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The best Braves centerfielders since 1990

Andruw Jones was a stalwart in centerfield for the Braves for a decade, but he isn’t the only former Atlanta centerfielder to have his career overlooked by Hall of Fame voters.

2005 Major League Baseball All-Star Player Portraits
The only thing better than the bat Andruw Jones was holding at this 2005 All Star game photoshoot was the glove he used when patrolling centerfield for the Atlanta Braves.
Photo by John Reid III /MLB via Getty Images

Who is the first person that comes to mind when you think about centerfield, Atlanta and the last three decades?

Andruw Jones, maybe?

As if it would have been anyone else.

From 1996 through 2007, Jones provided Atlanta with highlight catches, light-tower power and the not-quite-rhetorical question, “Was he was the best defensive centerfielder to ever play the game?”

As great as Jones was - and we will discuss just how legendary his decade-long run as centerfielder for the Braves in greater detail in a bit - he wasn’t the only player to put together an almost - maybe should be - Hall of Fame career with Atlanta.

That teaser is a great jumping-off point to take a look at the notable players who spent time in centerfield for Atlanta - including several players with strong cases for inclusion in baseball’s Hall of Fame - before 1990.

When the Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966, they brought with them Atlanta-native Mack Jones to play centerfield. He debuted with the Braves in 1961 and hit 31 home runs in Milwaukee in the team’s last season there in 1965.

Mack Jones played more than 100 games in center in Atlanta during each of the 1966 and 1967 seasons before before being traded to the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 1968 season.

MLB Photos Archive
Felipe Alou spent six seasons with the Braves collecting 22 of his career 42.2 bWAR while playing six different positions with the team - including 414 career games in centerfield.
Photo by: Louis Requena/MLB via Getty Images

Felipe Alou took over in center in 1968, paying 158 games there while earning the final All Star berth of his career - and his second in three years with Atlanta - finishing 10th in the MVP voting.

Although playing the season at age 33, Alou produced a career-best 6.6 bWAR while leading the league in plate appearances, at bats and hits. Offensively, it was the second-best season of his six campaigns with the Braves, behind his 1966 season which ended with a fifth place finish in the MVP balloting.

Alou - who went on to have a successful career as a manager - is a person whose career achievement as a player combined with his managerial successes should qualify him for a place in baseball’s Hall of Fame Museum, but as of yet, that hasn’t happened.

For his career he created 42.2 bWAR and collected more than 2,100 hits and 200 home runs. Add to that his 1,033 wins as manager - and being the first native of the Dominican Republic to manage in MLB - he played an important part in the history of the game.

That history includes being a member of one of the most successful baseball families with his brothers, sons and other extended family members. Alou was part of the only outfield in history comprised of three brothers when he joined is bothers Matty and Jesus in the Giants outfield in 1963.

The 1970s started with a single season each of Tony Gonzalez and Sonny Jackson in center before Dusty Baker took over the position in 1972.

MLB Photos Archive
Dusty Baker played with Atlanta from 1968 until 1975, including three seasons as the team’s starting centerfielder.
Photo by Louis Reqeuna/MLB via Getty Images

Baker, who debuted with Atlanta as a 19 year-old in 1969, became a full-time starter in ‘72 and spent three seasons in centerfield before moving to right field in 1975, his last season with the Braves before he was traded to the Dodgers.

Like Alou, Baker put up an above-average career during parts of 19 seasons as a major leaguer. Although the best seasons of his career came in Los Angeles - two Silver Slugger awards, two All Star games, a Gold Glove and two top seven finishes for NL MVP, Baker was a strong player for Atlanta.

Baker’s best season with Atlanta was 1972 when he hit .321 with an OPS+ of 142. Although only playing in 127 games, he finished 22nd in the NL MVP voting. In 628 games with Atlanta, he posted 13.4 bWAR and hit 77 of his 242 career home runs.

Baker - similar to Alou - should be in the Hall of Fame due to he career achievements as player and manager. Although Baker finished just shy of 2,000 career hits, he drove in more than 1,000 runs in addition to his previously noted home run total.

Baker’s career as manager is really what will likely cement his future enshrinement in Cooperstown. Still active as manager of the Houston Astros at age 73, Baker has been a Major League manager for 25 years, with more than 2,000 career wins for five different organizations. Although he has yet with win a World Series as a manager, Baker has garnered Manager of the Year votes in 14 seasons, including three second place finishes and three first place finishes (1993, 1997, and 2000).

For the remainder of the 1970s, Rowland Office spent the majority of time in center for Atlanta. Although he was a negative bWAR player for his time for the Braves, Office spent seven seasons with the team. The best season of his Atlanta tenure was 1976.

Although Office did spend more time in center than anyone else during the late-’70s, several other players did see time at the position. That included “The Toy Cannon” Jim Wynn in ‘76, and Barry Bonnell who appeared in centerfield for 200 games between 1977 and 1979.

Sports Contributor Archive 2020
Barry Bonnell played 200 games in center for Atlanta in the late ‘70’s. He was involved in two notable Braves trades that bookended his time in Atlanta.
Photo by Ron Vesely/Getty Images

Bonnell was a 1/1 draft pick in the 1975 secondary January draft by the Phillies was part of two notable Atlanta trades. First, he was sent by Philadelphia with Jim Essian to Atlanta (less than four months after being drafted) for Dick Allen and Johnny Oates.

Allen, who should have been elected to the Hall of Fame before he passed away in 2020, had been sent to the Braves from the Chicago White Sox for $5,000 prior to the 1975 season because Chicago was not certain that Allen was going to continue playing after leaving the team in mid-September 1974.

Allen refused to play for Atlanta and announced his retirement despite leading the American League in home runs, slugging and OPS in 1974. Atlanta ultimately traded Allen, in the afore mentioned trade, in May of ‘75.

The Phillies were able to coax Allen out of retirement causing the Braves to trade Essian to the White Sox to complete the terms of the original Allen deal.

Bonnell spent three seasons with Atlanta before they included him as part a trade that saw the Braves acquire Chris Chambliss prior to the 1980 season from Toronto. Chambliss had been traded to the Blue Jays by the New York Yankees earlier in the same off-season and would go on to spend seven seasons with Atlanta as their primary first baseman.

MLB Photos Archive
Dale Murphy hammered home back-to-back NL MVP awards in 1982 and 1983.
Photo by Rich Pilling/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Then in 1980, Dale Murphy took over in centerfielder and would go on to become one of the most beloved players in team history.

Taken with the fifth pick in the 1974 June Draft, Murphy broke into the big leagues as a catcher but didn’t establish himself until he was moved to centerfield from first base prior to the 1980 season.

Murphy was selected to his first All Star game in 1980, hitting 33 home runs with a 135 OPS+ for the season, one that also saw him finish 12th in the NL MVP voting.

Beginning in 1982, Murphy put together an incredible six year run that is the backbone of his Hall of Fame candidacy. The ‘82 season saw the Braves win the National League West behind the 26 year-old Murphy.

Playing in 162 games, he lead the National League with 109 RBI, hitting 36 home runs, scoring 113 runs with a 142 OPS+ in 698 plate appearances. It was a 6.1 bWAR (6.0 fWAR) season for Murphy, that ended with a Gold Glove, Silver Slugger, an All Star appearance and the NL MVP award.

Ted Turner and his cable television station, the SuperStation TBS, had their star in Murphy with the affable right-hander becoming the face of the team as Atlanta had their games beamed from coast-to-coast.

Atlanta Braves
Dale Murphy became the face of the franchise in the early 1980s.
Photo by Ronald C. Modra/Getty Images

His 1983 season was quite the follow-up for “Murph” as he again was an All Star, Silver Slugger, Gold Glover and the NL MVP award winner. He did that off the basis of a league leading 121 RBI, slugging percentage and OPS. He hit a career best (for a full season) .302 with 36 home runs, 131 runs scored and a 149 OPS+. His bWAR and fWAR was 7.1 for the year, one that saw him also steal 30 bases, for the only 30/30 season of his career.

The Braves only had one less win in 1983 than 1982 but finished second in the NL West. In 1984, the team slipped below .500 going 80-82, but Murphy carried the team with an NL-best 36 home runs, 332 total bases and slugging percentage while again playing in 162 games. Again an All Star, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove winner, Murphy finished 9th in the NL MVP voting. His bWAR for the season was 5.5 with his fWAR at 5.6.

Although his offensive performance continued to be among the best in all of baseball, Murphy’s defense was beginning to degrade as he entered the mid-’80’s, in the midst of playing more than 700 consecutive games (his 740 consecutive games played is the 13th longest streak in baseball history).

In 1985, Murphy again led the National League in games played but also led the league in plate appearances, runs, home runs, walks, and strikeouts. His .300 batting average was the last time in his career he would meet or exceed that threshold. His OPS+ was 152 and his 332 total bases matched the career high he set the season prior.

Although the Braves sunk to fifth place in the NL West, losing 96 games, Murphy still finished seventh in the NL MVP voting while being and All Star, Gold Glover and winning the last Silver Slugger award of his career.

Dale Murphy - Atlanta Braves
Although remembered for his power, Dale Murphy stole 161 bases during his career.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

The team wouldn’t fair much better in 1986 than they did in 1985, with the team slipping to last place in the Division despite winning seven more game than they did in ‘85. Murphy posted his worst numbers since the strike-shortened 1981 season. Murphy played through a severely cut hand early in the season and was mired in a slump when his consecutive games streak ended on July 9, 1986. Despite those issues, he was still an All Star and Gold Glove winner, although he slipped to 21st in the NL MVP voting behind a 121 OPS+, 29 home runs and an .824 OPS.

The 1986 season also marked Murphy’s last season playing more than 100 games in centerfielder as he moved to right field in 1987, making way for off-season trade acquisition, Dion James.

Murphy’s 1987 season was the best of his career, and one that we will discuss in the retrospective of right fielders, but before we finish out the decade, let’s look at Murphy’s totals as a centerfielder with Atlanta from 1980 through 1986.

During those seven seasons, Murphy averaged 31 home runs, 98 runs, 95 RBI with a triple slash of .283/.367/.508 which was good for a 138 OPS+. He hit 220 home runs, stole 112 bases, drove in 663 runners and scored 686 runs during those seasons. He was an All Star six times, won five Gold Gloves and took home four Silver Slugger awards. He also won two NL MVPs and received votes in six of those seven seasons, including five times in the top 12.

His bWAR for those seven seasons was 34.7, with an oWAR of 37.2 and a dWAR of -3.0, a number that was brought down by the final two season which saw him rate as -4.0 combined. For reference Murphy’s fWAR during that time was 32.8.

MLB Photos Archive
Dale Murphy spent eight season as the Braves primary centerfielder: 1980-1986; 1989.
Photo by Ron Vesely/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Keep in mind, those numbers are all despite losing more than 50 games to the strike in 1981. For the decade, Murphy led the National League in almost all major offensive categories with only a second place finish in home runs being notable. While his career ended in 1993 at age 37, issues with his knee saw his career crater starting in 1988, when he was 32. A borderline Hall of Fame candidate - waiting on possible enshrinement by a veterans committee - there is no debating that he was one of the best players in all of baseball for the majority of the 1980s.

Now, back to James, whose first season with Atlanta was the best of his career. Although he was a below average defensive centerfielder, James slashed .312/.397/.472 for a 126 OPS+ and 3.0 bWAR (4.1 iWAR) in 1987, teaming with Albert Hall to man centerfield.

The Braves lost more than 100 games in 1988 and used three players in center, all of whom played in a similar number of games (from 49 to 63) and all of who provided negative bWAR (-0.3 to -0.6). Terry Blocker joined James and Hall in the positional rotation.

With the team’s struggles in centerfield, Murphy returned to play 82 games in center in 1989, and actually posted positive defensive value between center and right. But offensively, slipped to a 106 OPS+ hitting only .226/.313/.421 with 24 home runs and scoring 77 runs and driving in 77 for the season.

Murphy was replaced in center by Oddibe McDowell, who was traded to Atlanta by Cleveland (for James) in July. McDowell was phenomenal in the 76 games he played that season with Atlanta, providing 2.1 bWAR hitting .304/.365/.471 for a 136 OPS+.

And that brings us to 1990 as McDowell began the season in center before giving way to Ron Gant.

As has been the case with all of the position player retrospectives, the only limiting factor is a player appearing in 65 games in a single season at the position. Because of that, the 2020 season is disqualified. The data is from Baseball-Reference, primarily, and is best when used with a grain or two of salt. The retrospective is focused on offensive performances but we will touch on defense later on in this article.

Best Single Seasons Since 1990

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

BBN-ROCKIES-BRAVES-A.JONES
When it comes to Top 5 seasonal bWAR, there is Andruw Jones, and no one else, as Jones swept the rankings led by 8.2 bWAR in 2000.
DOUG COLLIER/AFP via Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by bWAR

Andruw Jones, 2000, 8.2

Andruw Jones, 1998, 7.4

Andruw Jones, 1999, 7.1

Andruw Jones, 2005, 6.7

Andruw Jones, 2002, 6.5

Baseball Player Ron Gant Sliding to Home Base
Ron Gant led all centerfielders in OPS+ with a 139 in 1990. He also had the third highest with 127 in 1991.

Top 5 Seasons, by OPS+

Ron Gant, 1990, 139

Andruw Jones, 2005, 136

Ron Gant, 1991, 127

Andruw Jones, 2002, 127

Andruw Jones, 2000, 126

Bill Goldberg Promotes “The Longest Yard” in Atlanta
Who’s next? Ronald Acuna, Jr., that’s who. Andruw Jones had four of the top home run totals in this ranking, including 51 in 2005. (Bill Goldberg knows what’s up.)
Photo by R. Diamond/WireImage

Top 5 Season, by HR

Andruw Jones, 2005, 51

Andruw Jones, 2006, 41

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 41

Andruw Jones, 2000, 36

Andruw Jones, 2003, 28

Atlanta Braves v San Francisco Giants
Andruw Jones had 129 RBI in 2006, edging out his 2005 total by one RBI for the highest total in the ranking.
Photo by Michael Zagaris/MLB via Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by RBI

Andruw Jones, 2006, 129

Andruw Jones, 2005, 128

Andruw Jones, 2003, 116

Ron Gant, 1991, 105

Andruw Jones, 2000, 104

Andruw Jones, 2001, 104

MLB: SEP 19 Phillies at Braves
Ronald Acuna, Jr. led Braves centerfielders since 1990 with 127 runs scored in 2019.
Photo by John Adams/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Top 5 Seasons, by Runs

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 127

Andruw Jones, 2000, 122

Ron Gant, 1990, 107

Andruw Jones, 2006, 107

Marquis Grissom, 1996, 106

Atlanta Braves Otis Nixon, 1993 NL Playoffs
Otis Nixon stole 47 bases in 1993 which was the most by a centerfielder in this ranking.
SetNumber: X45093

Top 5 Seasons, by SB

Otis Nixon, 1993, 47

Michael Bourn, 2012, 42

Otis Nixon, 1992, 41

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 37

Ron Gant, 1991, 34

Atlanta Braves v Houston Astros - Game Three
Kenny Lofton only played one season with Atlanta, but he hit .333 in 1997, which was the highest batting average for a Braves centerfielder in this ranking.

Top 5 Seasons, by BA

Kenny Lofton, 1997, .333

Marquis Grissom, 1996, .308

Ender Inciarte, 2017, .304

Ron Gant, 1990, .303

Andruw Jones, 2000, .303

Kenny Lofton
Kenny Lofton’s .409 on-base percentage in 1997 topped this list, besting two seasons by Andruw Jones.

Top 5 Seasons, by OBP

Kenny Lofton, 1997, .409

Andruw Jones, 2000, .366

Andruw Jones, 2002, .366

Gregor Blanco, 2008, .366

Andruw Jones, 1999, .365

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 9019, .365

National League Championship Series - Atlanta Braves v St. Louis Cardinals - Game Three
Coming off his World Series-clinching catch in 1995, Marquis Grissom had his best season as a Brave, collecting 207 hits.

Top 5 Seasons, by Hits

Marquis Grissom, 1996, 207

Ender Inciarte, 2017, 201

Andruw Jones, 2000, 1999

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 175

Ron Gant, 1990, 174

Best Single Seasons by Decade

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

Andruw Jones #25
Andruw Jones had the two highest bWAR seasons in the 1990s, including 7.4 bWAR in 1998.

Top 5 bWAR, 1990s

Andruw Jones, 1998, 7.4

Andruw Jones, 1999, 7.1

Ron Gant, 1990, 5.6

Kenny Lofton, 1997, 5.0

Marquis Grissom, 1996, 4.5

Ron Gant
Ron Gant had to two top OPS+ seasons for centerfielders in the 1990s. His 139 OPS+ in 1990 led the decade.

Top 5 OPS+, 1990s

Ron Gant, 1990, 139

Ron Gant, 1991, 127

Kenny Lofton, 1997, 119

Andruw Jones, 1998, 116

Marquis Grissom, 1996, 114

Andruw Jones, 1999, 114

Kenny Lofton
Kenny Lofton hit .333 in his sole season with Atlanta in 1997.

Top 5 BA, 1990s

Kenny Lofton, 1997, .333

Marquis Grissom, 1996, .308

Ron Gant, 1990, .303

Otis Nixon, 1992, .294

Andruw Jones, 1999, .275

Atlanta Braves v San Francisco Giants
Ron Gant hit 32 home runs in both 1990 and 1991 which were the highest single-season totals for the decade.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Top 5 HR, 1990s

Ron Gant, 1990, 32

Ron Gant, 1991, 32

Andruw Jones, 1998, 31

Andruw Jones, 1999, 26

Marquis Grissom, 1996, 23

Atlanta Braves
Marquis Grissom collected 207 hits in 1996 - the most of the decade and the most for a centerfielder since 1990.
Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Top 5 Hits, 1990s

Marquis Grissom, 207, 1996

Ron Gant, 1990, 174

Kenny Lofton, 1997, 164

Andruw Jones, 1999, 163

Andruw Jones, 1998, 158

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Otis Nixon stole 186 bases during four seasons with Atlanta. His 47 steals in 1993 was the most of the decade. Nixon played with the Braves 1991-1993; 1999.
Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Top 5 SB, 1990s

Otis Nixon, 1993, 47

Otis Nixon, 1992, 41

Ron Gant, 1991, 34

Ron Gant, 1990, 33

Marquis Grissom, 1995, 29

Andruw Jones dives for a ball
Between his defensive acumen and offensive abilities, Andruw Jones generated bWAR higher than 6.5 three times during the 2000s, including a ridiculous 8.2 bWAR in 2000.

Top 5 bWAR, 2000s

Andruw Jones, 2000, 8.2

Andruw Jones, 2005, 6.7

Andruw Jones, 2002, 6.5

Andruw Jones, 2006, 5.6

Andruw Jones, 2003, 4.9

Braves v Giants
As one of the best players in the game, it is no surprise that Andruw Jones had each of the top five OPS+ seasons, including 136+ in 2005.
Photo by Jed Jacobsohn /Getty Images

Top 5 OPS+, 2000s

Andruw Jones, 2005, 136

Andruw Jones, 2002, 127

Andruw Jones, 2000, 126

Andruw Jones, 2006, 126

Andruw Jones, 2007, 117

New York Yankees vs. Atlanta Braves
Andruw Jones set a career hit when he hit .303 in 2002. That batting average was also the highest of any centerfielder in the 2000s for the Braves.

Top 5 BA, 2000s

Andruw Jones, 2000, .303

Mark Kotsay, 2008, .289

Andruw Jones, 2003, .277

Andruw Jones, 2002, .264

Andruw Jones, 2005, .263

Oakland Athletics v Atlanta Braves
Andruw Jones hit 51 home runs in 2005, the most of any season in his career.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 HR, 2000s

Andruw Jones, 2005, 51

Andruw Jones, 2006, 41

Andruw Jones, 2000, 36

Andruw Jones, 2003, 36

Andruw Jones, 2002, 35

Atlanta Braves Andruw Jones...
Andruw Jones had each of the top five hit totals in the 2000s. He also robbed many opposing hitters throughout his Braves career.

Top 5 Hits, 2000s

Andruw Jones, 2000, 199

Andruw Jones, 2003, 165

Andruw Jones, 2001, 157

Andruw Jones, 2005, 154

Andruw Jones, 2004, 149

Andruw Jones #25
Andruw Jones stole 21 bases in 2000. It was the last time in his career he would exceed 20 stolen bases in a season.

Top 5 SB, 2000s

Andruw Jones, 2000, 21

Gregor Blanco, 2008, 13

Nate McLouth, 2009, 12

Andruw Jones, 2001, 11

Andruw Jones, 2002, 8

Houston Astros v Atlanta Braves
Michael Bourn posted 6.0 bWAR in his All Star season of 2012.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 bWAR, 2010s

Michael Bourn, 2012, 6.0

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 5.1

Ender Inciarte, 2016, 3.8

Ender Inciarte, 2018, 3.2

Ender Inciarte, 2017, 2.7

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets
Ronald Acuna, Jr.’s 121 OPS+ in 2019 was the best of the decade.
Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images

Top 5 OPS+, 2010s

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 121

Michael Bourn, 2012, 99

Ender Inciarte, 2016, 98

Ender Inciarte, 2017, 98

Cameron Maybin, 2015, 97

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets
Ender Inciarte had the two highest batting averages in the 2010s, including 2017 when he hit .304.
Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Top 5 BA, 2010s

Ender Inciarte, 2017, .304

Ender Inciarte, 2016, .291

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, .280

Michael Bourn, 2012, .274

Cameron Maybin, 2015, .267

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies
Ronald Acuna, Jr. blasted 41 home runs in 2019, the highest total for any centerfielder in the 2010s, by far.
Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Top 5 HR, 2010s

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 41

B.J. Upton, 2014, 12

Ender Inciarte, 2017, 11

Cameron Maybin, 2015, 10

Ender Inciarte, 2018, 10

MLB: SEP 06 Rangers at Braves
Ender Inciarte collected 201 hits in 2017, one of only two centerfielders to exceed 200 hits for the Braves since 1990.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Top 5 Hits, 2010s

Ender Inciarte, 2017, 201

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 175

Michael Bourn, 2012, 171

Ender Inciarte, 2018, 158

Ender Inciarte, 2016, 152

Atlanta Braves v New York Mets
Michael Bourn stole 42 bases in 2012.
Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Top 5 SB, 2010s

Michael Bourn, 2012, 42

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 37

Ender Inciarte, 2018, 28

Cameron Maybin, 2015, 23

Ender Inciarte, 2017, 22

Best Cumulative Qualifying Seasons

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

Arizona Diamondbacks v Atlanta Braves
Andrew Jones provided 57.5 bWAR in qualifying seasons as Atlanta’s centerfielder. That was almost six times more than second place.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 bWAR, Qualifying Seasons

Andruw Jones, 57.5

Ender Inciarte, 9.7

Ron Gant, 7.6

Otis Nixon, 6.2

Marquis Grissom, 5.8

Sports Contributor Archive 2020
Andruw Jones hit 345 home runs in qualifying seasons - almost 300 more than second place.
Photo by SPX/Ron Vesely Photography via Getty Images

Top 5 HR, Qualifying Seasons

Andrew Jones, 345

Ron Gant, 64

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 41

Marquis Grissom, 35

Ender Inciarte, 24

New York Mets v Atlanta Braves
With 1,034 RBI in qualifying seasons, Andruw Jones was far-and-away the leader in runs batted in for centerfielders.
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Top 5 RBI, Qualifying Seasons

Andruw Jones, 1,034

Ron Gant, 189

Ender Inciarte, 147

Marquis Grissom, 116

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 101

Baltimore Orioles v Atlanta Braves
This is one of the 974 runs Andruw Jones scored in qualifying seasons - a game-winning home run against the Baltimore Orioles on June 25, 2005.
Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Top 5 Runs, Qualifying Season

Andruw Jones, 974

Ender Inciarte, 261

Ron Gant, 208

Marquis Grissom, 186

Otis Nixon, 156

Atlanta Braves vs Philadelphia Phillies - May 3, 2006
No one played in more games in centerfield than Andruw Jones, obviously. If you thought otherwise, you haven’t been paying attention.
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Top 5 Games, Qualifying Seasons

Andruw Jones, 1,572

Ender Inciarte, 431

Marquis Grissom, 294

Ron Gant, 261

B.J. Upton, 257

Youngest and Oldest Qualifiers

MLB: FEB 26 Spring Training - Nationals at Braves
Andruw Jones and Ronald Acuna, Jr. were each 21 in a qualifying season. They tied for the youngest centerfielder. They are shown here in Spring Training 2018.
Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Youngest

Andruw Jones, 1998, 21

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2019, 21

Andruw Jones, 1999, 22

Andruw Jones, 2000, 23

Andruw Jones, 2001, 24

Gregor Blanco, 2008, 24

Otis Nixon
Otis Nixon was the oldest qualifying centerfielder when he started 111 games in 1993. Nixon returned to Atlanta in 1999, at age 40, stealing 26 bases in 84 games.
Photo By: Keith Torrie/NY Daily News via Getty Images

Oldest

Otis Nixon, 1993, 34

Otis Nixon, 1992, 33

Mark Kotsay, 2008, 32

Guillermo Heredia, 2021, 30

Andruw Jones, 2007, 30

Kenny Lofton, 1997, 30

Appreciating Andruw Jones

Braves Media Day
Appreciating Andruw Jones for what he was - a generational great whose defense was unmatched.
Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images

For every Superman dive he made; each time he made a Spiderman-like catch against the outfield wall; all the times he annihilated a baseball with the power of Thor; Andruw Jones looked and played the part of superhero for most of his tenue with Atlanta.

Jones signed with the Atlanta Braves out of Curacao on July 2, 1993 at 16 years old. He was the top prospect in all of baseball before the 1996 season according to Baseball America after being named the publication’s Minor League Player of the Year after the 1995 season. He would repeat as Baseball America’s top Minor League prospect prior to the 1997 season.

As prospects go, he was considered a can’t miss player. The question wasn’t if he was going to be good, it was how great would he be?

Blessed with speed, power and the instincts to be an elite defensive centerfielder, Jones made his debut with Atlanta in 1996 after starting the season in High A and matriculating to the Majors on August 15, 1996.

Although the then 19 year old would only hit .217 during the regular season, he made his mark on history when he became the youngest player to hit a home run in the World Series and only the second player to homer in each of his first two World Series at bats.

Jones would become a regular in 1997, spending the majority of his time as the team’s right fielder and finishing fifth in the NL Rookie of the Year voting.

Jones took over as Atlanta’s full-time centerfielder in 1998 and began a decade-long stretch of elite defense and above average offensive on his way to 10 consecutive Gold Glove awards, five All Star appearances, a Silver Slugger award and five years of receiving MVP consideration, including a second place finish in 2005.

From 1998 through 2007, Jones averaged 34 home runs, 97 runs scored, 103 RBI, 158 games played and 670 plate appearances. That was good for a 115 OPS+ and 54.5 bWAR (35.7 oWAR and 22.0 dWAR); or if you prefer FanGraphs, he posted 57.2 fWAR during that time span.

Arguably his best offensive season was 2005, when he led the National League in both home runs and RBI for a Braves team that was dubbed the “Baby Braves” as the team leaned heavily on young players for what would be its last NL East Division title in their streak that began in 1991 (if you exclude the 1994 season). For the season he won the NL Hank Aaron Award and The Sporting News Major League Player of the Year.

His 2000 season, one where he led the National League in plate appearances and at bat while hitting .303, scoring 122 runs, hitting 36 home runs and driving in 104 was a close second for best of his career as he ended-up eighth in the NL MVP awards. He also posted a career high in total bases and set his career high in OBP, which he tied in 2002.

As a Brave, he totaled 61 bWAR, the 10th highest total in franchise history - and one spot above Dale Murphy. In those 12 seasons with the Braves - 10 as the primary centerfielder - Jones amassed a staggering 26.6 dWAR.

Although advanced defensive metrics are hit-and-miss for the era Jones played, make no mistake, he was better than anyone to play the position. From 1998 to 2004 he had more than 400 putouts per season; including a career high 492 in 1999. For his career he also had 101 outfield assists as a centerfielder, including a career high 20 in 1998.

His Total Zone Fielding Above Average for his career as a centerfielder was 173 - an average of 19 per season.

For his career, Jones finished second all-time in Total Zone Total Fielding Runs Above Average, with 253. That mark is topped only by legendary infielder Brooks Robinson whose 293 came in six more seasons than Jones and a whopping more 8,004 innings.

Andruw Jones, center fielder for the Atlanta Braves, plays t
Andruw Jones played in the shadow of Dale Murphy, but it was in the field where Jones bested Murphy as a Brave.
Photo by Chris Rank/Bloomberg via Getty Images

There is a reality about Jones. For as good as his career turned out, it is easy for some to classify it as a disappointment because of the expectations Jones had placed upon him early in his career. When Jones left Atlanta for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2008, he was only 31 years old. Although he had struggled with Atlanta in 2007, it would have been hard to image that his sole season in LA would end with a slash line of .158/.256/.249 and a ghastly 35 OPS+.

He would bounce between three organizations between 2009 and 2012, with a respectable 108 OPS+ as a reserve corner outfielder and designated hitter, but Jones was left without a Major League opportunity and signed to play in Japan in 2013 and 2014 with the Tohoku Rakuten Golden Eagles.

Comeback attempts in 2015 and 2016 weren’t fruitful and Jones officially retired in February 2016. For his career, he hit 434 home runs, collected 1,933 hits, scored 1,204 runs and drove in 1,289 runs. That offensive output combined with his defensive performance to generate 62.7 bWAR (67.0 fWAR).

All-time, he ranks 22nd in dWAR, 19th in games played as a centerfielder, 16th in putouts, and first in Total Zone Runs as a CF (going back to 1953). Offensively, he ranks 48th in home runs and 88th in extra base hits.

His bWAR total places him in a tie for 161 all-time with Hall of Hamer Hal Newhouser where they are nestled amongst a list of Hall of Famers and players whose careers were similar to Jones - just shy of induction, at least so far.

Jones and Murphy have career similarities that are fascinating to compare. Offensively, Jones and Murphy collected remarkably similar statistics including an identical 1,748 career strikeouts.

As shown in this Baseball-Reference batting comparison, Andruw Jones and Dale Murphy had remarkably similar offensive careers.

Take a moment and look through that image above. Isn’t is amazing how close those numbers are?

Murphy was slightly better with a higher OPS+ and the slightly more advanced metrics of WPA+ and cWPA+ during their regular season careers, but Jones overshadowed Murphy when it comes to the postseason.

Although they both hit .273 in the postseason, Murphy only appeared in three postseason games while Jones played in 76 game with 279 plate appearances. Jones hit 10 home runs, drove in 34, scored 43 runs during 10 NLDS, one ALDS, five NLCS and two World Series. Of those postseason numbers, Jones had only one plate appearance outside of Atlanta, a sacrifice fly for an RBI for the New York Yankees in 2011.

Defensively, Murphy was good at his best but Jones was maybe the best ever at his peak. Jones, as previously noted, collected 24.4 dWAR in his career - although it was 26.6 while with Atlanta - while Murphy had -6.8 dWAR for his career, -4.8 while with Atlanta.

Atlanta Braves
Dale Murphy and Andruw Jones had nearly identical careers with the bat; but it was in the field that Jones separated himself from Murphy.

The biggest “what if” for each of them is “what if” they could have put up two more career-average season before their careers declined precipitously at 30 and 32, respectively.

The “what ifs” are even more trivial, but still pertinent, with the “what if Murphy had hit two more home runs?” and “what if Jones had gotten 67 more career hits?”

In the end, even this look back at the career of Andruw Jones seems lacking.

Despite given the unrealistic expectations pilled upon him as a prospect and nagging perceptions about his style of play, Jones - who has oddly not had his number 25 retired by the Atlanta Braves organization - is making headway toward induction in the Hall of Fame.

After two seasons mired in the mid 7-percent range, Jones has seen his voting total jump to 41.4-percent in 2022 with five years left on the ballot. Although his election is still far from guaranteed, his increasing vote total is a testament to the electorate's recognition of his elite defensive ability that sways him from a generational talent to a player who is recognized as one of the best to ever play centerfield.

It also makes him the obvious choice as the best centerfielder to play for the Braves since 1990.

Notable Tidbits

Here is some notable information from a look at the data for centerfielders who played for Atlanta since 1990.

Atlanta Braves Andruw Jones...
Andruw Jones dominates the centerfield leaderboard but he wasn’t alone in producing notable seasons with the Braves.
  • There were only two seasons without a qualifying centerfielder: 1994 and 2011.
  • Roberto Kelly played in 63 games after being traded for Deion Sanders, who played in 46 games, in ‘94.
  • In 2011, Nate McLouth (55), Michael Bourn (53) and Jordan Schafer (51) shared time at the position with each providing positive bWAR for the season.
  • Nate McLouth had a horrific 2010 season with -2.7 bWAR. Although he was a positive contributor after his trade to Atlanta in 2009 (for a package that included Charlie Morton), his All Star season with the Pirates in 2008 was his career high-water mark.
  • After an excellent season by Michel Bourn in 2012, the Braves signed B.J. Upton as a free agent before the 2013 season. With a tantalizing power and speed combination that came with a lot of strikeouts, Upton was only 28 and the hope was that he would build on his 2012 season that saw him narrowly miss a 30/30 season when he hit 28 home runs and stole 31 bases for the Tampa Bay Rays. Unfortunately, that did not happen.
  • Upton cratered in 2013 hitting .184/.268/.322 for Atlanta with a -1.7 bWAR. He improved in 2014, but was still a negative producer with -0.1 bWAR.
  • As the Braves began their rebuild, Upton was traded with Craig Kimbrel for a package of players that included Cameron Maybin and a 2015 competitive balance round A pick. That pick turned out to be Austin Riley.
  • Maybin stabilized center for Atlanta in 2015 until Ender Inciarte took over the position in 2016.
  • Inciarte won three Gold Gloves with Atlanta and notched an All Star selection in 2017. For three years he was an above average offensive and defensive performer with Atlanta racking up 9.7 bWAR (6.3 oWAR, 4.5 dWAR) from 2016 to 2018.
  • Ron Gant only spent two seasons of his career as a full-time centerfielder but those seasons - 1990 and 1991 - were excellent. Gant finished 14th in the NL MVP voting in 1990 and won the Silver Slugger and finished sixth in the MVP in 1991.
  • Gant was a 30/30 player in both those seasons when he also scored more than 100 runs.
  • Otis Nixon didn’t become a full-time starter until joining Atlanta in 1991- his ninth season appearing in MLB.
  • As the primary starting centerfielder for the Braves in 1992 and 1993, Nixon stole 88 bases in additional to playing excellent defense. He returned to Atlanta for in 1999 to conclude his playing career at age 40. Although he was a reserve outfielder and pinch runner, he still managed to steal 26 bases.
  • For his career, Nixon stole 620 bases across 17 seasons, a total that ranks 16th all-time.
  • The Braves traded for Marquis Grissom before the start of the 1995 season, bringing the two-time All Star home to his native Atlanta. Although he didn’t follow-up his back-to-back All Star seasons with a selection during is time with the Braves, he did win the Gold Glove in both 1995 and 1996 and finished 13th in the NL MVP.
  • Grissom set career highs in both batting average (.308) and home runs (23) in 1996.
Atlanta Braves Kenny Lofton (R) talks with Deion S
Deion Sanders didn’t qualify in centerfield during his time in Atlanta, but Kenny Lofton did, spending the 1997 season with the Braves.
Photo credit should read CARLO ALLEGRI/AFP via Getty Images
  • Kenny Lofton came to Atlanta in a trade for Grissom and David Justice and only spent the 1997 season in Atlanta before returning to Cleveland as a free agent in 1998.
  • Lofton was an All Start with Atlanta and received down-ballot MVP votes, but his stolen base total dropped from 75 in 1996 to 27 in 1997.
  • Despite playing in only 122 games, Lofton still recorded 164 hits and scored 90 runs while slashing .333/.409/.432 good for a 119 OPS+.
  • Lofton spent 17 seasons in the Majors and generating 68.4 bWAR (62.4 fWAR) good for 119th all-time. He was a six-time All Star, won four Gold Gloves and finished 15th in career stolen bases with 622 - one spot ahead of Nixon.
  • Lofton fell off the Hall of Fame ballot after his first season of eligibility in 2013 despite posting career numbers that should have - at the least - helped him stay on the ballot. For all the advocation Braves fans have made over the year for Murphy and Jones, Lofton’s case for inclusion is just as strong (if not stronger).
  • The 2010s was, by far, the worst decade for centerfielders in the last three full decades with only 16.9 collective bWAR from qualifying seasons. Despite not having a qualifying in 1994, the 1990s still produced 39.1 bWAR while the Andruw Jones-fueled 2000s generated 46.7 bWAR.
  • When reviewing the 32 qualifying seasons recorded by centerfielders since 1990, it is remarkable how long of a career all of the now inactive players had.

Ron Gant, 16 seasons

Otis Nixon, 17 seasons

Marquis Grissom, 17 seasons

Kenny Lofton, 17 seasons

Andruw Jones, 17 seasons

Gregor Blanco, 10 seasons

Mark Kotsay, 17 seasons

Nate McLouth, 10 seasons

Michael Bourn, 11 seasons

B.J. Upton, 12 seasons

Cameron Maybin, 15 seasons

  • Of the the three still-active qualifying centerfielders, Ronald Acuna, Jr. has the least amount of tenure with only five seasons at the MLB-level while Inciarte is in his ninth season and Guillermo Heredia is in his seventh.

It is worth reiterating that it is mind-boggling that Andruw Jones hasn’t been afforded the recognition of having his number retired by the Atlanta Braves organization. Surely that will change if Jones is enshrined in the Hall of Fame in the coming years.

The Hall of Fame candidacies of Jones, Dale Murphy, Kenny Lofton, Dusty Baker and Felipe Alou are unfortunately still points of discussion within baseball, but there’s not doubting the legacy of their careers - and those of other excellent players like Ron Gant and Marquis Grissom.

With Michael Harris II taking over in centerfield earlier this season - and still the youngest player in baseball - here’s hoping that we are witnessing the next player in a long line of great players to man centerfield in Atlanta.

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