2000s marked by end of great careers
Pitchers Glavine, Smoltz, Maddux all end tenure with Braves
ATLANTA -- History will remember the first decade of this century as one that extended the annual success the Braves achieved during the 1990s, and one that marked the end of the Hall of Fame contributions that Tom Glavine, John Smoltz and Greg Maddux made to the city of Atlanta.
Of course it was also void of those World Series trips and Cy Young Awards that became commonplace in Atlanta at the end of the 20th century.
Still, when evaluating what the Braves did over the past decade, it's interesting to see that its top stars -- Glavine, Maddux, Smoltz and Chipper Jones -- were also the men leading the charge in Atlanta during the '90s.
In order to select this century's first All-Decade team, MLB.com recently met with Braves Hall of Fame announcer Pete Van Wieren, former Braves second baseman Mark Lemke and Braves media relations director Brad Hainje to discuss and debate the selections.
Among the eight position players, there essentially was no debate when it came time to select third baseman Chipper Jones, center fielder Andruw Jones and even Marcus Giles, who was undoubtedly the club's most productive second baseman during his short stint in Atlanta.
It was also interesting to see that there was very little argument when it came time to choose the catcher. What Brian McCann has done over the course of his first five Major League seasons, easily trumped everything Javy Lopez did during this past decade.
There wasn't any need to debate whether Maddux, Glavine and Smoltz all belonged on the pitching staff. But it was intriguing to hear Van Wieren and Lemke discuss while they chose to put Smoltz in the bullpen, instead of the starting rotation.
Braves All-Decade team
Here is a position-by-position breakdown of the selections and portions of the discussions that led to these decisions. The statistics provided account solely for the seasons played for the Braves from 2000-09.
Because it arguably provides the best opportunity for debate, let's examine the thought process that went into putting Smoltz in the bullpen.
Key Stats: 154/169 saves, 241 K's, 261 1/3 IP, 2.41 ERA in 242 relief appearances; 53-34, 3.04 ERA, 980 2/3 innings in 110 starts
When the decade began, Smoltz was rehabbing from Tommy John surgery and preparing for what would essentially prove to be a four-year stint in the closer's role. Still, he ended this span with the fourth-most starts and a 3.04 ERA -- best among any Braves pitcher that completed more than 32 starts.
"I don't know how you could leave the franchise's all-time saves leader off the All-Decade team as a closer," said Hainje in reference to the record 154 saves Smoltz recorded while serving as the closer from the end of the 2001 season through the end of '04.
"He was the best there was for those three or four years," Van Wieren said.
Lemke's decision to place Smoltz in the closer's role was based on his belief that the right-hander's dominance was only matched as a starter during his 1996 Cy Young Award winning season.
"As a closer, he is the next-best thing to Mariano Rivera and maybe even better," Lemke said. "The difference between him and Mariano is that Mariano throws one unhittable pitch, but it gets hit, even if it was just a dribbler back to him. Smoltz would strike them out. Smoltz, to me, might have been the most dominant closer that I've ever seen with Dennis Eckersley and all of them included."
STARTING ROTATION: Maddux (68-37, 3.16 ERA); Glavine (57-31, 3.50); Tim Hudson (56-39, 3.77); Ortiz (36-16, 3.97); Jurrjens (27-20, 3.10)
Maddux hasn't thrown a pitch for the Braves since the conclusion of the 2003 season and he still finished the decade leading the club in starts (139) and wins (68). Glavine notched just two victories for Atlanta after the '02 season and still ended the decade with the second-most victories (57) and third-most starts -- eight fewer than Hudson.
With Smoltz in the bullpen, Maddux, Glavine and Hudson were thrown into the rotation with little debate. Then after evaluating what the likes of Kevin Millwood, Mike Hampton, Horacio Ramirez and Chuck James did during their stints in the rotation, the group decided that Ortiz and Jurrjens should round out the final two spots.
"Even though JJ has just been here for two years, they have been really quality years," Hainje said. "He had the second-best ERA of guys who pitched more than one [season] and he was seven games over .500."
"Ortiz solidifies it with that 20-win season and Jurrjens is the guy for me," Lemke said.
Praise for Jurrjens definitely surrounded this discussion about the starters.
"I think he's got a good chance to be the horse of this staff for a long time," Van Wieren said. "He thinks like Maddux did."
CATCHER: Brian McCann
Key Stats: .294 BA, 91 HR, .854 OPS
Lopez's 43-homer season in 2003 capped his memorable run in Atlanta. The former catcher ended up hitting .284 with 92 homers and an .839 OPS in the 482 games (96 fewer than McCann) that he played for the Braves during the decade.
McCann homered off Roger Clemens in Game 2 of the 2005 National League Division Series and has since rocketed his way toward being the game's best catcher. Through four full seasons, he has gained four All-Star selections and three Silver Slugger Awards.
"I identify Javy more as the guy of the '90s and McCann as the guy of the 2000s," Van Wieren said. "As soon as he came up, he made an immediate impact. He's the one guy over the past five years who has maintained that standard that we had during that 14-year-run. We had no drop off at that position once he took over."
FIRST BASE: Adam LaRoche
Key Stats: 422 games, .283 BA, 76 HR, .867 OPS
LaRoche provided consistency at a position that was manned by a number of different individuals throughout the decade. Remember Rico Brogna, Wally Joyner and Craig Wilson?
Julio Franco enjoyed some productive seasons at the position. But LaRoche's production and service time led to the group selecting him without much hesitation. But Van Wieren was impressed enough with Andres Galarraga's 2000 season (28 homers coming back from cancer) that he at least provided the Big Cat some consideration.
"I didn't even consider Julio, because I consider him to be more of a utility guy, even though he did play a lot at first base," Van Wieren said. "I didn't look at [Mark] Teixeira because he wasn't here that long. But I did look at Galarraga because he had the great year."
SECOND BASE: Giles
Key Stats: 634 games, .285 BA, 67 HR, .805 OPS
Giles played nearly 300 more games at this position than Kelly Johnson and was far more productive during his span in this role.
"It has to be Giles," Lemke said. "He played better defense than people expected. I thought he got better as he went along with his glove. He played almost twice as many games as Kelly, and you can't go with [Martin] Prado because he had just the one year."
SHORTSTOP: Rafael Furcal
Key Stats: 777 games, .285 BA, 55 HR, 189 SB, .760 OPS
There's reason to believe that Yunel Escobar could easily surpass the value that Furcal brought during his time in Atlanta. But the consensus was that the Cuban shortstop simply hadn't been around long enough to surpass what the 2000 NL Rookie of the Year did during his time with the Braves.
"It's hard to match up with Furcal when he played that many more games," Lemke said in reference to the fact that Escobar played 458 fewer games at the shortstop position. "I think Yunel could eventually become as good or better as a shortstop than Furcal. But I don't think he's been there long enough yet."
"[Furcal] had individual games that were just sensational. He had the three triples in the one game," Van Wieren said. "He had the unassisted triple play. He was an All-Star and the Rookie of the Year. [Edgar] Renteria was a little better hitter and had Escobar been here longer, he might have had better numbers. But we're talking about that 10-year stretch."
THIRD BASE: Chipper Jones
Key Stats: 977 games, .313 BA, 205 HR, .973 OPS
The only thing that could have separated Jones from gaining this spot would have been had he continued to play the outfield. Let's not forget that the former NL MVP played an additional 338 games in left field during stints that ranged from 2001-04.
OUTFIELD: Andruw Jones (1,248 games, .264 BA, 287 HR, .848 OPS), Gary Sheffield (281 games, .318 BA, 64 HR, .974 OPS); Jeff Francouer (623 games, .266 BA, 78 HR .732 OPS)
Jones was an obvious selection and it was obvious that Sheffield's two-year stint in Atlanta was still viewed as being memorable for both sides.
"I think you have to have Sheffield on there," Van Wieren said. "He had a few big years here and we needed him to have those big years. He never created a problem while he was here."
When it came time to select a fourth outfielder, there was some talk about Brian Jordan. But Francoeur was ultimately chosen over Matt Diaz, who despite spending most of his time in a platoon role, still drew strong attention in this debate. Diaz has hit .317 in the 1,041 at-bats he has gained as a Braves outfielder.
Francoueur played every day during a majority of the decade's second half and highlighted this stretch with the consecutive 100-RBI seasons he had in 2006 and '07.
"Matt is one of my favorite guys that I've ever worked with in this business," Hainje said. "But if you put him on this team ahead of Francoeur, it looks like you're picking the team based on who is still with the team. It would be almost like Jeff isn't with us anymore, so we'll forget about him. But he did put up some solid numbers during some of those seasons."
SETUP MEN: LHP Mike Remlinger
Key Stats: 254 appearances, 238 IP, .222 OBA, 2.87 ERA
Remlinger made more appearances than any other Braves reliever during the decade and the 1.99 ERA he posted in 73 appearances during the 2002 season still stands as one of the more impressive stats produced by a member of Atlanta's bullpens.
There was some argument that Mike Gonzalez or Rafael Soriano were deserving in this role. But the greater argument was made for Peter Moylan, who has posted a 2.45 ERA and limited opponents to a .231 batting average in his 189 career appearances.
Moylan set a Major League record this past season by not allowing a home run in any of his 87 appearances. He's made 93 consecutive appearances without allowing a homer. The last he surrendered was during his 2008 season debut.
"That is amazing to me," Van Wieren said. "That's one of the more impressive stats I've seen, especially during this period."
MANAGER: Bobby Cox
Key Stats: 892-726, .551 winning percentage
There was only one choice when it came to selecting the manager of the decade and it was an obvious one. Over the past 10 years, Cox led the Braves to six playoff appearances and one NL Championship Series.
Mark Bowman is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.