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Braves' Top 5 first basemen: Bowman's take

@mlbbowman
March 31, 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

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.

Hot take: 5 best catchers in Braves history

Here is Mark Bowman’s ranking of the top five first basemen in Braves history. Next week: second basemen.

1. Freddie Freeman, 2010-current
Key fact: Ranks fourth among MLB first basemen in FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement (34.6) dating back to 2011

Freeman could soon have a higher homer total and fWAR than any other first baseman in Braves history. The 30-year-old’s 227 homers rank second to Joe Adcock (239) and his 34.6 fWAR ranks second to the franchise-best 40.7 mark Fred Tenney produced while playing for the Braves during the late 1800s and early 1900s.

A four-time All-Star, Freeman has been elected as the National League’s starting first baseman each of the last two seasons. He ranks first among MLB first basemen in fWAR (19.8) and Weighted Runs Created Plus (144) since the start of the 2016 season.

Freeman has produced a 130 OPS+ or better in seven of his nine full seasons as Atlanta’s first baseman. No other Braves first baseman has produced as many as five such seasons.

2. Joe Adcock, 1953-62
Key fact: Adcock’s 17.71 at-bats-per-home-run ratio ranks fifth in Braves history (minimum 200 homers), trailing only Hank Aaron (15.86), Eddie Mathews (16.33), Bob Horner (16.61) and Andruw Jones (17.41)

Overshadowed by Aaron and Mathews, Adcock was a key cog in the Braves' lineup. During his 10-season stint with the Braves, the right-handed slugger ranked second among MLB first basemen in homers (239) and third in fWAR (26.2). He generated this impressive production despite injuries and a later platoon role limiting him to fewer than 450 plate appearances in four of the final five seasons of the 1950s.

Adcock went to Louisiana State University to play basketball, but he took up baseball after being introduced to the sport during his freshman year. His natural power expedited his development and helped create some jaw-dropping moments, like when he became the first player to hit a ball into the center-field seats at the Polo Grounds. He ranks third among Braves first basemen with a 26.2 fWAR.

3. Fred McGriff, 1993-97
Key fact: Braves teammates David Justice, McGriff and Ron Gant finished third, fourth and fifth, respectively, in voting for the 1993 National League MVP Award

McGriff’s place in franchise history was cemented when he arrived in Atlanta on July 20, 1993, helping his new club win 51 of its last 68 games. Having played to what amounted to approximately four seasons with the Braves, "Crime Dog" ranks ninth among Braves first basemen in fWAR (14.3). But his 129 wRC+ ranks third among those who played at least 500 games as the Braves’ first baseman.

One of the best power hitters of his generation, McGriff notched his seventh straight 30-homer season while playing for the Braves during the strike-shortened 1994. His power began to slip, but he still ranked second on the team in homers (77) over the next three seasons, which included two trips to the World Series and another to the NL Championship Series.

4. Fred Tenney, 1894-1907, '11
Key fact: Began his big league career as a left-handed catcher

Tenney never hit more than three home runs in a year, and he totaled 22 homers over 17 seasons. He likely wouldn’t have had a place in today’s game. But we can’t ignore that more than a century after his retirement, he still ranks first among Braves first basemen with a 40.7 fWAR.

Looking at how he compared to the other great players of his era, Tenney ranked 14th among MLB players with the 38.2 fWAR he amassed from 1897-1907. That stood as the best mark produced by any of the game’s first basemen within that 11-season span.

After serving as the Braves’ player/manager from 1905-07, he was traded to the Giants the following winter. Before retiring in '11, he spent one more season as the player/manager for the Braves.

5. Chris Chambliss, 1980-86
Key fact: Sent the Yankees to the 1976 World Series with a walk-off home run against the Royals in Game 5 of the American League Championship Series

Chambliss is one of six first basemen in Braves history to compile three seasons with a 110 OPS+ or better. The others are the four aforementioned players on this list and Buck Jordan, who played with the organization during the 1930s.

Chambliss has made the third-most starts (666) as a first baseman in Braves history, and he was a key figure on the Atlanta clubs that became known as "America’s Team" with TBS' assistance. He hit a career-high 20 homers while helping Atlanta claim its memorable NL West title in 1982, and then matched that number the following year.

Honorable mentions
Andres Galarraga hit 72 homers and produced a .946 OPS, but cancer limited him to just two seasons with Atlanta.

The versatile Felipe Alou began primarily playing first base in 1966, when he finished fifth in NL MVP Award balloting. But he spent a majority of his time with the Braves as an outfielder.

Julio Franco was 42 when he first joined the Braves in 2001. But the ageless wonder still ranks 19th in club history with 349 games played as a first baseman.

Mark Bowman has covered the Braves for MLB.com since 2001.