Who’s the Most Underrated Atlanta Brave?

There are a million ways to ask this question, and just as many ways to answer it. Here’s my attempt: Who’s the most underrated Atlanta Brave?

This would be someone who isn’t in the Hall of Fame, who provided significant value in a Braves uniform, who doesn’t seem to get much recognition any more.

So, for example: there are 11 non-Hall-of-Famer position players who compiled at least 20 rWAR in an Atlanta uniform. I’ll bet you can name the first ten without breaking a sweat:

Andruw Jones, Dale Murphy, Freddie Freeman, Brian McCann, David Justice, Javy Lopez, Jason Heyward, Darrell Evans, Rafael Furcal, and Bob Horner.

You might need a few guesses to get the eleventh. I’ll spare you the suspense:

Jeff Blauser.

Why People Don’t Talk About Him Much Any More

If you just look at his numbers, Blauser was a below-average shortstop who had a couple of extremely good seasons, which earned him All-Star nods in 1993 and 1997. He’s largely been forgotten because most of the time, he was a .260 hitter who could knock 12 home runs a year but gave a lot of it back on defense, particularly early in his career.

Blauser suffered a number of injuries. As it happens, his two best seasons were also the only two times that he played 150 games. (That’s partly due to injuries, partly due to the strike years in 1994 and 1995, and partly because Bobby platooned him defensively with Rafael Belliard for a while.)

His second All-Star campaign was in 1997, his walk year, and netted him a nice two-year, $8.4 million contract with the Chicago Cubs, one which ESPN later bluntly summarized as “a colossal and expensive mistake.”

Most Underrated Atlanta Brave, Jeff Blauser: The Why

In 1993 and 1997, he hit .300 — the defensive systems think he was better in the field those years, too — with an OBP over .400, which meant that Bobby could plug him in anywhere, whether it was in the 8-hole, in front of the pitcher, or batting leadoff when Kenny Lofton was hurt.

He was, generally, what you’d call a “professional hitter”: his walk rate was very healthy, over 10%, and his strikeout rate was a very manageable 17.8%. So his career OBP of .354 is quite good for a shortstop.

As a matter of fact, his 10.8% walk rate is tied with Carlos Correa for the 7th-best walk rate among shortstops since 1987. But the top five guys on the list were relatively powerless: Steve Jeltz, Walt Weiss, Jose Offerman, Jeff Reboulet, and Spike Owen. Sixth place, of course, is Alex Rodriguez.

In the top ten list for career walk rate among shortstops, the only SS who have a career slugging percentage over .400 are Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Correa, Jeff Blauser, and 10th-place Barry Larkin.

In the SABR balloting for the All-Time Atlanta Braves team, Blauser actually received the greatest number of first-place votes, but Rafael Furcal narrowly won the balloting on the strength of downballot votes.

But all of that is pretty unevocative. Mac Thomason, explaining why he ranked Jeff as the 19th-best Atlanta Brave in 2006, explained:

There’s already been some talk about Blauser in the comments, and some people will think that this is too high. If anything, it is too low; judging only by offensive statistics, Jeff Blauser was the best middle infielder in Atlanta history. I rank him lower than Furcal and Giles because I docked him for defense, baserunning, and inconsistency, but I really don’t know that this can be sustained.

https://bravesjournal.us/2006/10/28/no-16-jeff-blauser/

Part of why Blauser is less well-remembered, as Mac points out, is because he actually debuted earlier than many of the other heroes of the 1990s. So we remember how eagerly we all anticipated the debuts of players like Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez, Ryan Klesko, and of course Andruw Jones, while Blauser — the eighth overall pick in the 1984 draft — came up for his first cup of coffee in 1987, though he wouldn’t really be ready for the role for another couple of years, and the metrics suggest his defense was really sloppy until his mid-20s. But he could always hit, and he always did.

Oh, and for many of us, he was immortalized by the nickname on a homemade sign that one fan held up at Fulton-County Stadium back in 1993:

“Doogie Blauser, the Hit Doctor.”

How He Should Be Remembered

I think Mac said it best:

“Judging only by offensive statistics, Jeff Blauser was the best middle infielder in Atlanta history.”

Let’s give him his due.

Thanks for reading on “Most Underrated Atlanta Brave, Jeff Blauser”. Check out our other entries in “Atlanta Braves History” here.

25 thoughts on “Who’s the Most Underrated Atlanta Brave?”

  1. Well done, Alex. So the way to be underrated is to be (a) below average defensively at a defense-first position; (b) enough above average offensively at same to keep your job, but not so far above average offensively that you’re an overall offensive standout; and (c) do it for a long time. That’s a hard needle to thread.

  2. I haven’t had that feeling yet this offseason, but I think the players and owners come to an agreement this week. The problems in the world are too big to let finances get in the way and each side will give a little.

  3. Actually, I think that works pretty well. Part of the reason is that there’s a bit of a hidden selection effect: you have to clear a relatively high bar just to be a good enough defender to merit a full-time job at a defense-first position in the field, so if you are good enough to remain at the position but not otherwise defensively distinguished, you’re very likely to be underrated.

  4. Full List of #Braves MILB players released:
    Braxton Davidson
    Walter Borkovich
    Greg Leban
    Brandon Chapman
    Ray Hernandez
    Hagen Owenby
    Luis De Jesus
    Carlos Caminero
    Zack Soria
    Brendan Venter
    Jose Manuel Fernandez
    Caleb Dirks
    Denzel Bryson
    Jordan Rodgers
    Joel Reyes
    Jose Olague
    Yerangel Medina
    Luis Diaz
    Christian Zamora
    Randi De La Cruz
    Ryan Shetter
    Alex Camacho
    Carlos De La Cruz
    Leonardo Vargas
    Shairon Bennett
    Nestor Bermudez
    Ramon Linares
    Orelvis Rijo
    Randy Ruiz
    Nelson Celesten

  5. Thank you, AAR. I always confused Spike Owen’s name, invariably calling him Spike Jones.

  6. @3: So continuing this a bit, I tried to find shortstops and catchers with bad career dWAR and RField but with good oWAR. Blauser is 4th alltime on that list. (Derek Jeter is first… he’s the Babe Ruth of this category…. no one is even close, but the fact that he was allowed to play out of position for 20 years I leave for others.) Xander Bogaerts, with fewer at bats, is tied with Blauser career in oWAR and just about the same at Rfield, but he’ll move past him in both categories this year, if there is a this year. Shawon Dunston is just behind these two, and that seems like another pretty good comp. Scanning down the list for a Brave who might climb into the ranks of the underrated, at 36th alltime on this list, is newest Brave Travis d’Arnaud, though he won’t get enough years here to really approach Blauser.

  7. I know this doesn’t meet the definition of “not in the Hall of Fame,” but I think Phil Niekro is underrated. Innings pitched for a starting pitcher are very important and valuable. To generate innings of above average performance at an above average quantity is a big needle mover. I think because he wasn’t consistently dominant and was in an era of a lot of good pitchers that the view of Niekro as a “compiler” is WAY overdone.

  8. This is a good question, and Blauser may be the correct answer. As for other possibilities, seeing that Bill James has called him the most underrated player in baseball history, via the transitive property of inequality I am compelled to suggest Darrell Evans. Joe Torre as a non-HOF player was more of a Milwaukee Brave, or else he would certainly rank highly.

    As for pitchers…as his tenure recedes into history I predict Julio Teheran is destined to be underappreciated. And as for someone who made significant contributions to the glory years but seems largely forgotten, the now-unfortunately-named Greg McMichael (hate it when that happens).

  9. I 100% agree that Teheran is headed for underratedhood, and I think you’re right about Torre, too, at least from a franchise perspective. On the other hand, partly thanks to that James quote, it’s difficult to consider Evans underrated, at least among Braves Journal regulars — he was Mac’s favorite player, after all!

  10. Credible reports out of Auburn this morning that my childhood hero, friend of my father, and employer at one time, former Auburn Coach Pat Dye has passed away at the age of 80.

    I am shattered by this in these terrible times.

    What else…

  11. I hope Liberty never does anything this chintzy. What an embarrassment — they won the World Series, then their billionaire owners tried to save a hundred thousand bucks off the back of their minor leaguers by cutting their weekly stipend from $400 to $300. Their major leaguers immediately offered to cover the lousy hundred bucks and the team, with egg on their faces, abruptly reversed course.

    https://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2020/06/nationals-reduce-minor-league-stipend.html

    If there’s no baseball this year, it’ll be because owners are this impossibly penny-wise pound-foolish when it comes to money.

  12. Nice piece by Menand on Ruth and Gehrig. I think that referring to Gehrig as “Little Heinie” is pretty straightforward: his birth name is Henry Louis Gehrig, and his family was German-speaking, and “Heinie” is the German nickname for Henry as in Heinrich. Hence all the old ballplayers named Heinie, most famously Heinie Manush.

  13. I know Blauser had his issues with Yunel Escobar, which ended his managerial career, but I’ve been surprised at how he’s disappeared since then. I read somewhere that he doesn’t feel comfortable coming back to alumni events. Hopefully that’ll change one day.

  14. Poor big guy. I doubt they release him if he was healthy as the same could be said for the Braves.

  15. Never in my communication law classes did I come across the term “libel-proof”, but Lenny Dykstra hadn’t really gone to work yet. What a trailblazer lol

  16. In these troubled times, the Dykstra story is a miracle and a blessing.

  17. Occasionally, students of Yiddish will try to explain the difference between a shlemiel and a shlimazel. I think this may help:

    The 2008 Mets were shlemiels. The 2009 Mets were shlimazels.

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