ATLANTA — As you go through Braves history, you can debate whether any of
.328, 43 HR, 1.065 OPS, 169 OPS+, 6.8 bWAR (Baseball-Reference’s Wins Above Replacement Model)
Brian McCann had a few great seasons in Atlanta, but none top what Lopez did during the last of his 12 seasons with the Braves. The 42 homers he hit while in the game as a catcher in 2003 still stand as an MLB single-season record. He tallied eight multi-homer performances, the first of which came on April 17, while playing against the Expos in his native Puerto Rico. The 6.8 bWAR he produced that year trumps the career-best 5.5 bWAR McCann produced while hitting 23 homers with a .896 OPS in 2008.
.327 BA, 47 HR, 194 OPS+, 1.079 OPS, 7.2 bWAR
Aaron’s career-high 47 homers still stand as the most ever hit by a player age 37 or older. He also led the National League in slugging percentage, OPS, OPS+ and intentional walks (21) during what was the 18th season of his legendary career. He finished third in NL MVP balloting, marking the seventh time he experienced a top-three finish. The winner that year was Joe Torre, whose 5.9 bWAR was exceeded by both Willie Stargell (7.9) and Aaron (7.2).
.387 BA, 21 HR, 202 OPS+, 1.130 OPS, 9.0 bWAR
While spending his only season with the Braves, Hornsby produced what remains the franchise single-season record for OPS and OPS+. The Hall of Fame second baseman led the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and walks. He did all of this while serving as a player-manager after manager Jack Slattery was fired a month into the season.
.248 BA, 17 HR, .692 OPS, 5.8 bWAR
If the decision was simply based on WAR, you’d go with Denis Menke, whose 6.7 bWAR in 1964 ranks as the best mark ever produced by a Braves shortstop. Menke hit a career-high 20 homers that year, but his defensive shortcomings led to him primarily playing second base over the season’s final couple of weeks. It makes more sense to go with Simmons, who hit 17 homers and produced a 4.3 defensive WAR, which stands as the fifth-highest mark ever produced by a shortstop in baseball history. In other words, there was plenty of glove to compensate for the .692 OPS the Gold Glover produced in 2013.
.302 BA, 47 HR, 171 OPS+, 1.033 OPS, 8.1 bWAR
Choosing the greatest of Mathews’ seasons might be even more challenging than doing so with Aaron and Jones. The Hall of Fame third baseman hit 40-plus homers and constructed a 170 OPS+ over three straight seasons, from 1953-55. But the first of these seasons seemed to be his best. The Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953 and immediately saw a 21-year-old Mathews hit a career-best 47 homers with a .627 slugging percentage. Mathews’ 8.1 bWAR was the second-highest mark he ever posted, trailing only the 8.2 mark produced in 1959, when he finished ahead of Aaron in MVP balloting. Jones’ career-best 7.6 bWAR was constructed in 2007, when he led the NL in OPS (1.029) and OPS+ (165).
Left field: Lonnie Smith, 1989
.315 BA, 21 HR, 25 SB, .948 OPS, 168 OPS+, 8.8 bWAR
If I’m filling out a lineup card, I’m putting the 2002 version of Chipper Jones (26 HR, .972 OPS) in left field. But if you want to truly acknowledge the best season at each of position, you’ve got to go with Smith, who produced an NL-best 8.8 bWAR while playing just 134 games in 1989. The veteran outfielder’s 21 homers were one more than he’d hit over the four previous years combined. You could also go with Rico Carty’s 1970 season (1.037 OPS, 171 OPS+), but the defensive edge would go to Smith, who during this one season also overcame his previous defensive shortcomings.
.263 BA, 51 HR, .922 OPS, 136 OPS+, 6.7 bWAR
Dale Murphy produced a better OPS+ (149) during his 1983 NL MVP season and Jones actually produced a higher bWAR (8.2) with the help of his younger legs in 2000. As for Hank Aaron, he constructed a career-best 9.5 bWAR in 1961. But he played nearly as many games in right field (78) as he did in center field (83) that year. While all of these seasons were great, they weren’t necessarily as unique as Jones’ 2005. While setting a franchise record homer total, he joined Ken Griffey Jr. (1997) and Willie Mays (1965) as the only players to ever hit 50 homers and produce a defensive WAR of 1.5 or higher. In fact, Jones is the only member of this group to reach this homer total with a dWAR of 2.0 or higher.
Right field: Hank Aaron, 1959
.355 BA, 39 HR, 183 OPS+, 1.037 OPS, 8.6 bWAR
Aaron produced a higher OPS (1.079) and OPS+ (194) while primarily playing first base at age 37 in 1971. He also had a strong 166 OPS+ when he captured his only MVP Award in 1957. But his most impressive season was constructed in 1959, when he tallied 400 total bases, a number that still hasn’t been matched in franchise history. Nor has another Brave ever hit .350 with 35-plus homers in a season. Aaron finished third in NL MVP balloting behind the Cubs’ Ernie Banks and Braves teammate Eddie Mathews. Banks had a higher bWAR (10.2), but like Mathews, his OPS (.970) and OPS+ (156) were surpassed by Aaron.
19-2, 1.63 ERA, 28 GS, 209 2/3 innings, 10 CG, 3 SHO, 9.7 bWAR
Going back to 1900, there have been just four instances during which a pitcher has produced an ERA+ of 260 or greater while making at least 25 starts in a season. Pedro Martinez (291 in 2000) and Dutch Leonard (279 in 1914) account for two of those instances. Maddux accounts for the other two — 260 ERA+ in 1995 and a 271 ERA+ in 1994. Looking simply at the 1.63 ERA, within the division era (since 1969), there have been just two other instances when a pitcher has constructed a better ERA while making at least 25 starts. Those were produced by Maddux (1.56 in 1994) and Dwight Gooden (1.53 in 1985). Maddux won his fourth consecutive Cy Young award (second straight in unanimous fashion) in 1995 and posted a 2.84 ERA in five postseason starts. His two-hit complete game in Game 1 of the World Series was enough to deem this season greater than his other excellent years.
1.01 ERA, 42/45 SV, 116 K’s, 14 BB, 62 2/3 IP, 50.2% K rate
Each of Kimbrel’s seasons with Atlanta were special, but in 2012, he was historically dominant. That year he became one of four pitchers to ever produce a sub-1.10 ERA while totaling 60-plus innings with at least 40 saves. But he’s the only pitcher to ever do all of this and record 100-plus strikeouts. He stands with 2014 Aroldis Chapman as the only pitchers to ever strike out more than half the batters faced over 30-plus innings.
Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.