With the 2023 Hall of Fame announcement completed. Three notable former Atlanta Braves were represented on the ballot in Andrew Jones, Gary Sheffield, and Billy Wagner. What better time to look at former Braves with the best careers that are not enshrined in the Hall of Fame.
Fortunately, Fred McGriff is no longer on this list because he was elected by the committee in December of last year.
So, before we get into the former Braves with the best careers that are not in the Hall of Fame, we need to set some parameters.
First, we will not be listing players who are still eligible via ballot. All the players on the ballot at least mathematically have a chance to make it.
Next, we are only going to list players who were part of the Atlanta Braves. This list will not necessarily be players that spent most of their career in Atlanta, but they had to have played for Atlanta.
There are arguments for great players who played for the franchise before it was in Atlanta. Players like Tommy Bond of the Boston Red Stockings, Bill Dahlen of the Boston Doves, and Charlie Buffinton of the Boston Beaneaters who are all in the top 180 players all-time in terms of Wins Above Replacement will not be mentioned. However, it is highly recommended that you look at their profiles, as they all had fantastic careers.
Also, there are many different lines of thought on who should be a Hall of Famer. Some prefer a small hall, some prefer a larger hall. Some believe it should be based on how a player performs in comparison to other players at their primary position, while others believe it should be how they performed in comparison to the entire league. Some factor in character, some don’t, and some just cherry pick to justify why their childhood favorite player should be in.
With this in mind, we are purely looking at three players who had the best careers statistically, while we leave out all the rest.
Kenny Lofton only played 120 games for the Atlanta Braves, but when he was a Brave he had a huge impact. In 1997 he had a slash line of .333/.409/.428 with a 125 wRC+ (25.0 percent better than the league average). He finished that season with a 5.2 fWAR.
For his career, Lofton was very consistent. He was never really a power threat with only 130 HR over 17 seasons and 9235 plate appearances, but he still maintained a wRC+ of 109. In fact, his wRC+ was above league average for 14 of his 17 seasons.
Defensively, Lofton ended his career with a defensive WAR of 15.5. For reference, that is 107th all-time among all positions. Andrew Jones has the most dWAR of any outfielder with 24.4 dWAR.
Lofton ended his career with 62.4 fWAR and 68.4 bWAR. Accumulating WAR (although it is not a perfect metric) can be a good measure because it helps look at how much value a player brought across an entire career. It especially helps to look at players like Lofton whose value was far beyond just offense.
In terms of bWAR over a career, Lofton ranks 117th all-time among all positions, among all eras. This includes pitchers from the Walter Johnson era who would start 42 games in a season and make relief appearances while having complete games in a large fraction of their starts. Among position players Lofton ranks 78th all-time.
Somehow, Lofton was only on the BBWAA ballot for one year in 2013, receiving a vote on only 3.2 percent of ballots with 5.0 percent needed to remain on the ballot. To this day, it is still one of the greatest tragedies in the history of Hall of Fame voting that Lofton was not given more respect to at least be on the ballot for a few more years at a minimum.
Some Atlanta Braves fans may have forgotten that Graig Nettles played for the Atlanta Braves because it was the 21st year of his career, and it was not a memorable one. In 1987, Nettles had a slash line of .209/.294/.350 which equated to a terrible wRC+ of 61.
This may raise some eyebrows as to why Nettles would even be mentioned. However, Nettles, like Lofton had a long career consistently being above average. In 10228 career plate appearances spanning over 22 seasons, Nettles ended his career with a slash line of .248/.329/.421 with a wRC+ of 111 and 390 HRs. His slash line was handicapped by his last three seasons with his wRC+ never being over 86, so it does make his overall 111 that much more impressive.
In terms of defense, Nettles graded well in terms of dWAR. Over 22 seasons he accumulated 21.4. This ranks him 42n.d all-time. For reference, Scott Rolen is right behind him in 45th with 21.2. It may seem obvious, but Fangraphs and Statcast did not track defense with players from this era to the level of granularity that they do now. That being said, Nettles was still very good defensively based on the data that we have.
In terms of overall output, Nettles ended his career with 68.0 bWAR, and 65.7 fWAR. This would rank him 83rd all-time in bWAR, and 12th among 3rd basemen. For what it is worth there are 15 3rd basemen in the Hall of Fame. This is not to say Nettles should or should not be in, just a point of reference as to how solid his career was.
Nettles ended up staying on the BBWAA ballot for four years from 1994-1997 receiving the most support in 1994 being on 8.3 percent of the ballots, and ultimately falling off the ballot when he was on 4.7 percent in 1997.
As can be seen with both Lofton and Nettles, voters during this time frame did not care much about defense other than Gold Gloves, which were extremely flawed during that time (that is a whole other article in itself).
Braves fans are probably a lot more familiar of Darrell Evans who started off his career playing for Atlanta for nine seasons, while being the full-time starting 3rd baseman for six and a half of those seasons.
Evans brought great play for the Braves with a slash line of .246/.368/.426 which equates to a wRC+ of 121 over 3522 plate appearances. He also had 131 HRs during that time frame as well.
1973 was an especially good year for Evans in which he hit .281/.403/.556 with a wRC+ of 158, 41 HRs, leading the league in walks, and an overall fWAR of 9.7. Somehow, he came in 18th in MVP voting while Pete Rose won the award with a 140 wRC+ and 7.3 fWAR all because he could hit a bunch of singles.
Over his entire career, Evans produced a slash line of .248/.361/.431 which equates to a 120 wRC+, with 414 HRs over 10737 plate appearances and 21 seasons.
Evans was never a solid defender. For his entire career he had a dWAR of 0.2. He was clearly a bat first player, but he was very good at it. It truly is a mystery why he did not get more love in the accolades arena. He was only an All-Star twice, and only got MVP down votes four times. To be fair, the Silver Slugger award did not start until 1980, so he probably would have received a few of these awards. This lack of accolades likely hurt him when it came to HoF voting.
In terms of overall performance, Evans ended his career with 61.1 fWAR and 58.8 bWAR. This would place him 129th all-time among all players, and 20th among all 3rd basemen. Again, there are many different lines of thought as to what makes a HoFer, but statistically Evans had a very solid career, and arguably a top three career among former Braves who are not in the HoF.
Honorable Mention – Dale Murphy
Dale Murphy is an absolute legend in Braves Country. Many fans may get angry that Murphy is not in the top three due to arguments that he won MVP twice, or some other metric. It is truly semantics at this point, but from an overall statistical standpoint, he comes up just short of the other three players.
This is not to say that Dale Murphy was not a great player. He had a very solid career and rightfully so is in the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame.
Murphy ended his career with a slash line of .265/.346/.469 which equates to a 119 wRC+ and 398 HRs over 9040 plate appearances spanning 17 seasons. These are obviously incredible numbers.
Murphy’s kryptonite, which is the main reason he is an honorable mention, is his career defense. Murphy played CF in the MLB, so he was by far better at defense than the average human. However, against his peers he does not grade well. He ended his career with a dWAR of -6.8.
From an overall standpoint, he ended his career with an fWAR of 44.4 and bWAR of 46.5 which would rank him tied for 241st all-time.
Murphy stayed on the BBWAA ballot all 15 years he was eligible from 1999-2013 with 2000 being the year where he appeared on the most ballots at 23.2 percent.
Again, the other three players barely edged him out based on the parameters set. There is definitely an argument to be made that he belongs among the top 3 former Atlanta Braves not to be in the HoF.