Braves' Top 5 center fielders: Bowman's take

May 5th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Braves All-Time Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

Here is Mark Bowman’s ranking of the top 5 center fielders in Braves history. Next week: Right fielders.

1. Andruw Jones, 1996-2007
Key fact: Stands with Roberto Clemente, Willie Mays and Ichiro Suzuki as the only outfielders to win 10 consecutive Gold Glove Awards

The 60.9 bWAR (Baseball Reference’s WAR model) produced during his 11 full seasons (1997-2007) with Atlanta ranked third in the Majors, trailing only Alex Rodriguez (85.7) and Barry Bonds (79.2). Chipper Jones was fourth at 58.9.

Within this span, the Braves center fielder led all Major Leaguers with a 26.7 Defensive bWAR. Hall of Fame catcher Ivan Rodriguez ranked second with 16.5. The next closest outfielder was Mike Cameron (9.6).

Along with establishing himself as one of the greatest defensive outfielders baseball has ever seen during his time with Atlanta, Jones became one of the best power hitters in Braves history. He ranks fourth in franchise history with 368 homers, and he set the club’s single-season record with 51 homers in 2005.

2. Dale Murphy, 1976-90
Key fact: Only Braves player to win two MVP Awards

Brought up as a catcher, became Atlanta’s primary center fielder in 1980, and he won the first of two consecutive National League MVP Awards two years later. Known as one of the premier sluggers of his era, he also won five straight Gold Glove Awards from 1982-86. The Braves moved him to right field in 1987.

While serving as Atlanta’s center fielder from 1980-86, Murphy ranked first among all outfielders in home runs (220) and bWAR (34.7). The only player to hit more homers during this seven-season stretch was Mike Schmidt (260).

3. Wally Berger, 1930-37
Key fact: Served as the NL’s starting center fielder in the first All-Star Game (1933)

One of the premier power hitters of his era, Wally Berger set a rookie record when he hit 38 homers in 1930. This record stood 57 years, until Mark McGwire broke it with 49 in 1987. But no NL rookie surpassed this mark until 2017 (Cody Bellinger, 39).

A shoulder injury in 1936 ended Berger’s days with the Boston Braves and soured what seemingly was the makings of a Hall of Fame career. Even though his ascent was cut short, he still ranks third among center fielders in club history with a 36.9 bWAR.

Wally Berger (right) gives a few tips to teammate Vincent DiMaggio, brother of Joe, in 1937.AP

4. Ender Inciarte, 2016-present
Key fact: Won three consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 2016-18

Along with earning a Gold Glove in each of his first three seasons with Atlanta, produced a 200-hit season in 2017, the club’s first since 1996. He led all NL outfielders with 20 Outs Above Average in 2017 and ranked second with 19 OAA in 2018.

Inciarte’s 10.6 bWAR ranks fifth among the modern-era Braves who have played as a center fielder in at least 80 percent of their games with the club.

5. Bill Bruton, 1953-60
Key fact: Hit a 10th-inning walk-off homer in the first home game for the Milwaukee Braves

Bill Bruton led the Majors in stolen bases during each of his first three seasons, and he helped the Braves win consecutive NL pennants in 1957 and '58. His 18.0 bWAR over eight seasons with Milwaukee ranks third among modern-era Braves who have played as a center fielder for at least 80 percent of their games with the club.

Honorable mentions
Before the 2019 Billy Hamilton, the Braves had a Billy Hamilton, who capped his 14-season Hall of Fame career by playing with the Boston club from 1896-1901 … solidified the defense and the top of the lineup with his arrival before the start of the 1995 championship season … Multiple leg ailments limited on the bases. But he did hit .333 with a .409 on-base percentage during his one season (1997) in Atlanta.