

Ted Williams

1941

0.908

22

8

Barry Bonds

2003

0.897

38

9

Babe Ruth

1923

0.896

28

10

Babe Ruth

1921

0.891

26

11

Ted Williams

1957

0.891

38

12

Babe Ruth

1926

0.883

31

13

Ted Williams

1942

0.881

23

14

Pete Browning

1882

0.88

21

15

Babe Ruth

1924

0.879

29

Dare I mention the freakish guns and engorged head?

Apparently none of this is sufficient proof for the likes of Kahrl, who writes of “the purported performance-enhancing benefits of PEDs.”

This from the group that sneers at those who ignore the irrefutable evidence found in the numbers.

andres

The 20 worst A-Braves players: #1 Andres Thomas

It was difficult omitting Corky Miller, who had 5 hits as B-Mac’s back-up in 2008 and batted .138 in 87 AB’s as a Brave. But how do you exclude Andres Thomas, the 7th SS to make our register? (Go here for the complete list.)

Stat awareness works for and against Andres, a Brave from 1985-90. I was a kid when he played, back when hitters were measured solely by batting average, homers and RBI. For infielders like Andres, it was all about errors, and he made a ton. Andres led all shortstops in errors in 1988 and was the runner-up in ’89. In ’87 he was charged with 20 errors despite appearing in only 82 games. Not good, though not as bad as it appeared at the time, as Andres ranked tops in range factor among all shortstops in ’87 and in the top 5 the next two seasons.

Conversely, Andres was generally thought of as productive bat for a SS. In the days before ‘roids became so widespread a .252-13-68 line, Andres’ line in ’88, looked pretty good. There were persistent rumblings of a Thomas for Barry Bonds swap back then, though I can’t imagine Pittsburgh ever seriously pondered it.

Andres was the anti-Bonds when it came to OBP, a basic stat today but one that was largely ignored in the ’80s. Good thing for Andres, because his was disproportionately awful.

He walked 59 times in 6 years with the Braves. Freddie, Uggla and Bourn each accrued more bases on balls in 2012. Andres was consistent, at least, never walking more than 14 times in a season, which explains his career .255 OBP, lower even than fellow 20 worsters Pat Rockett and Luis Gomez. His lifetime offensive WAR was -3.9 may not mean much until you compare it to those of Jason Bay and Jeff Francoeur, who in 2012 ranked near the bottom of the league with -0.8 and -1.2, respectively.

Andres, who had become the face off the franchise’s low point in Atlanta, was released following the 1990 season. His departure and the glory days that followed were no coincidence.

 

NY Times makes the case for Murph

Nice piece by baseball scribe Tyler Kepner on Murph’s last chance to be voted into Cooperstown before going to the veteran’s committee. The story points out a couple interesting factors not often considered in HOF debates, including this:

The ballot lists integrity, sportsmanship and character among the factors for voters to consider. Chad Murphy says that if voters apply the clause to keep some players out, they should also use it to let others in.

…and this:

But if offense had not exploded as it did in his retirement, Murphy might have had a better chance. As steroid users enhanced their records, they seemingly diminished those from the previous era.

The year’s most head-scratching headline

Via MLB Trade Rumors:

Five Teams Interested In Derek Lowe

Lowe sounds pretty delusional about his future.

“I’ve heard the same thing from everyone,” said Lowe. “I want to be a starter and feel I have a lot left in being a regular starter in a rotation and making my 30-plus starts. I can still do that. It’s frustrating to see other starters who have come off injuries get a shot, and I’ve never been hurt and can still help a team. I’m sure things will get going for me in January. I want to pitch. I’m nowhere near ready to retire.”

 

Deron_Johnson Braves

The 20 worst A-Braves players: #2 Deron Johnson

Three years before coming to Atlanta, Deron Johnson slugged 32 homers and drove in 130 for the Reds. Three years after leaving the ATL, Johnson, then with the Phils, clubbed 34 HR.

Johnson hit a punchless .208 in 1968, his only season as a Brave. He supplied none of the power expected from a 1B, finishing the year with 8 HR, 33 RBI and a .600 OPS — Sonny Jackson territory. At the opposite corner Clete Boyer was even worse (.586 OPS). The Hammer led the team that year with 29 HR and 86 RBI; Felipe Alou was the runner-up in both categories, with 11 and 57, respectively.

Some Launching Pad.

Obviously it took some doing to be the worst hitter on the ’68 club, but Johnson took the lead early and never looked back. Through May he had but 14 hits — 2 HR, 2 doubles — in 97 AB. He was just as crappy in September, hitting .176.

Johnson was consistently abysmal vs. right-handed pitchers — .179 BA, .536 OPS — and at Fulco, where he hit .166. He was sold to the Phils in December 1968 and hit 78 HR over the next three years.

Reggie Sanders’ career followed a similar pattern before and after his one year in Atlanta, but Johnson, the original, did it better, er, worse.

 

Does anyone besides Barry Bonds or Roger Clemens want to see their HOF induction speech?

Outside of Suzyn Waldman, that is.

Otherwise, who’s going to make the trek to Cooperstown to see two unrepentant frauds take their place among baseball’s greatest players. (Yes, there are some genuine louts in the HOF, and other players who probably shouldn’t be there, but why add more?)

Can you imagine a more soulless induction ceremony? Actually, you can, granted you were among the masochists who watched Barry Bonds break baseball’s greatest record. I wasn’t watching and, if I’ve even seen a replay I’ve forgotten it — out of sight, out of mind. Without looking it up, do you even know the name of the pitcher who gave up No. 756? Or what team he pitched for/

(Mike Bacsik of the Nats, for the record.)

The Hammer was more gracious than he should have been, offering videotaped congratulations. But he didn’t watch.

A woman who answered the phone at Aaron’s home in Georgia shortly after Bonds’ homer said that Aaron was asleep.

 

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The 20 worst A-Braves players: #3 Luis Gomez

Luis Gomez was a poor man’s Rafael Belliard, at least at the plate. Like Raffy, Gomez was smooth, if unspectacular, defensively. But Belliard was a regular Barry Larkin on offense compared to Gomez, the only player on our list who was traded for another of the 20 worst Braves, Pat Rockett (part of the deal that brought Chris Chambliss to Atlanta).

The Braves knew what they were getting in Gomez, a utilityman who came to Atlanta with a career .216 BA. They probably didn’t think he’d do much worse, but he did, batting .192 in 156 games with the Bravos. Of Gomez’s 60 hits only 6 went for extra bases. He had no homers, triples or stolen bases. Didn’t walk much either, which accounts for his .249 OBP.

Pitchers Doyle Alexander and Preston Hanna nearly matched Gomez’s meager .451 OPS in 1980 while Knucksie had just one less double.

Baseball Reference compares his career to that of the infamous Mario Mendoza, although the final Mendoza line (.215 BA) was five points higher than Gomez’s.

Tonight’s reading assignment

Terrific column by ESPN.com’s Howard Bryant — so good he almost makes up for Rick Reilly — on this year’s Hall of Fame balloting. Much to recommend here, particularly this excerpt:

[B]ecause of the steroid era, the baseball writers are going to guess who deserves enshrinement based on who had big muscles or who had a suspicious career year. Thus, goes the thinking, the system must change. It is a disdainful mindset that doesn’t just miss the bull’s-eye, but the entire target altogether. It is the great MacGuffin of the game, and reveals a complete lack of respect for voters who for years have done the work, covered the games, and taken the privilege seriously.

The truth is that the writers are reduced to being a mop, left with cleaning up a colossal mess created by Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association for enormous profit. The fans also must take their share of responsibility simply because professional sports franchises respond only to loss of revenue. To the people watching, steroids were always someone else’s problem, not an issue to get in the way of the fun and games — until their guy was accused or their team wronged. The journalists whose job it was to hold the institution accountable failed, too, for too little reporting allowed a corrupt culture to flourish. The emerging Generation M, influenced by its Godfather, Bill James, and his capo, Billy Beane, is also deeply culpable for allowing their calculations to blissfully ignore steroids and, through that omission, attempting to legitimize the whole dishonest era (and themselves) by attempting to make the game revolve around only numbers. It is no surprise, then, that two of the Gen M standard bearers, power and on-base percentage kings Manny Ramirez and Jason Giambi (directly linked to Beane and James) were both disgraced by steroids.

What galls me about the stat geeks, outside of the smug uniformity, is their willingness to rationalize away fraud. The game deserves better than that.

Best winter in NL East? Could be the Mets

Sit on it, Philly!

Mets fans should be thrilled by the proposed R.A. Dickey to Toronto trade. New York will reportedly receive two former first round draft picks: catcher Travis d’Arnaud (.286 BA and .816 OPS in the minors) and pitcher Noah Snydergaard (13-8, 2.35 ERA, 1.085 WHIP)  – an impressive haul for a 38-year-old pitcher.

New York also kept its franchise player, David Wright, for $138 million over 8 years. It’s a risky deal, as Wright will be 37 when his contract expires, but considering some of the deals handed out this winter it’s not unreasonable.

They still have a LONG way to go, as evidenced by their projected Opening Day outfield of Kirk Nieuwenhuis, Jordany Valdespin and Lucas Duda.

The Nats imported Denard Span and Dan Haren, discarding Edwin Jackson and either Rochey or Michael Morse. Call it even.

The Bravos hope to draw even before the season starts but as of now they’re on the wrong end of the Chipper and Bourn for B.J. Upton swap.

Philly is the NL version of the Yanks, aging and fading. They were able to snag a player the Braves wanted, Ben Revere, but he didn’t come cheap. Their new third baseman, Michael Young, is a middle class man’s Placido Polanco, which is another way of saying I’ll take my chances on Juan Francisco. They’re reportedly hot for Cody Ross, which is sort of like being hot for Marion Ross.

Then there’s Miami. Unfortunately for the 38 remaining Marlins fans, Jeffrey Loria did not trade himself. They have Giancarlo Stanton — for now, but don’t be surprised if Texas rescues him from south Florida.

Maddux slighted again, and was Smoltzie better than Glavine?

I’m thrilled that the last pitcher chosen in ESPN’s ranking of the 100 greatest players in MLB history is the perpetually underrated Knucksie, #100 overall.

Not so much with the highest-ranked pitcher: Roger Clemens.

ESPN cautions its list is a “judgment-free zone where Barry BondsRoger Clemens and even Pete Rose are welcome.” (Rose debased the game but earned every one of his 4,256 hits. He shouldn’t be lumped together with players who came upon their stats dishonestly.)

I don’t understand how you overlook the cheating, which allows ESPN to rank Barry Bonds ahead of The Hammer and Ted Williams. But those who do so will never convince me that Clemens was the best pitcher in baseball history. He wasn’t even the best of his generation.

His ranking, at #7 overall, speaks to to the most overrated stat in all of baseball: the strikeout. If Warren Spahn was pitching today the stat geeks would insist his 363 wins were attributable mostly to luck, as he averaged only 4.4 K/9 IP.

Strikeouts are about all that Clemens has over Mad Dog, who ranks at #13, third among pitchers (Walter Johnson finished 12th). I’m repeating myself but apparently some people refuse to listen.

Maddux has had as many dominant seasons as Clemens, finishing with an ERA under 3.00 nine times. Granted, Clemens did it 12 times, but in two other years Maddux finished with ERA’s of 3.00 and 3.05. And no pitcher in modern history (Pedro in ’99 was close) can match Maddux’s 1995 campaign: 19-2 with a 1.56 ERA and an 0.811 WHIP. Even though strikeouts were not his bread and butter he had more K’s that year (181) than hits and walks combined en route to his fourth consecutive Cy Young.

Maddux was more durable, totaling 200 innings or more 18 times. Add three more innings over two seasons and Maddux would have 20 seasons of 200 or more IP. Clemens topped 200 innings 15 times.

My favorite Maddux stat? From July 31, 1993, through August 4, 1995, a two-year period, Mad Dog had 56 quality starts in 57 games pitched.

And Maddux has been better in October, with a 3.27 ERA, compared to 3.75 for Clemens. His first Fall Classic appearance might have been his best; the fearsome Indians (with Manny Ramirez hitting seventh) managed to get but FOUR balls out of the infield in Game 1 of the ’95 Series. Time of game: 2:37.

Maddux had one more win and a better WHIP (1.143 to 1.158). Clemens had a better ERA (3.12 to 3.16) even though Mad Dog had ERA’s of 3.96 or higher in each of his last six seasons. Conversely, three of Clemens’ worst years came between his 30th and 34th birthdays, a period when most pitchers are at their best, or close to it. It’s reasonable, then, to conclude that had Clemens not cheated he wouldn’t have made it into the Top 100.

Oh, and Maddux was the best fielding pitcher of his era, if not ever.

If only he had juiced, or pitched for the Yankees and Red Sox. Or had a strikeout ratio like Tommy Hanson’s and John Rocker’s.

They didn’t make the list, of course, though Smoltzie and Glavine did. Some may quibble with Smoltz ranking 18 spots higher than his former teammate, but I’m good with it. Glavine had more wins and one more Cy Young Award, but Smoltzie had a better ERA and WHIP and, for three years, was as dominant a closer as the game has seen. And he had no  peer in October. Some people say that doesn’t matter, but they’re typically the same people who say cheaters deserve a pass.

melky-braves1

The 20 worst A-Braves players: #4 Melky Cabrera

I’m not going to try and convince you that Melky Cabrera was worse than, say, Sugar Bear Blanks. But there were few Braves as lazy and ineffectual as Wide Leche.

When the Braves acquired Cabrera I was under the delusion that he was one of those players you appreciate the more you saw play, a guy who would fill in capably all over the outfield, steal a few bases, hit a few homers, et al.

Instead the Cabrera we saw was out of shape, a liability on defense, punchless at the plate and a clod on the bases. And he didn’t seem to give a damn.

Granted, Melky probably would not be on this list if not for his antics last July at The Ted.

CD posted about it the day after, demonstrating some rare prescience:

The guy acts like he’s going to toss baseballs to the fans, and then doesn’t. Like some smart ass 13-year-old, he taunts Heyward to run to third. He cadillacs out of the box after hitting a ball that nearly scraped the top of the wall on its way out. …

Of course, never mind that he has decided to take the game seriously only after being in the big leagues for several years. I hope he blows a hammy or loses 100 points off his batting average by the end of the season. Maybe he’ll get busted for ‘roids. I wouldn’t be surprised.

Who we missing?

Only four players to go in our countdown of the 20 worst players (non-pitchers) in A-Braves history. Two of the four spots are taken, and it shouldn’t be hard to figure out who they are (hint: they played the positions most popular on our list). The other two are up for grabs.

Now’s your last chance to make a case for the worst of the worst.

rob_belloir_autograph

The 20 worst A-Braves players: #5 Rob Belloir

Rob Belloir was acquired from Cleveland in 1975, a bad sign, as the Indians were the AL version of the Braves. He was the PTBNL in a deal that brought Blue Moon Odom to Atlanta — a trade Eddie Robinson would’ve been better off not making. Blue Moon was 1-7 with a 7.07 ERA in his one season as a Brave. Belloir was just as bad.

What else would you expect from a lifetime .246 hitter in the minors?

Pretty much what Belloir produced — or didn’t — in parts of four seasons as a Brave. His was a career of attrition, as the utility infielder’s appearances dwindled with each year. By the time it was over, in 1978, Belloir had 167 MLB AB’s and only 36 hits — 30 of which were singles. He hit no homers and stole no bases.

You’d assume, then, that Belloir could pick it, but you’d be wrong. He appeared in 38 games at SS as a rookie, committing 12 errors. The Mercer alum retired with a .927 fielding percentage,

jmbraves

The 20 worst A-Braves players: #6 Jim Morrison

If I was a blowhard hack like Chris Berman I’d write something like, “Braves fans didn’t love Jim Morrison one time, let alone two.” I’ll spare us all.

Morrison, a veteran of the worst Braves team ever, was something of a two-way player, appearing in three games as a pitcher. He actually had some success on the mound, tossing 3-2/3 scoreless innings. That wasn’t enough to make up for his impotency at the plate.

Morrison was signed by the Braves after hitting .216 with no homers and ZERO walks in 74 AB as a Tiger. He managed but 14 hits in 92 AB with Atlanta, including an 0-for-30 stretch, good for a .152 BA and .468 OPS.

It’s hard to say whether Morrison was the worst player on the ’88 Braves — Jerry Royster, Damaso Garcia, Gary Roenicke and Terry Blocker make a good argument. But just being in the  conversation is bad enough.

Are the Braves resigned to their small-market fate?

Increasingly we’re hearing management say it’s okay with internal LF/3B options, as if there are any. I’m encouraged by Juan Francisco’s development, but there’s nothing to suggest he won’t add another 150+ strikeouts to a line-up that could easily lead the league in K’s. Jose Constanza is a 4-A player at best, Evan Gattis is a DH who may or may not hit big league pitching and Jordan Schafer has blown every chance he’s received.

Meanwhile, the Reds are on the verge of acquiring Shin-Soo Choo (career .289 BA, .381 OBP, .465 slugging, 20 SB a year) in a three-team deal  that would net the Indians Drew Stubbs, who’s fallen far short of expectations, and a minor league pitching prospect. I’m not saying the Braves could’ve topped that offer, but Cleveland needs pitching and the Braves have it.  Choo is a FA after this season, and, though he strikes out plenty, gets on base at a clip Francisco will never match. And the Reds aren’t gutting their farm system to get him.

An NL competitor is about to get better, and right now the Braves are worse than in 2012. B.J. Upton does not equal Chipper and Bourn. Not even close.

More troubling is the lack of any movement on extensions for Martin and Jay Hey. Prado, a free agent after next season, has indicated a desire to re-up and likely won’t drive an impossible bargain. But this market would tempt anyone, and the Braves better not let Martin’s agent drive up the price.

Hard to believe but Jay Hey is just three years removed from free agency. The closer he gets to 2016 the less interested he’ll be in passing up a potential bonanza for short-term security. By the way, Kris Medlen will also be a FA in 2016.

Hell, even Tampa managed to lock up its franchise player, Evan Longoria, through 2023. Such commitments are not without risk, but the alternative is the Pittsburgh Pirates. FW better get moving or it won’t be long before we find ourselves in the same boat as Pirate fans, desperate for mediocrity.