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Braves’ Top 5 Right Fielders: Bowman’s Take

by Mark Bowman –

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Mark Bowman’s ranking of the top 5 right fielders in Braves history.

We all know Hank Aaron was the best. So, I”m going a different route this week. Who was your favorite right fielder in Atlanta Braves history? Dale Murphy was included last week because he played a majority of his games as center fielder.

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1 – Hank Aaron, 1954-74
Key Fact: Aaron’s 136.3 fWAR (FanGraphs’ WAR Model) ranks fifth among all outfielders in MLB history. The only outfielders with a higher fWAR are Babe Ruth (168.4), Barry Bonds (164.4), Willie Mays (149.9) and Ty Cobb (149.3).

Aaron was a left fielder during a majority of his rookie season, and he would play center field, second base and first base over the two decades that followed. But the iconic Hall of Famer spent most of his career as the Braves’ right fielder. He holds the franchise record with 2,134 starts in right field. That’s 32 fewer starts than the club’s next three highest totals combined — Tommy Holmes (728), David Justice (728) and Nick Markakis (710).

You’ve likely seen that if you subtract each of Aaron’s 755 home runs, he’d still have more than 3,000 hits. Well according to Baseball Reference’s Play Index, “The Hammer” tallied 520 of those home runs as a right fielder. If you only accounted for that portion of his total, he’d have still ranked ninth on the game’s all-time list when he retired.

Looking only at home runs hit while in a game as a right fielder for the Braves, you’d have to sum the totals of Justice (150), Dale Murphy (105), Jason Heyward (81), Jeff Francoeur (79), Brian Jordan (66) and Claudell Washington (65) to surpass Aaron’s total of 520. And if you did so, you’d find these seven guys combined for just 26 more homers than Aaron as a Braves right fielder.

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2 – David Justice, 1989-96
Key Fact: The 19.1 fWAR Justice produced from 1991-95 ranked second among NL right fielders, trumped only by Hall of Famer Larry Walker’s 22.7.

Justice split time between first base and right field during his 1990 NL Rookie of the Year season, and a dislocated right shoulder limited him to 40 games during his final year (1996) in Atlanta. But in between, he did much more than just hit the home run that gave the city of Atlanta what still stands as its only World Series title.

Aaron had 13 different seasons during which he produced a 130 OPS+ or better while serving as the Braves’ right fielder. The only other player to do so at least three times was Justice, who belted a career-best 40 homers while helping the 1993 Braves complete their comeback.

Justice constructed a 133 OPS+ from 1990-96, and the 150 homers he hit as a Braves right fielder rank second in franchise history.

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3 – Jason Heyward, 2010-14
Key Fact: The 19.5 fWAR Heyward produced during his five seasons with the Braves ranked second among NL right fielders, trailing only Giancarlo Stanton’s 21.7.

Looking back on Heyward’s tenure, I’ll always wonder how different things might have been had he not been hit in the face by Jon Niese’s pitch on Aug. 21, 2013. Heyward had hit a career-high 27 homers in 2012, and he seemed to finding a groove during the second half of ’13. He produced a 1.033 OPS over the 22 games played before he went on the injured list. But he just has never seemingly gotten back to that level from an offensive perspective.

Still, Heyward left a strong mark while helping the Braves reach the postseason during three of his five years with the club. He won a Gold Glove during two of his final three seasons in Atlanta, and other than Aaron, he is the only right fielder in franchise history to produce a 5.0 bWAR (Baseball Reference’s WAR Model) or higher at least three times.

4 – Gary Sheffield, 2002-03
Key Fact: Led all MLB right fielders with the 12.1 fWAR produced during his two seasons with Atlanta

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Sheffield’s candidacy for this list was weakened by the fact he spent just two seasons with the club. But the success he had during those two years can’t be overlooked. After tallying 25 homers with a 138 OPS+ in 2002, he smacked 39 homers and constructed a 151 OPS+ in ’03. He stands with Justice and Aaron as the only right fielders in the franchise’s modern history to produce a 130 OPS+ or better in at least two seasons.

5 – Tommy Holmes, 1942-51
The 23.1 fWAR Holmes produced from 1945-50 ranked second among all MLB right fielders, trailing only Stan Musial’s 40.1 mark

Holmes debuted for the Boston Braves as a center fielder and remained at that position until his memorable 1945 season. That was the year he collected 224 hits (still a modern franchise record), tallied a career-high 28 homers, produced a 175 OPS+ and finished second in NL MVP balloting. His 35.7 bWAR ranks second among right fielders in franchise history.

Honorable mentions: Markakis and Francoeur have been linked dating back to their days as high school stars in suburban Atlanta. Markakis has a 6.1 fWAR over 752 games with Atlanta and Francoeur had a 5.2 over 730 games with the club. … The 8.3 bWAR J.D. Drew produced during his one year in Atlanta stands as the highest produced by a Braves right fielder other than Aaron, who trumped this total three times. … Once again looking only at totals produced while in a game as the Braves’ right fielder, Washington ranks seventh in homers and second in stolen bases (112). The only other member of this group to swipe at least 100 bags was Aaron (199).

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Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for since 2001.

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