Yesterday, Dwight Lowie asked:
Ronnie’s been scratched so we’re starting Inciarte, Almonte and Adrianza in the OF tonight. When was the last time the Braves ran out a crappier outfield trio?
The discussion continued later in the thread before this one as once again, the absence of Ronald and Heredia (as if Heredia were any great shakes) led once again to an outfield that could be characterized as “not especially punchful” despite Ender’s HR last night.
I’m going to explore a related question: what are the worst outfields ever fielded by the Braves? I took the starting outfield for every game since the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966 and then looked at each players aggregate BRef WAR for the Braves that season.
First, we can look at the trio with the worst total WAR. This one isn’t close. In 11 games in 2009, the Braves had Garrett Anderson (-1.38) in left, Jordan Schafer (-1.63) in center and Jeff Francoeur (-0.31) in right. That total WAR of -3.32 is easily the worst in in Braves history. Next worse is the last day of the 1971 season when Oscar Brown (-0.25) played left, Sonny Jackson (-1.57) played center and Dusty Baker, in his worst year in Atlanta (-0.7) played right.
Sometimes, summing WAR across the outfield is unfair, because you’ll get an acceptable outfielder weighed down by two pasture mates. The third worst outfield was in 1977, but featured Jeff Burroughs (0.71) anchored to Brian Asselstine (-0.32) and Rowland Office (-2.58). The other two shouldn’t really be tagged because Rowland Office had one of the worst Braves’ years ever. (It was the second-worst WAR for a Braves outfielder, barely exceeded only by Nate McLouth’s anti-brilliant 2010 (-2.64).
So I looked at it another way. What outfields had the worst best outfielder? As it turns out, the ACHE/Success/Frenchy outfield holds that distinction as well. Jeffy at -0.31 was the best of a very sorry group. But there were two other outfield combinations in which the best outfielder managed a -0.31 for the season. In 1988, the Braves twice started an outfield of Dion James (-0.31), Albert Hall (-0.46) and Ken Griffey (-1.38). On July 6th of the same year, they started Jim Morrison (-0.33), Jerry Royster (-0.7) and Gary Roenicke (-0.31). Neither of these were nearly as bad as the 2009 trio, but they couldn’t manage anybody above -0.31.
Other than that, there were only a few dozen outfield lineups in Braves history where all three outfielders had negative WAR, ie no one even at replacement level. 4 games in 2009 saw Gregor Blanco (-0.09) replace Shafer to improve the outfield quite a bit. The worst recent outfield with three negative-WAR outfielders are the two games in 2013 when the Braves started Jose Costanza (-0.13), Reed Johnson (-0.04) and Joey Terdoslavich (-0.14), but that is pretty much the definition of a AAAA outfield: three guys indistinguishable from 0, which is pretty much the situation with Abraham, Ender and Ehire (which was by the way, a huge Spanish-language hit for Dion in 1968) who currently sit at -0.2, 0.2, and -0.2, respectively.
It’s somewhat debatable whether aggregate WAR in a year is the best way to judge badness, since a player might have been so bad he didn’t get into enough games to really generate impressive negative WAR. Switching to WAR/G gets around that problem, but has a tendency to get more obscure players whose crappiness is much less memorable. Even by that criterion, the ACHE/Success/Frenchy trio stands out, but they are only now in the top 5, and pride of place belongs to the September 30, 1967 outfield of Dave Nicholson, Mike Lum and Cito Gaston, who all had bad years, but not in enough games to really be memorable. Plus, it was the end of the season and nobody cared.
I hate to end on such a pessimistic note, so I should mention the other side of the ledger: in 19 games in 1966, the Braves started Rico Carty (4.52), Felipe Alou (who mostly played first base that year (6.26)) and Henry Louis Aaron (7.83). This was the highest aggregate seasonal WAR of any outfield in Braves history. The second-highest is from the same season, when Alou replaced Carty and the regular centerfielder, Mack Jones (3.06) played. The third highest is the 2012 outfield of Martin Prado (5.41), Michael Bourn (5.99) and Jason Heyward (5.51). Somewhat surprisingly (to me) that outfield was more mighty than the next one down, the 2012 outfield of Chipper (5.8), Andruw (6.51) and Gary Sheffield (4.40). That’s an artifact of that particular year, of course. If you took a typical year of those last three, they’d trounce a typical year of Martin, Michael and Jason.
Jesse Chavez started this game for the Braves. Like many of you, I’d forgotten about Jesse Chavez. He was a little shaky, but managed to give up only one scratch run in 2 1/3 innings. Matzek then gave up a Grybo (though it looked like an error on Swanson to me, but I didn’t have the sound on) and pitched a clean inning after that. Two acceptable Newcomb innings followed.
But as night follows day, it is simply unrealistic to expect 5 or 6 acceptable pitching performances in a Braves game. Luke came on and gave up a walk and a homer followed by two singles before settling down.
Until the 8th, the Braves offense consisted of a Freeman homer and a bunch of failures with runners in scoring position. But in the 8th, Ozzie homered, Riley singled and went to third on a ball muffed by Tony Gwynn… I mean Joey Votto. (See below.) He came home on an Adrianza single to get back the two runs Luke ceded.
Martin was unable to hold it there, giving up a run that might have been much worse but for some terrible baserunning by Jesse Winker.
Brad Brach pitched the 9th for the Reds. He gave up a single to Freddie but that was it.
I couldn’t turn on the sound until the sixth inning, but if Chip really compared Joey Votto to Tony Gwynn in any way beyond their identical chromosome counts I’m going to use that for this week’s entry.
OK… One more thing from the 8th. TJ Antone comes in to pitch and Chip says: “One of the big problems with the abbreviated schedule last year is that we didn’t get to see the Central or Western teams.” This apparently is because Chip doesn’t own a TV set. Unless of course he’s confessing that he doesn’t like baseball enough to watch a game now and then when he isn’t broadcasting. Not to mention that we actually had a playoff series against Cincinnati last year. Granted, that didn’t last long.