As the Braves prepare to open the National League Series against the Phillies on Saturday night, it seems like a good time to ask four icons from the club’s previous great era if this year’s team is the best in franchise history.
This year the Braves produced the franchise’s modern-era record for runs, RBIs and OPS. She also topped all-time high marks in home runs, OPS+, and slugging percentage.
Meanwhile, this year’s Atlanta club features two NL Cy Young Award-winning starters in Max Fried and Spencer Stryder. Fried missed nearly four months this season due to injuries, but he enters the postseason with the pitching ability he did when he finished fifth in the NL Cy Young balloting in 2020 and second in ’22.
So was this the best Braves team ever? MLB.com polled four of the franchise’s legends to get their opinions on how this club stacks up against some of the best players to ever play there.
Andrew Jones: “To be honest, they might be the best Braves team I’ve seen since I started playing here [in 1996]”.
Smoltz: “People will say it’s a no-brainer, and I fall into that category. This is the deepest list I’ve ever seen.”
Chipper Jones: “I would have liked to see maybe some of my teams had a DH in the lineup. But the fact of the matter is what the team did this year is historic. It’s not just good. It’s not just great. It’s historic. You’re talking about a team that stagnates .500 for an entire year.” “Team? This is crazy.”
Tom Glavin: “It’s hard to say who’s the best, right? You know, we’re used to getting these questions for me, unless you win a World Series, you don’t have much to talk about. So, this puts the ’95 team in the conversation and this puts the most recent championship team “The world (2021) is in the conversation. But if you’re talking purely statistically, it’s hard to say they’re not, at least offensively. When you do historic things offensively, that speaks for itself.”
As Chipper Jones mentioned, the Braves finished the season with a .501 slugging percentage. How incredible was this? The only teams to go over .480 in a single season are the 2019 Astros (.495), ’19 Twins (.494), ’19 Yankees (.490), 1927 Yankees (.488) and ’36 Yankees (.483).
You know how the 1927 Yankees have long been described as the greatest lineup ever assembled? This group from Atlanta led by Acuña and Olson actually rivals what Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and other Pinstripers did nearly a century ago.
The 1927 Yankees hold the all-time record with a 127 OPS+. This year the Braves ranked third with a 124 OPS+, 31 behind the Yankees (125).
OPS+ takes a player’s on-base percentage plus slugging percentage and normalizes the number across the entire league. It tries to adjust for external factors such as court dimensions to give you a context-neutral number.
In other words, in a context-neutral world, this year’s Braves had the third-most productive offense the baseball world has seen in the modern era (since 1900). Additionally, his 307 home runs matched the 2019 Twins for the most in MLB history.
Chipper Jones: “You are never out of the game. You are always radiant and amazing to be back with. I can think of a few times this year where we’ve been down 4-0, 5-0 or 6-0. Then we go up to 6-3, and I say: We have them where we want them.
Galvin: “The 2003 Braves team was really good, the 1998 team was really good. I think the only difference is I think this current version is built more on offense, whereas some of these teams are built more on pitching. That’s what gets the attention, the promotion. But I will say This, I think, this year’s team enters the postseason more favored than any team I can remember.
With Hank Aaron, Eddie Matthews, and Warren Spahn in attendance, the Milwaukee Braves won the 1957 World Series and a second consecutive National League pennant in 1958. Those clubs were certainly among the best in franchise history. In the same vein, the ’95 and ’21 World Series champion teams will always be celebrated.
But teams that were upset in the playoffs, like the 106-win 1998 team and the 101-win 2003 team, are still considered two of the franchise’s best teams.
The 1998 team was similar to the 2023 team in that it featured four 30-plus players (Andres Galarraga, Javi Lopez, Chipper Jones, and Andrew Jones). This year’s team actually had three players who made it to the 40-plus (Olson, Acuña Jr. and Marcell Ozuna) and another (Austin Riley) who came up short.
The 2023 Braves don’t have three Hall of Famers (Smoltz, Glavine and Greg Maddox) at the front of the starting rotation. This year’s team also does not feature No. 4 and 5 starters Denny Nagle and Kevin Millwood, who together won 33 games in 1998.
But with Fried and Strider, the rotation is currently led by two guys who could be perennial Cy Young Award candidates over the next few years.
Fried missed most of April with a hamstring strain, then missed most of the next three months with a forearm strain. Kyle Wright, who was MLB’s only 20-game winner last year, has pitched in just seven games this year.
Smoltz: “This is the best lineup the Braves have ever had. If they have a healthy start all year, I’d say it’s by far the best lineup.”
Chipper Jones: “Going back to the 1998 club, I find that it does not resonate as historically as this club. In 2003, it was clear that there was a lot of fun on the field. We called it ‘The Company’: Jones, Jones and [Gary] Sheffield. That was a good midfielder in a lineup that I would have pitted against anyone. But as much as I would like to say the attack was close to this, I think this attack is much better.
With Lopez hitting a career-high 43 goals and Sheffield scoring 39, the 2003 Braves offense carried an average rotation. Marcus Giles combined with Jones to give that lineup significant firepower. But this offense now can only be considered the best of the pre-universal DH era.
There is no doubt that this year’s Braves team has earned its place in any argument regarding the best team in franchise history. But instead of being remembered like the 1998 Braves, who were upset by the Padres in the NLCS, or the 2003 Braves, who were beaten by the Cubs duo of Kerry Wood and Mark Pryor, they want to be remembered as champions.
Chipper Jones: “These guys are gym rats. When I say gym rats, they’re in the cage constantly. They have their little idiosyncrasies in terms of little drills that make their swing successful, and if you’re a good hitting coach, you’ll sit and watch and shut up and look for the things that make them tick. When they get a little bit off, , you participate. But I haven’t had to participate much this year. These people have been locked in since day one.
Smoltz: “I’ve never seen so many MVP candidates on one team, and they have eight legitimate stars. I had two hip surgeries this year, so I had to watch a lot of baseball. The Braves were on one of the TVs.” The three downstairs every night. It was like I was surprised when they didn’t score in the first half.
Galvin: “You’re sitting there day and night waiting for something great to happen. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a team, when they’re down by four or five runs early, it’s not really a big deal. It’s crazy to have that ability to never get out of the game.”
Andrew Jones: “This team is very special, but I’ve played on some good teams here and been part of some great lineups. But this lineup is special.”
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