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The best Braves shortstops since 1990

The Braves have excelled at developing shortstops for more than three decades. Out of all the talented shortstops Atlanta has produced, who ranks as the best since 1990?

The official start of Summer is upon us and Dansby Swanson is putting up the best season of his career. It is too early to know if this - his last season before free agency - will be his swan song with Atlanta, but we at Battery Power have thoughts about him and you can read some of them here and here.

Regardless of how the rest of this season plays out for Swanson, it is hard to believe he has been the starting shortstop for Atlanta for most of the past seven seasons.

Surely he must rank at the top of shortstops to play for Atlanta since 1990, right? After all, his tenue with the Braves has him on pace to appear in 800 games with Atlanta before this season ends.

You’ll have to wait to see where Cobb County’s favorite shortstop slots among those from the last three decades who have manned the position.

Before we jump into this most-modern era of Braves baseball, let’s take a look at some of the notable shortstops who played for Atlanta from 1966 through 1989.

Denis Menke - Houston Astros
Denis Menke’s best season was with the Milwaukee Braves, but he spent two years in Atlanta before being traded to Houston where he was a two-time All Star for the Astros.

When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, they brought with them Denis Menke, the 25 year-old shortstop who had posted 11.2 bWAR in the prior three seasons in Milwaukee, despite only playing in 71 games in 1965.

His 1964 season was the best of his career, when he produced 6.7 bWAR on the back of a 136 OPS+. Although he ended his career as a two-time All Star, those appearances were with the Houston, because Atlanta traded him to the Astros for team’s next starter, Sonny Jackson.

Jackson debuted in 1963 as an 18 year-old and finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting when he appeared in 150 games for the Astros in 1966. After being acquired by the Braves in 1968, he spent three seasons as the team’s starting shortstop before moving to centerfield in 1971. He ended his playing career in 1974 but stayed in the game as a minor league and major league coach for the Braves for almost two decades.

Jackson was followed by Marty Perez, whose three years at the position were the most of any player until Rafael Ramirez became the starting shortstop in 1981.

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates
Rafael Ramirez played eight seasons in Atlanta in the early- and mid-1980’s. An All Star in 1984, he finished his 13-year career with five seasons in Houston.
Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Ramirez anchored the position for five seasons in the 1980s. He finished 16th in the NL MVP voting in 1983 and was selected to the NL All Star team in 1984. His best season, at least according to bWAR, was the NL West Division winning season of 1982, when he produced 3.5 bWAR for the Braves.

His tenure with the team ended after the 1987 but during parts of eight seasons he provided 7.2 bWAR.

Andres Thomas shared shortstop with Ramirez in 1986 and 1987 before going on to become the full-time starter in 1988. Thomas, who was only 22 years old in 1986, peaked in those 100 games in 1986 as he posted negative value in every other season of his career.

From 1987 through 1990, his final season in MLB, he yielded a -6.2 bWAR, nadiring at -1.8 in only 84 games in 1990. (In case your are wondering, FanGraphs does view his body of work with a slightly more positive slant, but still rates his career as worth -4.6 fWAR with 1986 still being his only positive value season.)

Atlanta Braves v San Diego Padres
Andres Thomas struggled offensively and defensively during his five-year career with the Braves.
Photo by Owen C. Shaw/Getty Images

Despite his career not panning out, that doesn’t negate the fact that Thomas was a well-regarded prospect in the mid-1980’s. Baseball American ranked him as the Braves fourth best prospect for 1986. Thomas was so well regarded that the Braves declined to trade him in both 1987 and 1988.

Five years before the Braves famously almost traded for Barry Bonds in 1992 - and the details of how that deal fell apart is still subject of debate - the Braves reportedly turned down a deal that would have seen them acquire Bonds for Thomas in 1987.

The following year, reports in late 1988 indicate that the Braves declined a deal with the Pirates for Thomas because they wouldn’t include Bonds.

Regardless of the validity of those purported deals, the primary reason that the Braves were willing to entertain trades for Thomas was because of a high-touted prospect whom the team had selected fourth overall in the secondary June 1984 draft. That player, Jeff Blauser, will move us into the 1990s.

As you may-well know by now, this ranking of players is based off of data from Baseball-Reference, and while that may not be your cup of tea, for this purpose it works out just fine. The single qualifier for this ranking is that a player must appear in 65 games at this position in a single season. For that reason, the 2020 season is omitted.

Although this review is based primarily on offensive performance, it is ludicrous to ignore the defensive performance at this position. We will touch on defense later on in this article.

Let’s get on with it and take a look at the best shortstops since 1990.

Best Single Seasons Since 1990

Here are the best single seasons by a shortstop for the Braves since 1990.

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves
Rafael Furcal produced 6.5 bWAR in 2005, the highest total of any Braves shortstop since 1990.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by bWAR

Rafael Furcal, 2005, 6.5

Andrelton Simmons, 2013, 5.8

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 5.7

Rafael Furcal, 2003, 4.9

Jeff Blauser, 1997, 4.8

Jeff Blauser had an OPS+ of 130 in 1997, the best in the ranking. He also had the second highest with 125 in 1993.
AFP via Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by OPS+

Jeff Blauser, 1997, 130

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 125

Edgar Renteria, 2007, 124

Jeff Blauser, 1992, 123

Yunel Escobar, 2009, 115

Toronto Blue Jays v Atlanta Braves
Dansby Swanson hit 27 home runs last season. His 2021 total was 10 more than the next highest total.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by HR

Dansby Swanson, 2021, 27

Jeff Blauser, 1997, 17

Andrelton Simmons, 2013, 17

Dansby Swanson, 2019, 17

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 15

Rafael Furcal, 2003, 15

Alex Gonzalez, 2011, 15

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
Swanson led shortstops in this ranking with 88 RBI in 2021.
Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by RBI

Dansby Swanson, 2021, 88

Yunel Escobar, 2009, 76

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 73

Jeff Blauser, 1997, 70

Edgar Renteria, 2006, 70

Atlanta Braves Rafael Furcal...
Rafael Furcal scored a staggering 130 runs in 2003, 20 more runs than second-place finisher Jeff Blauser.

Top 5 Seasons, by Runs

Rafael Furcal, 2003, 130

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 110

Rafael Furcal, 2004, 103

Edgar Renteria, 2006, 100

Rafael Furcal, 2005, 100

Jeff Blauser led shortstops with an .886 OPS in 1997.
Photo credit STEVE SCHAEFER/AFP via Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by OPS

Jeff Blauser, 1997, .886

Edgar Renteria, 2007, .860

Jeff Blauser, 1993, .837

Yunel Escobar, 2009, .812

Jeff Blauser, 1992, .811

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
Stolen base attempts and Rafael Furcal were synonymous during his tenure with the Braves.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by SB

Rafael Furcal, 2005, 46

Rafael Furcal, 2000, 40

Rafael Furcal, 2004, 29

Rafael Furcal, 2002, 27

Rafael Furcal, 2003, 25

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Edgar Renteria hit .332 in 2007, leading all Braves shortstops in batting average in this ranking.

Top 5 Seasons, by BA

Edgar Renteria, 2007, .332

Jeff Blauser, 1997, .308

Jeff Blauser, 1993, .305

Yunel Escobar, 2009, .299

Rafael Furcal, 2000, .295

Jeff Blauser
Jeff Blauser posted on base percentages above .400 in both 1993 and 1997. His .405 OBP in 1997 led the list.

Top 5 Season, by OBP

Jeff Blauser, 1997, .405

Jeff Blauser, 1993, .401

Rafael Furcal, 2000, .394

Edgar Renteria, 2007, .390

Walt Weiss, 1998, .386

Best Single Seasons by Decade

These are the best single seasons for shortstops per decade based on qualifying seasons only.

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Jeff Blauser had four of the five best bWAR seasons for Atlanta shortstops in the 1990s, including the decade’s best 5.7 in 1993.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Top 5 bWAR, 1990s

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 5.7

Jeff Blauser, 1997, 4.8

Walt Weiss, 1998, 2.8

Jeff Blauser, 1992, 2.3

Jeff Blauser, 1994, 2.1

Atlanta Braves
Blauser posted the five best OPS+ seasons by shortstops in the 1990s.
Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

Top 5 OPS+, 1990s

Jeff Blauser, 1997, 130

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 125

Jeff Blauser, 1992, 123

Jeff Blauser, 1991, 111

Jeff Blauser, 1990, 101

Jeff Blauser
By hitting .308 in 1997, Blauser had the best batting average for Braves shortstops in the 1990s.

Top 5 BA, 1990s

Jeff Blauser, 1997, .308

Jeff Blauser, 1993, .305

Walt Weiss, 1998, .280

Ozzie Guillen, 1998, .277

Jeff Blauser, 1990, .269

Sporting News Archive
Blauser had the five best home run totals, including 17 in 1997.
Photo by Sporting News via Getty Images/Sporting News via Getty Images via Getty Images

Top 5 HR, 1990s

Jeff Blauser, 1997, 17

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 15

Jeff Blauser, 1992, 14

Jeff Blauser, 1995, 12

Jeff Blauser, 1991, 11

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
The leader for hits in a single season in the 1990s was Jeff Blauser, with 182 base knocks in 1993. He had four of the top five totals for the decade.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Top 5 Hits, 1990s

Jeff Blauser, 1993, 182

Jeff Blauser, 1997, 160

Jeff Blauser, 1990, 104

Jeff Blauser, 1994, 98

Walt Weiss, 1998, 97

Rafael Furcal throws the ball
Rafael Furcal’s 6.5 bWAR in 2005 was the highest of the decade.

Top 5 bWAR, 2000s

Rafael Furcal, 2005, 6.5

Rafael Furcal, 2003, 4.9

Yunel Escobar, 2009, 4.3

Edgar Renteria, 2006, 4.2

Edgar Renteria, 2007, 4.1

Atlanta Braves v Milwaukee Brewers
Edgar Renteria had a 124 OPS+ in 2007, the best season total in the 2000s.
Photo by Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images

Top 5 OPS+, 2000s

Edgar Renteria, 2007, 124

Yunel Escobar, 2009, 115

Rafael Furcal, 2003, 105

Edgar Renteria, 2006, 104

Yunel Escobar, 2008, 102

CO: Atlanta Braves v Colorado Rockies
Renteria hit .332 in 2007, the only season a shortstop topped .300 during the 2000s.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Top 5 BA, 2000s

Edgar Renteria, 2007, .332

Yunel Escobar, 2009, .299

Rafael Furcal, 2000, .295

Edgar Renteria, 2006, .293

Rafael Furcal, 2003, .292

Rafael Furcal hit 15 home runs in 2003. His total bested three other seasons by a single home run.
Photo by ROY DABNER/AFP via Getty Images

Top 5 HR, 2000s

Rafael Furcal, 2003, 15

Rafael Furcal, 2004, 14

Edgar Renteria, 2006, 14

Yunel Escobar, 2009, 14

Rafael Furcal, 2005, 12

Edgar Renteria, 2007, 12

Braves v Cubs
The single season hits leader for the 2000s was Rafael Furcal in 2003 when he accumulated 194 hits on the season.
Photo by Brian Bahr/Getty Images

Top 5 Hits, 2000s

Rafael Furcal, 2003, 194

Rafael Furcal, 2002, 175

Rafael Furcal, 2005, 175

Edgar Renteria, 2006, 175

Edgar Renteria, 2007, 164

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves
Andrelton Simmons had the three best bWAR seasons for Braves shortstops in the 2010s. In 2013 he provided Atlanta with 5.8 bWAR, the best of the decade.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 bWAR, 2010s

Andrelton Simmons, 2013, 5.8

Andrelton Simmons, 2015, 4.5

Andrelton Simmons, 2014, 2.6

Dansby Swanson, 2018, 2.2

Alex Gonzalez, 2010, 1.6

Philadelphia Phillies v Atlanta Braves
Known for his defense, Simmons produced the best OPS+ of any shortstop during the 2010s.
Photo by Pouya Dianat/Atlanta Braves/Getty Images

Top 5 OPS+, 2010s

Andrelton Simmons, 2013, 90

Dansby Swanson, 2019, 89

Dansby Swanson, 2018, 87

Andrelton Simmons, 2015, 84

Alex Gonzalez, 2010, 83

Toronto Blue Jays v Atlanta Braves
Simmons hit .265 in 2015, the best of the 2010s. He posted three of the four best batting averages during the decade.
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Top 5 BA, 2010s

Andrelton Simmons, 2015, .265

Dansby Swanson, 2019, .251

Andrelton Simmons, 2013 .248

Andrelton Simmons, 2014, .244

Erick Aybar, 2016, .242

Atlanta Braves v San Francisco Giants
Dansby Swanson (2019) and Andrelton Simmons (2013) hit 17 home runs to tie for the most home runs hit by a Braves shortstop in the 2010s.
Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Top 5 HR, 2010s

Dansby Swanson, 2019, 17

Andrelton Simmons, 2013, 17

Alex Gonzalez, 2011, 15

Dansby Swanson, 2018, 14

Andrelton Simmons, 2014, 7

Atlanta Braves v Miami Marlins
Andrelton Simmons’ 150 hits in 2013 was the highest single season total in the 2010s.
Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

Top 5 Hits, 2010s

Andrelton Simmons, 2013, 150

Andrelton Simmons, 2015, 142

Alex Gonzalez, 2011, 136

Andrelton Simmons, 2014, 132

Dansby Swanson, 2019, 121

Best Cumulative Qualifying Seasons

These are the best cumulative totals from qualifying seasons for Atlanta’s shortstops since 1990.

Atlanta Braves Rafael Furcal
Rafael Furcal’s cumulative 21.9 bWAR topped all Braves shortstops since 1990 in qualifying seasons.

Top 5 bWAR, Qualifying Seasons

Rafael Furcal, 21.9

Jeff Blauser, 18.9

Andrelton Simmons, 12.9

Yunel Escobar, 9.1

Edgar Renteria, 8.3

Jeff Blauser
Jeff Blauser hit more home runs than any other shortstop during qualifying seasons.

Top 5 HR, Qualifying Seasons

Jeff Blauser, 93

Dansby Swanson, 64

Rafael Furcal, 53

Andrelton Simmons, 28

Edgar Renteria, 26

Jeff Blauser
Blauser also led all shortstops in RBI during qualifying seasons.

Top 5 RBI, Qualifying Seasons

Jeff Blauser, 393

Rafael Furcal, 266

Dansby Swanson, 263

Yunel Escobar, 155

Andrelton Simmons, 149

Royals v Braves
Rafael Furcal edged Jeff Blauser for the most runs scored in cumulative seasons.
Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

Top 5 Runs, Qualifying Seasons

Rafael Furcal, 554

Jeff Blauser, 520

Dansby Swanson, 265

Yunel Escobar, 188

Edgar Renteria, 187

World Series - Atlanta Braves v New York Yankees - Game Two
Jeff Blauser leads the way in games played during qualifying seasons, with 884 games played at shortstop.

Top 5 Games, Qualifying Seasons

Jeff Blauser, 884

Rafael Furcal, 777

Dansby Swanson, 563

Andrelton Simmons, 449

Yunel Escobar, 339

Youngest and Oldest Qualifiers

Rafael Furcal bunts
Despite having his actual age increased twice during his career, Rafael Furcal was still the youngest shortstop in have a qualifying season at the position.

Top 5, Youngest

Rafael Furcal, 2000, 22

Rafael Furcal, 2001, 23

Andrelton Simmons, 2013, 23

Dansby Swanson, 2017, 23

Four tied at 24

Current Braves bench coach Walt Weiss clocked in with the oldest qualifying season for a shortstop when he played the 2000 season at age 36.

Top 5, Oldest

Walt Weiss, 2000, 36

Walt Weiss, 1999, 35

Alex Gonzalez, 2011, 34

Ozzie Guillen, 1998, 34

Walt Weiss, 1998, 34

Blauser or Furcal?

Atlanta Braves v Cincinnati Reds
Jeff Blauser was the starting shortstop during Atlanta’s 1995 World Series Championship season.
Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

Heading into the 1987 season, Jeff Blauser was the top Atlanta Braves prospect according to Baseball America. After being drafted with the fifth overall pick in the secondary 1984 draft, he debuted as a 21 year-old in 1987, playing 51 games at shortstop, but he appeared in only 18 games for Atlanta in 1988.

In 1989, Blauser broke through and appeared in 142 games as a utility player, appearing at at each infield position but first base and in center field for Atlanta. In 1993, he became the Braves’s full-time shortstop, after sharing time with the ulta-light hitting Rafael Belliard.

Blauser was an All Star in 1993, finishing 16th in the MVP balloting, with a slash line of .305/.405/.436 and leading the league in hit-by-pitch. He appeared in 161 games and set a career high in hits (182) and steals (16). Both Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs rated Blauser’s defense above average at the positions that season.

Blauser didn’t get enough credit, in my opinion, for his ability to get on base through his Braves career. From 1991 though 1997, he posted a walk rate of 11.3% or better in each season other than 1994 and posted an OBP that exceeded .400 in both 1993 and 1997.

Although his low BABIP-fueled 1994-1996 seasons were only slightly above average (and included missing almost 80 games to injury in 1996), he bounced back in 1997 with another All Star game selection, his only Silver Slugger award and another down-ballot appearance for NL MVP.

In 1997, he set a career high in numerous offensive categories, including is triple slash line of .308/.405/.482 and OPS+ with 130. FanGraphs viewed his season almost on par with 1993, with a career best wRC+ of 135 and a fWAR of 5.2 vs. a 5.4 fWAR in 1993.

Blauser signed as a free agent with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 1998 season and saw his career end after the 1999 season at age 33 despite posting positive value in a utility role for the Cubs that season.

For his career, he posted 20.9 bWAR/19.7fWAR, during 11 seasons with Atlanta and two with the Cubs with a 102 OPS+ and a 106 wRC+. He posted the highest bWAR of any player drafted in the secondary 1984 draft (the next highest was pitcher Blaine Beatty, who proved only 0.5 bWAR for his career).

If you include both 1984 drafts, his 20.9 bWAR was the fourth highest of all the first-round draft choice, behind only Mark McGwire, Jay Bell and Shane Mack.

Notably, the top two bWARs from the 1984 draft were from two Braves legends and Hall of Famers, as Greg Maddux posted 106.6 bWAR after being taken with the third pick (31 overall) in the second round by the Cubs and Tom Glavine’s 80.7 bWAR after being taken with the 19th pick of the second round (47 overall) by the Braves.

Braves v Pirates
Rafael Furcal spent the first six seasons of his 14 year career with Atlanta.
Photo by John Grieshop/MLB via Getty Images

Rafael Furcal signed with Atlanta in 1996 as an international free agent. Despite having not played at AA or AAA, the Braves summoned Furcal to the big leagues in 2000 after losing starting shortstop Walt Weiss to injury.

At the time, Furcal was thought to be 19 years old. He would win the 2000 NL Rookie of the Year award, playing in 131 games and stealing 40 bases. (Furcal’s time with Atlanta was marked with controversies about his age, which you can read about in greater detail in this piece from Battery Power earlier this year.)

A shoulder injury in 2001 caused him to miss the last half of the season. But from 2002 to 2005, he appeared in 150 or more games three times. The high water-marks for his Braves career were 2003 and 2005.

Furcal was an All Star in 2003, a season that saw him lead the NL in triples and collect a career-high with both 294 total bases and runs scored with 130. His slash line led to his highest OPS of his time with Atlanta, at .794.

After a slight step back in performance in 2004 - and a mid-season DUI arrest that caused him to serve jail time after the season due to a violation of parole stemming from a 2000 DUI arrest - Furcal rebounded in 2005 for one of the best seasons of his career.

Although Baseball-Reference values his season more than FanGraphs (6.5bWAR vs. 4.5fWAR), both provide context for his overall performance. He set a career high with 46 stolen bases and posted a .777 OPS while playing in 154 games in 2005.

In six season with Atlanta, Furcal stole 189 bases and scored 554 runs - including scoring more than 100 runs per season in his last three seasons with Atlanta.

What I forgot - and maybe you did as well - was how good Furcal was after he left Atlanta as a free agent. After signing with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he spent six seasons with the team appearing in another All Star game in 2010 and finishing 14th in the NL MVP vote in 2006.

Although he appeared in 200 fewer games in his six seasons with LA than his six seasons in Atlanta, his slash numbers were almost identical. For his Atlanta career, he posted .284/.348/.409 whereas his time in LA generated a .283/.351/.406 triple slash line.

His last All Star game selection occurred in 2012 during his second season with the Cardinals. After missing the 2013 season, his career ended with a nine games stint with Marlins in 2014.

For his career, Furcal stole 314 bases and collected 1,817 hits but only had a 96 OPS+ and 99 wRC+. There’s a sizable difference in his WAR valuations with his bWAR at 39.5 and fWAR at 33.1.

Who is the best shortstop between the two?

Offensively, Blauser bettered Furcal during their Braves tenures. Blauser’s OPS+ was 106 with Atlanta while Furcal’s was only 95. Blauser appeared in 367 more games than Furcal, regardless of qualifying status per season. That led to a Baseball-Reference oWAR total of 26.3 for Blauser while Furcal only produced 16.8 oWAR.

Defense is where Furcal separated himself from Blauser, although Blauser’s defense was not as bad as the older readers might recall based on Bobby Cox’s use of Rafael Belliard as a starter and then as a frequent defensive replacement for Blauser throughout Blauser’s career.

Admittedly, I am not an advanced statistical savant, and many advanced defensive metrics aren’t available for much of Blauser’s career but FanGraphs does provide some context for Furcal, with a UZR/150 (which started with 2002 totals) providing positive value to his 2002 and 2005 seasons, but those totals were offset by negative valuation in 2003 and 2004 at shortstop. Additionally, FanGraphs credits Furcal with 36 DRS from 2002-2005, including a career best 24 in 2005.

While Furcal was not an elite defensive shortstop, he was better than Blauser, who provided average defensive performance during his best seasons. Baseball-Reference gives Furcal a dWAR of 9.4 as a Brave while Blauser earned only 0.5 dWAR.

Relying on WAR isn’t optimal, especially for two players whose career were separated by one offseason. However, if we look at FanGraphs fWAR for each of their qualifying seasons we end up with a tie.

Yup, each player posted 17.9 fWAR during their qualifying seasons starting with the 1990 season.


We can’t go through all these words and end this in a tie so this will come down to a tiebreaker.

This is tough because I am someone who values availability and longevity more than high peaks with a shorter tenue. But, despite Blauser playing in two more seasons than Furcal, the number of games the two played a shortstop is only separated by about half a season’s worth of games, with Blauser playing in 884 games to Furcal’s 777.

Because of that, I will give Rafael Furcal the slight edge based on a similar performance in less games and the value Furcal provided as a defensive player.

Notable Tidbits

Shortstop provided a lot of value for the Braves since 1990, so let’s take a look at some of the interesting data for the position.

Rafael Belliard
We can’t have a discussion about Braves shortstops and not talk about “Pac-Man” - the nickname of Rafael Belliard.
  • Although Rafael Belliard only qualified in two seasons - 1991 and 1992 - he played eight seasons with Atlanta and appeared in 671 games.
  • Belliard averaged almost exactly two plate appearances per game with Atlanta, with 1,353 plate appearances in the afore mentioned 671 games.
  • Belliard’s calling card was his defense, with his bWAR at 5.3 during this time with Atlanta from 1991 to 1998. That rates better than the first nine seasons of his career, which were spent with the Pirates.
  • In his 17-year career, that started in 1982, Belliard hit a grand total of two home runs - one each with Atlanta and Pittsburgh.
  • As you might imagine, his OPS+ was a lowly 46. But his addition in 1991 was part of the organization’s dedication to improve the team’s defense, something the diminutive short-stop provided by posting a positive defensive dWAR in each season of his Braves career until 1998 when he was neutral in the last seven games of his career. Fangraphs also viewed his defensive value as a positive for his entire run in Atlanta.
  • After Belliard and Blauser departed the organization, Walt Weiss was brought in ahead of the 1998 season and ended up gaining the lone All Star selection of the former AL ROY’s career.
  • Weiss missed a significant amount of time in the later half of the ‘98 season, which opened the door for Ozzie Guillen. Guillen, whom the Braves had signed after being released by the Orioles, shared time with his fellow 34 year-old former AL ROY club member for the balance of the ‘98 season as well as the 1999 campaign.
  • Weiss and Guillen were both known as defense-first shortstops, although both were positive offensive contributors throughout their careers.
  • With Atlanta, Weiss is likely best remembered for his miraculous catch and throw in the 10th inning of Game 3 of the NLDS against the Houston Astros. If you haven’t seen the play, here’s the video, although the tension of the moment can’t be replicated.
  • Weiss’s playing career ended after playing the 2000 season with Atlanta and Guillen’s also concluded after spending 2000 with Tampa Bay. Both would go on to manage in MLB teams with Guillen winning a World Series with the Chicago White Sox in 2005.
  • Weiss joined Atlanta as its bench coach for the 2018 season and continues in that role for the Braves.
  • Five qualifying players provided negative value, although only two were significant. Andres Thomas had a -1.8 bWAR in only 72 games at shortstop in 1990. Rafael Belliard’s lack of offensive production generated -1.2 bWAR in 1992. The other three players only had a slight negative value, with those being Weiss (-0.2, 1999), Erick Aybar (-0.1, 2016) and Dansby Swanson (-0.1, 2017).
  • The only season without a qualifying player at shortstop was 2012. Andrelton Simmons injury after his call-up to the Braves on June 2 of that year meant that Paul Janish played the most games at the position, with Tyler Pastornicky and Jack Wilson also seeing significant action.
  • Simmons posted a whopping 2.9 bWAR in only 49 games in 2012. That value was offset by Pastornicky (-1.4, 47 games), Wilson (-0.9, 29 games) and Janish (-0.2, 55 games).
  • It was Simmons who hit the infamous “Infield Fly” ball in the 2012 NL Wild Card Game.
  • Simmons, who maybe the the greatest defensive infielder since the team moved to Atlanta (and at worst is in the discussion), has one of the biggest variances in bWAR vs. fWAR that I have seen. For his career, his bWAR is 37.0 but his fWAR is only 24.9.
  • Simmons won two Gold Gloves while with Atlanta and his offensive uptick in 2013 led him to place 14th in the NL MVP vote.
  • Although he has never made an All Star team, Simmons won two Gold Gloves with the Angels and finished eighth in the AL MVP voting in 2017 and 15th in 2018.
  • Simmons’ gaudy defensive performances offset fair-to-middling offensive output, although the 2010s as a whole were a poor offensive decade for the Braves at shortstop.
  • On the other hand, the 2000s were teeming with phenomenal seasons.
  • Edgar Renteria was brought in to replace Furcal in 2006 and his two seasons with the Braves both exceeded 4 bWAR.
  • An All Star in ‘06, Renteria had two of the best offensive seasons of his career with Atlanta. In his two seasons he hit .310/.374/.451 and was better than average defensively, with a dWAR that combined for 1.5.
  • Renteria spend 16 seasons in the majors, debuting in 1996 as a 19 year-old for the Florida Marlins. He was a five-time All Star, won two Gold Gloves, three Silver Sluggers, got MVP votes in two seasons and collected 2,327 hits when his career ended after his age 34 season with the Reds in 2011.
MLB: JUL 07 Braves v Dodgers
Yunel Escobar finished sixth in the 2007 NL ROY vote. He spent parts of four seasons with Atlanta.
Photo by Chris WIlliams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images
  • Yunel Escobar followed Renteria at shortstop in 2008. He finished sixth in the 2007 NL ROY vote, after hitting .326 and splitting time between all the infield positions other than first base.
  • Escobar, whose whistling while playing defense was like nails running down a chalkboard for many people, was was highly productive until his 2010 season when he was traded mid-year as part of a deal that brought back Alex Gonzalez from Toronto.
  • Escobar’s career ended after the 2017 seasons, but he generated 26.8 bWAR during his 11 seasons. He played more than 1,000 of his career 1,400 career games at shortstop.
  • For the 2000s, Atlanta shortstops created a total 39.2 bWAR in qualifying seasons. That total was almost double that of the 1990s (20.4) and the 2010s (20.3).
  • The veteran Gonzalez played was a steady defensive player with a bit of pop. He hit double-digits in home runs for the final time in his career with the Braves in 2011, although his SLG was slightly below his career totals during his 221 games with Atlanta.
  • As the Braves continued their rebuild by trading established MLB player for prospects, there was shock throughout the fanbase with the organization traded Simmons prior to the 2016. Part of the return from the Angels was veteran shortstop Erick Aybar.
  • Aybar’s status as a placeholder at the position became more clear after the Braves traded for Dansby Swanson approximately three weeks after the Simmons trade.
  • Aybar. Chicken bone.
  • For the 2010s, no shortstop posted an OPS+ higher than 90 nor a batting average higher than .265. That was a stark transition from the 2000s when only one season saw a shortstop hit less than .265 and had six separate seasons of an OPS+ of 100 or higher.
  • As mentioned in the beginning of this article, Swanson’s 2020 season was excluded since the season was only 60 games. The WAR total he produced wouldn’t have changed the ranking of top shortstops, but was his most productive to date.
  • Swanson has been phenomenal through mid-June 2022, but for his career has only posted a 93 OPS+, including his 2022 stats through June 16. Similarly, his wRC+ is only 92.
  • Defensively, he has been average to slightly above, with a dWAR of 3.8 through the 2021 season. His DRS has been up-and-down with +7 through last season but with as many negative seasons as positive ones through 2021. His UZR has also been slightly below average for his career at -3.3 through the end of last season.
  • The last half of Swanson’s 2022 season will be fascinating. A notoriously streaky offensive player, he is on track for the best season of his career. Will he be able to maintain his 127 OPS+ for the full season? What does that mean for his future in Atlanta? I guess we will find out together.

A few final thoughts to wrap-up this positional retrospective. The productivity the position provided in the 2000s was something I had forgotten about. For the decade, the average qualifying season provided 3.56 bWAR.

With due respect to a handful of pre-1990 players, the Braves dedication to drafting and developing shortstops jumps off the page with Blauser, Furcal, Escobar and Simmons all being draft or signed players. That’s 62.8 of 81.8 bWAR from in-house players in qualifying seasons.

If you subtract the negative value from Thomas, that’s still 61 out of 81.8 bWAR. Throw in another 5.1 bWAR if you want to include the trade for Swanson, since he was a minor league player at the time of his acquisition.

Braves v Rockies
The knee injury Chipper Jones sustained before the 1994 season shifted him from shortstop to third base, but he did appear in 49 games at shortstop in his career. That total included 41 starts, 38 of which came in 1996.

When you include the performance of two still-active shortstops that were traded by Atlanta as prospects in the last 20 years - Elvis Andrus with 30.7 career bWAR in 14 seasons and Nick Ahmed with 12.4 bWAR in nine seasons - the Braves organization has had quite the pipeline of talent at the position.

And that’s to say nothing of guys like Mark DeRosa and Tony Graffanino who both provided double-digit career bWAR value in careers - both of which spanned more than a decade. Nor does that include Chipper Jones and Ozzie Albies who were both shortstop prospects who found success with Atlanta at other positions.

Whatever happens next at shortstop, the Braves will be hard-pressed to get the same value from the position as they have for the last three decades.

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