As part of this year’s all-star game, Major League Baseball is asking fans to vote for their franchise four, the top players in the history of their franchise. I assume the purpose of this exercise is to help celebrate the history of a franchise, but it appears to be designed to maximize the chance that the persons chosen are alive and able to be on the field during game. Here are the nominations on the Braves franchise four page (I’ve also included the stats from that page):
Hank Aaron: .305 AVG, 755 HR, 2,297 RBI
Eddie Mathews: .271, 512 HR, 1,453 RBI
Tom Glavine: 305 Wins, 3.54 ERA, 2,607 Ks
Dale Murphy: .265 AVG, 398 HR, 1,266 RBI
Chipper Jones: .303 AVG, 468 HR, 1,623 RBI
John Smoltz: 213 Wins, 3.33 ERA, 3,084 Ks
Greg Maddux: 355 Wins, 3.16 ERA, 3,371 Ks
Warren Spahn: 363 Wins, 3.09 ERA, 2,583 Ks
There are lots of problem here, but let me list a few of my opinions:
1) The stats they have chosen are misleading. For example, using batting average to describe Dale Murphy’s contribution in the 1980s is like saying that Home Run Baker was a terrible home run hitter because he only hit 96 career home runs. That would overlook the fact that he lead the American League in Home Runs in 1914 with 9. Yup, nine. Nobody hit a lot of home runs in the dead ball era. In 1982 and 1983, Dale Murphy won consecutive MVPs with a .281 and .302 batting average. In both years he hit 36 Home Runs. The National League collectively hit .258 in 1982 and .255 in 1983. In 1930, the National League collectively hit .303. In 1999 (perhaps at a peak of the so-called “steroid era”) the league average was .266. So Murphy had a batting average which tied for 6th in the NL, and it was lower than the league average in 1930. Even if we forget the specifics, this should make clear that “Franchise Four” needs statistics that more easily show players of different eras.
Here’s what this list would look like if we went with a franchise WAR contribution list from BaseballReference.com :(players in bold are not on the MLB list)
1. Hank Aaron (142 WAR)
2. Kid Nichols (108 WAR)
3. Warren Spahn (99 WAR)
4. Eddie Mathews (94 WAR)
5. Phil Niekro (89 WAR)
6. Chipper Jones (85 WAR)
7. John Smoltz (70 WAR)
8. Greg Maddux (67 WAR)
The next three are: Glavine (64), Andruw Jones (60), Murphy (46).
Keep in mind the career WAR emphasizes long-term contributions over short-term dominance, but our MLB list still seems odd. Kid Nichols and Phil Niekro (who is alive) aren’t on the list, but Dale Murphy is on the list over Andruw Jones who was a statistically better player.
Of course this is a fan vote, and Dale Murphy is a favorite of every Braves fan who watched him play. In an era of cocaine abuse and sandpapered baseballs, he had the wholesome image that every dad wanted their children to emulate. He belongs on the list.
2) So who the heck is Kid Nichols?
Glad you asked. He might be the best pitcher you’ve never heard of. He played for the Braves (when they were the Boston Beaneaters) from 1890 until 1901. In that time, he had a record of 329 Wins and 183 Losses, with an ERA of 3.00 in 621 Games, 532 of which he started and completed. He is 17th all-time in career WAR. He lead the National League in WAR three times, and was in the top 10 in the League 11 times. He is 7th all-time in career wins. He is 15th in all-time career ERA+, which is ERA adjusted for ballparks. He lived long enough to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1949, four years before his death.
3) So what would you do with this list, tough guy?
There’s not too much wrong with the list. I’m fine with the 8 they chose, but they should include better stats. They should say that Murphy won two consecutive MVPs and 5 consecutive gold gloves. That Maddux won 3 consecutive Cy Young awards for the Braves, that sort of thing. I would also kick Glavine and Maddux off the list for Nichols and Niekro. Glavine’s stats aren’t as good as either, and Maddux did too much work for other teams. This is a franchise list, not a list of great players who spent some time with your club. That being said, I voted for Aaron, Murphy and Spahn. (Yes, I grew up in the 1980s and Murphy is a hero of mine). And yes, I wrote in Kid Nichols.