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The Best Braves First Basemen Since 1990

If you received three guesses to name to the top three performers at the position, you probably wouldn’t need a mulligan to guess correctly.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Freddie Freeman was the best first basemen to wear the “A” since 1990. Also, water is wet.
Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Matt Olson has begun his tenure as Atlanta’s first baseman making it an ideal time to look back on the best Braves first basemen since 1990.

It is no secret that Freddie Freeman - who is now bedecked in Dodger blue - is far-and-away the best first basemen since the Braves left Boston. Frankly, he’s the best in franchise history, edging out Frank Tenney and even that comparison isn’t apt as Tenney spent a significant portion of his Braves tenure behind the dish.

Looking back at each season is not only a fond reminder of days gone by but also a stark reminder of the positional challenges the organization suffered through at various stages of its recent past.

Prior to Freeman’s run as a starter, the Braves had struggled mightily at the position for a decade. As a matter of fact, multiple seasons in the 2000s the Braves produced negative bWAR at the position - something that is almost unfathomable.

Before diving into the post 1990-era, it’s worth touching on the previous decades’ notable first basemen since moving to Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves
Chris Chambliss provided solid production as Atlanta’s first baseman in the first half of the 1980’s.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Chris Chambliss anchored the position for the first-half of the 1980s, drawing down-ballot MVP votes during the Braves Division winning season of 1982. From 1980 through 1986, the veteran Chambliss produced 8.2 bWAR.

Bob Horner provided back-to-back seasons of 1.9 bWAR in his is last two seasons with Atlanta in the mid-1980s. Gerald Perry was an All Star in 1988 but he posted only a 0.2 bWAR for the season - one which was at the depth of Braves awfulness and the first season of Dale Murphy’s precipitous decline.

The 1970s were bookended with notable Braves legends playing the positions. At the beginning of the decade, Hall of Famers Hank Aaron and Orlando Cepeda shared first base duties with Aaron posting All Star seasons as he split time between first and the outfield.

Willie Montanez was an All Star in 1977 but his season ended up with a negative bWAR rating. The following two seasons saw the Braves give significant time at the position to youngsters Murphy and Horner. Murphy struggled at the position - one that was transitory as he shifted from catcher to outfielder.

It is also worth mentioning Mike Lum, who spent the majority of the decade rotating between all three outfield positions and first base for Atlanta - save a three season run with the Cincinnati Reds from 1976 to 1978.

MLB Photos Archive
Felipe Alou was a two-time All Star as a first basemen with Atlanta in the late 1960’s.
Photo by: Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

After the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, Felipe Alou, Tito Francona and Joe Torre played the majority of games at the position until Cepeda manned it in 1969. Alou was an All Star in 1966 and 1968. Torre, who spent less that 30 games at first base in each of 1966 and 1967, was an All Star those season while the team’s primary catcher.

Moving into the post 1990-era, there is a qualifier that is worth noting. The minimum number of game appeared at the position is 65, which is 40-percent of a 162-game season. Also, for Top 5 rankings, I am excluding the 2020 season due to the length of the season.

I know.

It was 2020 that produced Freddie Freeman’s MVP season. His numbers that season were spectacular. He produced a 1.102 OPS and a 187 OPS+ good for 3.3 bWAR. Amazing production; but given another 100 games, could he maintained those levels? We will never know.

With the 2020 season standing alone as a historic season for Freeman and the franchise, let’s take a look at the best first basemen to play for Atlanta since 1990. As always, this is based on Baseball-Reference’s statistics and will almost exclusively focus on offensive metrics.

Best Single Seasons Since 1990

Here are the best single season by a first baseman since 1990; expect a lot of Freddie Freeman, Fred McGriff and Andres Galarraga.

Atlanta Braves v Colorado Rockies
Freddie Freeman’s 6.3 bWAR as a first basemen was the highest of any Braves first baseman since 1990.
Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by bWAR

Freddie Freeman, 2016, 6.3

Freddie Freeman, 2018, 5.5

Freddie Freeman, 2013, 5.3

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 5.0

Freddie Freeman, 2017, 4.7

Freddie Freeman, 2021, 4.7

Atlanta Braves
Fred McGriff produced a 165 OPS+ in 66 games as the Braves’ first baseman after arriving via a trade. To note, Freddie Freeman’s 2020 season yielded a 187 OPS+, but did not quality for in this ranking due to games played.

Top 5 Seasons, by OPS+

Fred McGriff, 1993, 165

Freddie Freeman, 2016, 157

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 157

Fred McGriff, 1994, 157

Freddie Freeman, 2017, 155

MLB Photos Archive
Andres Galarraga paced Braves first basemen with the 44 home runs he hit in 1998.
Photo by Louis DeLuca/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by HR

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 44

Freddie Freeman, 2019, 38

Freddie Freeman, 2016, 34

Fred McGriff, 1994, 34

Adam LaRoche, 2006, 32

Sporting News Archive
Galarraga and Freeman tied for the most RBI with 121 in 1998 and 2019, respectively.
Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, RBI

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 121

Freddie Freeman, 2019, 121

Freddie Freeman, 2013, 109

Fred McGriff, 1996, 107

Andres Galarraga, 2000, 100

Atlanta Braves Vs Boston Red Sox At Fenway Park
Freddie Freeman scored 120 runs in 2021, the best of any Braves’ first basemen since 1990. Four of the top five seasons in runs scored belong to Freeman.
Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, Runs

Freddie Freeman, 2021, 120

Freddie Freeman, 2019, 113

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 103

Freddie Freeman, 2016, 102

Freddie Freeman, 2018, 94

Fred McGriff
Fred McGriff posted two season with an OPS above 1.000, topping out this ranking with a 1.012 in 1994. Freddie Freeman’s 2020 would have topped OPS with a 1.102 if it had qualified.

Top 5 Seasons, OPS

Fred McGriff, 1994, 1.012

Fred McGriff, 1993, 1.004

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 0.991

Freddie Freeman, 2017, 0.989

Freddie Freeman, 2016, 0.968

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman tops this list with a .319 batting average in 2013. If his 2020 season had qualified, his .341 would have been the best since 1990.
Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, BA

Freddie Freeman, 2013, .319

Fred McGriff, 1994, .318

Randall Simon, 1999, .317

Fred McGriff, 1993, .310

Freddie Freeman, 2018, .309

Julie Franco, 2004, .309

Best Single Seasons by Decade

Here are the best Single Seasons by a first basemen by decade.

1998 All-Star Game
Andres Galarraga was an All Star in 1998. He led the 1990s with a 5.0 bWAR for the season.

Top 5 bWAR, 1990s

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 5.0

Fred McGriff, 1994, 4.6

Fred McGriff, 1993, 3.2

David Justice, 1990, 2.9

Fred McGriff, 1996, 1.7

Three of the top five OPS+ seasons in the 1990s belonged with Fred McGriff. The Crime Dog posted a 165 OPS+ in 1993.

Top 5 OPS+, 1990s

Fred McGriff, 1993, 165

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 157

Fred McGriff, 1994, 157

David Justice, 1990, 143

Fred McGriff, 1996, 120

San Diego Padres vs Atlanta Braves
Fred McGriff hit .318 in 1994 to led Atlanta’s first basemen in best single-season batting average during the 1990s.
Set Number: X45978

Top 5 BA, 1990s

Fred McGriff, 1994, .318

Randall Simon, 1999, .317

Fred McGriff, 1993, .310

Andres Galarraga, 1998, .305

Fred McGriff, 1996, .295

Andres Gallaraga
The Big Cat was a fan favorite during his two seasons with Atlanta. He hit 44 home runs in 1998, the best single season total for the 1990s.

Top 5 HR, 1990s

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 44

Fred McGriff, 1994, 34

David Justice, 1990, 28

Fred McGriff, 1996, 28

Fred McGriff, 1995, 27

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
Mark Teixeira’s partial season with Atlanta in 2008 was far-and-away the best of any first basemen to play for Atlanta in the 2000s. He posted 4.1 bWAR in just 102 games.
Photo by Mike Zarrilli/Getty Images

Top 5 bWAR, 2000s

Mark Teixeira, 2008, 4.1

Adam LaRoche, 2006, 1.6

Andres Galarraga, 2000, 1.2

Adam LaRoche, 2004, 1.1

Julio Franco, 2004, 1.1

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Mark Teixeira edged out Adam LaRoche for the best single season OPS+ in the 2000s.

Top 5 OPS+, 2000s

Mark Teixeira, 2008, 137

Adam LaRoche, 2006, 130

Andres Galarraga, 2000, 123

Julio Franco, 2003, 113

Julio Franco, 2004, 111

Braves v Padres
Julio Franco produced three of the top five best seasonal batting averages for first basemen in the 2000s. His .309 average in 2004 came in his age 45 season.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Top 5 BA, 2000s

Julio Franco, 2004, .309

Andres Galarraga, 2000, .302

Julio Franco, 2003, .294

Adam LaRoche, 2006, .285

Julio Franco, 2002, .284

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves
Adam LaRoche powered 32 home runs in 2006, the best season total for a first baseman in the 2000s.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 HR, 2000s

Adam LaRoche, 2006, 32

Andres Galarraga, 2000, 28

Adam LaRoche, 2005, 20

Mark Teixeira, 2008, 20

Adam LaRoche, 2004, 13

90th MLB All-Star Game, presented by Mastercard
A multi-time All Star, Freddie Freeman owned all five spots in the rankings for first basemen in the 2010s.
Photo by Adam Glanzman/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Top 5 Everything, 2010s

Freddie Freeman was Top 5 for every total for the 2010s, to the shock of no one. Other than Troy Glaus in 2010, Freeman the only first baseman to qualify in any other season. Marvel at Freeman’s numbers:

Top 5 bWAR

2016, 6.3

2018, 5.5

2013, 5.3

2017, 4.7

2019, 3.7

Top 5 OPS+

2016, 157

2017, 155

2013, 147

2014, 139

2018, 139

Top 5 BA

2013, 0.319

2018, 0.309

2017, 0.307

2016, 0.302

2019, 0.295

Top 5 HR

2019, 38

2016, 34

2017, 28

2012, 23

2013, 23

2018, 23

Best Cumulative Qualifying Seasons

Here are the best cumulative totals for Atlanta’s first basemen since 1990.

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman didn’t have to sprint to the finish for cumulative bWAR in qualifying seasons as his 40.1 bWAR was almost four times higher than second place.
Photo by Adam Hagy/Getty Images

Top 5 bWAR, Qualifying Seasons

Freddie Freeman, 40.1

Fred McGriff, 11.1

Andres Galarraga, 6.2

Mark Teixeira, 4.1

David Justice, 2.9

Miami Marlins v Atlanta Braves
Guess who? Freddie Freeman was first in cumulative home runs. Obviously.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Top 5 HR, Qualifying Seasons

Freddie Freeman, 257

Fred McGriff, 130

Andres Galarraga, 72

Adam LaRoche, 65

Brian Hunter, 32

MLB: SEP 05 Nationals at Braves
Top RBI total? Yes, it is Freddie Freeman.

Top 5 RBI, Qualifying Seasons

Freddie Freeman, 887

Fred McGriff, 446

Andres Galarraga, 221

Adam LaRoche, 213

Sid Bream, 141

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins
Freddie Freeman scored more runs than any first baseman since 1990. He probably also led the team in high fives and hugs.
Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Top 5 Runs, Qualifying Seasons

Freddie Freeman, 915

Fred McGriff, 383

Adam LaRoche, 187

Andres Galarraga, 170

Julio Franco, 116

Youngest and Oldest Qualifiers

These are the youngest and oldest first basemen to qualifying since 1990.

Atlanta Braves v Chicago Cubs
Freddie Freeman was the youngest qualifying first baseman at age 21, but Brian Hunter was second as a 22 year old in 1991.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Top 5 Youngest

Freddie Freeman, 2011, 21

Brian Hunter, 1991, 22

Freddie Freeman, 2012, 22

Brian Hunter, 1992, 23

Freddie Freeman, 2013, 23

Braves v Padres
Julio Franco was the oldest qualifying first baseman at age 45 in 2004.
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Top 5 Oldest

Julio Franco, 2004, 45

Julio Franco, 2003, 44

Julio Franco, 2002, 43

Andres Galarraga, 2000, 39

Andres Galarraga, 1998, 37

Atlanta Braves v Chicago Cubs
Julio Franco, in his mid-40’s, was productive as a first baseman in the 2000s
Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB via Getty Images

Notable Tidbits

Between Freddie Freeman, Andres Galarraga and Fred McGriff, the Braves have had a top-heavy run of quality first basemen with Freeman’s status as a franchise icon put him in his own stratosphere. Here are some other interesting pieces of information worth mentioning.

  • Several seasons saw qualifying first baseman produce 0.0 bWAR or worse for a season. This included the 1991, 2001, 2005 and 2007 seasons.
  • For the decade, the 2000s produced only 8.5 total bWAR from qualifying seasons.
  • The worst seasons by bWAR for qualifying players included Rico Brogna (-1.0) in 2001, Scott Thorman (-0.9) in 2007, Adam LaRoche (-0.8) in 2005, Wes Helms (-0.5) in 2001 and Brian Hunter (-0.2) in 1991.
  • The lack of performance the Braves received from their first baseman in the 2000s magnifies just how great Freddie Freeman was in the 2010s.
  • Of 40 qualifying player seasons, only 50-percent of the seasons featured an first baseman hitting 19 or more home runs.
  • Although his totals were not high enough to appear on the Top 5 lists, Ryan Klesko had a solid season in 1999 as part of the three-person platoon covering the position while Galarraga was out with cancer treatment. Klesko slashed .297/.376/.532. His platoon mate Randall Simon seemed poised to break-out after hitting .317. The Curacao native had a couple of decent seasons after being traded to Detroit but is probably best remembered for hitting a sausage in Milwaukee’s sausage race in 2003.
  • Brian Hunter had the biggest gap in seasons between appearances - he appeared in 1991 and 1992 and returned to Atlanta as part of the 1999 platoon.
  • Hello, Robert Fick and Casey Kotchman, you both also qualified for this list, posting positive results.
  • Atlanta struggled mightily in the 2000s - so much so that Julio Franco and his three seasons of 2.1 bWAR was second best for the entire decade. Here’s to Matt Franco, who didn’t qualify for this list, but made for the fun Franco and Franco platoon in 2002.
  • Of the 40 qualifying seasons, 16 were produced by Freddie Freeman and Fred McGriff.
  • Lastly, with 62 games played at first, Julio Franco just missed this ranking for his 2005 season .. when he was 46!

MLB: MAR 02 Spring Training - Braves at Orioles
Fred McGriff looked the part of a Braves first baseman in 2016 Spring Training, rather than a special instructor. He is pictured here with then-prospects Dansby Swanson and Ozzie Albies.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire/Corbis/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

To recap, this Best of First Basemen list:

  • Freddie Freeman was awesome.
  • Fred McGriff was really good.
  • Andres Galarraga had a wonderful season at age 37.
  • Julio Franco being Julio Franco into his mid-40’s was inspiring.

In another ten years, will we look back at the 2020s as the decade of Matt Olsen? Only time will tell.

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