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The best Braves receiving Rookie of the Year votes since 1990

Atlanta has had five National League Rookie of the Year award recipients since 1990, but who had the best season while picking up votes for the award?

2019 BBWAA Awards Dinner
Ronald Acuna, Jr. is one of five Braves players to win the NL Rookie of the Year award since 1990.

Last year, we started a retrospective of the “best” players who appeared with Atlanta since 1990. After taking a look at starting pitchers, relief pitchers, and position players, we continue this series in 2023 with a look at players who received votes for the player awards in this most-modern era of Braves baseball.

Up first is a look at the players who received votes for the National Rookie of the Year.

First awarded as a single honor across all of MLB in 1947, the Rookie of the Year award was first won by the legendary Jackie Robinson. The Braves became the second organization to have a winner when Boston shortstop Al Dark won the award in 1948.

Beginning in 1949, the Rookie of the Year honor was awarded to one player in each league. The second player to with the National League-specific Rookie of the Year award was Braves outfielder Sam Jethroe who won the award for Boston in 1950 and remains the oldest player - he was 33 that season - to earn the honor.

After moving to Atlanta in 1966, the Braves had two players win the NL Rookie of the Year: Earl Williams, who spent time at catcher, third base, and first base in 1971, and Bob Horner, who went straight from being drafted out of Arizona State, to Atlanta’s starting third baseman in 1978.

Bob Horner Holding Baseball Bat Overhead
Bob Horner won the NL ROY award in 1978.

Those four would be all the organization’s winners until 1990, as franchise icons Hank Aaron (1954, OF, 4th) and Eddie Matthews (1952, 3B, 3rd) did not win the award despite garnering votes. Other Braves greats like Phil Niekro, Dale Murphy, Tom Glavine, and John Smoltz did not receive any votes during their respective rookie campaigns.

There were a handful of Braves players who did receive NL Rookie of the Year votes during their rookie season after the team moved to Atlanta, outside of winners Williams and Horner. The players earning votes were Derek Lilliquist (1989, SP, 4th), Ron Gant (1988, 2B, 4th), Craig McMurtry (1983, SP, 2nd), Steve Bedrosian (1982, SP, 7th), and Bob Dider (1969, C, 4th).

Most-Modern Era

Before we take a look at the players who received Rookie of the Year votes from 1990 to 2022, let’s take a look at something the notable data from this era as it relates to the Braves:

  • Including the 1990 season, Atlanta had 30 players receive votes for National Rookie of the Year, or just less that one player per season.
  • The Braves have had at least one player receive a vote in all but nine seasons between 1990 and 2022 - including a stretch of 12 years-in-a-row.
  • The Braves had at least one player earn a Rookie of the Year vote in each season during in the 1990s.
  • In the 2000s, the Braves did not have a player received votes in four seasons and followed that up with five seasons in the 2010s without a Rookie of the Year candidate.
  • One player received votes in two different seasons.
  • The Braves have had five players win NL Rookie of the Year during this era.
  • The team also had five players finish runner-up in the voting.
  • Six times the Braves have had two players receive NL ROY votes in the same season, including two seasons with a first and second place finish in the same season.
  • Of the 30 players receiving votes in a season, exactly half were pitchers and half were position players.

The 1990s

Atlanta Braves
David Justice was the 1990 NL Rookie of the Year winner.

The golden age of the most-modern era of Braves baseball included a significant number of home-grown players whose impact was felt in their rookie season with the team. For the decade, Atlanta had one winner and 12 different players pick-up votes.

Here’s a look at the player who earned votes, along with their primary position(s) and place of finish (winners in bold italic, runner-up in italic):

1990: David Justice, OF/1B, 1st

1991: Brian Hunter, OF/1B, 4th

1991: Mike Stanton, RP, 8th

1992: Mark Wohlers, RP, 7th

1993: Greg McMichael, RP, 2nd

1994: Ryan Klesko, OF/1B, 3rd

1994: Javy Lopez, C, 10th

1995: Chipper Jones, 3B, 2nd

1996: Jermaine Dye, OF, 6th

1997: Andruw Jones, OF, 5th

1998: Kerry Ligtenberg, RP, 4th

1999: Kevin McGlinchy, RP, 6th

There is a lot to unpack here, but we can start with the obvious, there were a lot of relief pitchers and corner outfielder/first baseman on the lists. If you lived through the era, that probably comes as no surprise to you.

This group includes one Hall of Famer (Chipper Jones) and one more player who may yet make the Hall of Fame (Andruw Jones). But it also includes players who had well above average careers in Justice, Klesko, Lopez, and Dye. Hunter had a fairly long career a journeyman bench bat, as well.

Stanton, Wohlers, McMichael and Ligtenberg all had stints in the back end of the Braves bullpen for multiple seasons, with Stanton having the longest career as his career spanned across 19 seasons.

The 2000s

Rafael Furcal #78
Rafael Furcal won the 2000 NL ROY award.

The first decade of the new millennium started as the prior decade did, with a Rookie of the Year winner, that was followed by four of the next six seasons finding Atlanta without a vote-getter.

Here’s a look at the player who earned votes, along with their primary position(s) and place of finish (winners in bold italic, runner-up in italic):

2000: Rafael Furcal, SS, 1st

2002: Damian Moss, SP, 5th

2005: Jeff Francoeur, OF, 3rd

2007: Yunel Escobar, SS, 6th

2008: Jair Jurrjens, SP, 3rd

2009: Tommy Hanson, SP, 3rd

Unlike the 1990s, this group didn’t produce quite the same level of impact with no Hall of Famers and only Furcal having a well above-average career. Francoeur peaked in his first few seasons while Escobar was a well-travelled shortstop whose career was much better than you may recall. Moss, Jurrjens, and Hanson each had their careers derailed by injuries.

The 2010s

Atlanta Braves, 2011 Spring Training
Craig Kimbrel won the 2011 NL ROY award. Ronald Acuna, Jr. also won the award in 2018.

The 2010s started off strong, only to nadir until the end of the decade. The decade saw two different Rookie of the Year winners and three second place finishers nuzzled among five seasons with no player receiving a vote.

With most of the players receiving votes still active, it is still too early to know exactly how this decade will look compared to the two priors, but it could end up with the best high-end performances of any decade.

Here’s a look at the player who earned votes, along with their primary position(s) and place of finish (winners in bold italic, runner-up in italic):

2010: Jason Heyward, OF, 2nd

2010: Jonny Venters, RP, 8th

2011: Craig Kimbrel, RP, 1st

2011: Freddie Freeman, 1B, 2nd

2013: Julio Teheran, SP, 5th

2013: Evan Gattis, C/OF/1B, 7th

2018: Ronald Acuna, Jr., OF, 1st

2019: Mike Soroka, SP, 2nd

Of this group, only Venters and Gattis are inactive, although Heyward and Teheran have entered the “minor league contract with an invitation to Spring Training” part of their careers.

Heyward’s defense and non-offensive acumen produced an above average career despite not being able to sustain offensive success. Freeman and Kimbrel are both flying near the Hall of Fame stratosphere. Venters battled injuries for his entire career, and so far, that has been the case with Soroka as well. Teheran spent the greater part of a decade as a reliable starting pitcher. Gattis had a short, but memorable career. Acuna’s career has started out with a high-level of success that has put him amongst the best in the game, when healthy.

The 2020s

Atlanta Braves Photo Day
Michael Harris II became the latest Atlanta NL ROY award in winner in 2022.
Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Only three seasons into the decade, and the 2020s have already produced a two-time vote getter as well as a winner and a second-place finisher in the same season.

Here’s a look at the player who earned votes, along with their primary position(s) and place of finish (winners in bold italic, runner-up in italic):

2020: Ian Anderson, SP, 7th

2021: Ian Anderson, SP, 5th

2022: Michael Harris II, OF, 1st

2022: Spencer Strider, SP/RP, 2nd

The COVID-shortened 2020 season saw Andreson pick-up votes without ending his rookie eligibility and thus he collected votes again in 2021. Harris and Strider became the second pair of Braves teammates to finish in the top two slots in 11 seasons, when Kimbrel and Freeman did the same.

The ROY Season Leaders

Let’s take a look at the players who led key statistical categories in the season(s) they received Rookie of the Year votes.

Atlanta Braves Photo Day
Spencer Strider placed 2nd in the 2022 NL ROY despite a 4.9 fWAR.
Photo by Mary DeCicco/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Top 5 fWAR

Spencer Strider, 2022, 4.9

Michael Harris II, 2022, 4.8

Jason Heyward, 2010, 4.6

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2018, 4.1

Mike Soroka, 2019, 4.0

Spencer Strider and Michael Harris II both had historic seasons and topped the fWAR rankings, with all five leaders coming since 2010.

If you are a fan of bWAR, then the rankings would have seen Jason Heyward (6.4 bWAR) and Mike Soroka (5.9 bWAR) finish first and second, respectively.

Top 5 fWAR NL ROY Winners

Michael Harris II, 2022, 4.8

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2018, 4.1

David Justice, 1990, 3.3

Rafael Furcal, 2000, 3.3

Craig Kimbrel, 2011, 2.5

Michael Harris II out produced his fellow NL ROY winners with a 4.8 fWAR. (If you like bWAR, he would have still topped the list, with 5.3 bWAR.)

Top 5 Games (Position Players)

Freddie Freeman, 2011, 157

Andruw Jones, 1997, 153

Jason Heyward, 2010, 142

Chipper Jones, 1995, 140

Rafal Furcal, 2000, 131

Freddie Freeman leading this category, with Andruw Jones in second place, fits the profile of their play-everyday careers.

Top 5 Home Runs

Dave Justice, 1990, 28

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2018, 26

Chipper Jones, 1995, 23

Freddie Freeman, 2011, 21

Evan Gattis, 2011, 21

Four franchise icons top this list, with Evan Gattis rounding it out. Justice at the top of the list is notable.

Top 5 Batting Average

Yunel Escobar, 2007, .326

Jeff Francoeur, 2005, .300

Michael Harris II, 2022, .297

Rafael Furcal, 2000, .295

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2018, .293

If 100 casual Braves fan had been quizzed for the leader in this category, not many may have come up with Yunel Escobar.

Top 5 OPS

Ronald Acuna, Jr., 2018, .917

David Justice, 1990, .908

Ryan Klesko, 1994, .907

Jeff Francoeur, 2005, .884

Michael Harris II, 2022, .853

The most diverse list of position players appears with OPS, as each decade is represented.

Top 5 Games (Pitchers)

Craig Kimbrel, 2011, 79

Jonny Venters, 2010, 79

Kerry Ligtenberg, 1998, 75

Greg McMichael, 1993, 74

Mike Stanton, 1991, 74

Obviously, relief pitchers lead this list, with Kimbrel and Venters tying in back-to-back seasons in the early 2010s.

Top 5 Wins

Julio Teheran, 2013, 14

Jair Jurrjens, 2008, 13

Mike Soroka, 2019, 13

Damian Moss, 2002, 12

Tommy Hanson, 2009, 11

Spencer Strider, 2022, 11

Wins are an antiquated stat but the tally for wins is similar to ranking for games for starting pitchers.

Top 5 Saves

Craig Kimbrel, 2011, 46

Kerry Ligtenberg, 1998, 30

Greg McMichael, 1993, 19

Mike Standon, 1991, 7

Mark Wohlers, 1992, 4

Craig Kimberl was historically dominate as a rookie closer in 2011. Kerry Ligtenberg saved 30 games in 1998 when he spent the majority of the season as the team’s closer.

Top 5 WHIP

Spencer Strider, 2022, 0.995

Kerry Ligtenberg, 1998, 1.027

Craig Kimbrel, 2011, 1.039

Greg McMichael, 1993, 1.058

Mike Stanton, 1991, 1.064

Spencer Strider’s 202 strikeouts in 131.2 innings is eye-popping, but he was also the only Atlanta pitcher with a sub-1.000 WHIP is similarly impressive.

The Best of the Best

MLB: OCT 12 NLDS Phillies at Braves
Michael Harris II may be the best NL ROY winner of the five Braves to have won the award since 1990.
Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Admittedly, this is a bit of a cop-out, but given the quality of players the Braves have seen earn NL ROY votes, looking at who the best was is a little easier when breaking the position players out from the pitchers.

Starting with the position players, you can’t go wrong with any of the options. As tempting as it is to pick Jason Heyward, given his overall contributions, the choice comes down to one of David Justice, Ronald Acuna, Jr. and Michael Harris II.

Harris wasn’t quite the offensive player Acuna, was in a similar number of games and Justice was similarly effective. But factoring in defense, baserunning, Harris has a slight edge and is the winner.

As for pitchers, you have Kimbrel’s electric 2011 season and back-to-back strong seasons from Jair Jurrjens and Tommy Hanson, but the choice here is really down to Kimbrel and Spencer Strider.

Kimbrel was great, but so was Strider as he transitioned from the bullpen to the rotation. Strider takes the cake here with a dominating performance with 202 strikeouts in only 131.2 innings.

Did we really come all this way to have the same debate we had last year, trying to decide between Harris and Strider?

Yes. Yes, we are.

Playing in 70-percent of Atlanta’s games in 2022, Harris was masterful in almost all facets of the game, but so was Strider although his day-to-day impact was less. Strider’s insertion into the Braves’ rotation coincided with Harris’ call-up, after which the team played at a higher level than the early months of the season.

Harris has become notable for his fashion fit on and off the field. Strider has changed his number to 99 and has been doing interviews about his complex ranking of indie albums. Even with the off-the-field stuff, they are still dead-even.

I like the day-to-day impact of Harris; but I also like the per-outing dominance of Strider.

If you want to choose, you can, because I can’t. Let’s go both!

Final Notes

Florida Marlins v Atlanta Braves
Freddie Freeman finished 2nd in the NL ROY voting in 2011 despite only posting a 0.6 fWAR.

A few final notes, for these former NL Rookie of the Year vote-getters:

  • A few notable names of this era who failed to receive votes included Brian McCann, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, Kevin Millwood, Andrelton Simmons, and Martin Prado.
  • The Braves did not have a primary second baseman receive votes for NL ROY since 1990, the only position (other than DH) to fail to do so.
  • Using Rookie of the Year votes to rank the best rookie performances was not the point here, because all of those players listed above should have - in my opinion - gotten at least a few votes for the award.
  • Using fWAR, the lowest ranked players in a season they received votes for the NL ROY were: Brian Hunter (0.0, fWAR, 1991), Javy Lopez (0.4 fWAR, 1994), Mark Wohlers (0.3 fWAR, 1992), Jermaine Dye (0.6 fWAR, 1996), and Freddie Freeman (0.6, 2011).
  • The most innings pitched in a season was 185.2 by Julio Teheran in 2013, edging Damian Moss by 6.2 innings. Ian Anderson pitched only 32.1 innings in the COVID-shortened 2020 season, three less than Mark Wohlers in 1992.

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