Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Favorite Braves List - #4 Starter

(Previous information on this series can be found here. Of importance, this is not a best list, but a favorites list since I started to follow the Braves. That limits options from 1991-to-now.)

Favorite Braves List (so far)
Ace Starter - Greg Maddux
#2 Starter - John Smoltz
#3 Starter - Tim Hudson
Catcher - Brian McCann
First Base - Fred McGriff
Second Base - Marcus Giles
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons
Third Base - Chipper Jones

Honorable Mentions: My plan was to only name four starters for my Favorites List, but I can always add a fifth after the team that I've already charted out is finished. After all, it's my team. For now, here is a few that didn't make the cut. Kevin Millwood was a bulldog on the mound. His 1999 season where he posted a league low 0.996 WHIP with a career high 205 strikeouts was his best season with the Braves and when you add the complete game one-hitter in the playoffs and save two days later against the Astros...a wonderful run. Steve Avery was one of my favorite Braves when I started to follow them and the babyfaced left-hander was a monster in the early 90's, pitching 22.1 shutout innings in the NLCS between 1991-92 and it was Avery's solid relief in Game Seven of 1992 that allowed Francisco Cabrera the chance for his one shining moment. Julio Teheran could easily join the Favorites Team with time.

Favorite Braves List - #4 Starter
Tom Glavine

Despite watching many of Glavine's starts on TBS and following the Braves during Glavine's best seasons, I still look at his numbers and marvel at his success. So few pitchers did more with less than Glavine. He was willing to re-invent himself to stay effective, adding pitches and subtracting others in effort to deal with declining velocity that toward the end of his career was topping out at 85-86 mph. Yet, he remained productive and was an easy addition to this list.

Glavine was born in Concord, Massachusetts in the spring of 1966. A tremendous student and two-sport star at Billerica Memorial High School, Glavine had a choice to make after high school. Both the Los Angeles Kings (4th round) and Atlanta Braves (2nd round) had selected him out of high school. He could even head to college. Instead, he chose baseball over hockey and the Braves would benefit from that personal decision for years to come. Let's look back at that 1984 draft for a second, though. Glavine was chosen with the 47th overall pick. Two picks later, future Brave Marvin Freeman was picked and three picks after Glavine, long-time successful left-hander Al Leiter was plucked out of New Jersey. But despite Glavine's success, he wasn't the best player selected in the round. That honor went to 31st overall pick, Greg Maddux. The success of the second round is notable as the first round included a lot journeyman players like Terry Mulholland and Shane Mack along with roid user Mark McGwire. Oh, and who did the Braves pick in the first round? Drew Denson. He played in 12 games for the Braves in 1989 and four years later, he got into four games with the White Sox. Two picks after Denson, the Phillies selected Pete Smith, who would join with Glavine, Avery, and John Smoltz as the future of the Atlanta Braves. Maddux would join the party in 1993.

Glavine rocketed through the minors, reaching Richmond at the end of 1986 and after 22 starts with the R-Braves the following season, Glavine was called up on August 17th and got blasted around by the Astros and failed to make it through four innings. Five days later, he got the first of 305 wins by beating the Pirates 10-3 with 7.1 quality innings. After a 5.54 ERA in 1987 over nine starts, Glavine would spend the next three years playing with a shoddy defense behind him and a poor offense supporting him.

All of that changed in 1991. Glavine would lead the lead with nine complete games and his adjusted ERA+ of 153 also led the National League. While winning his first of two Cy Young awards, Glavine's Braves went worst-to-first with the left-hander leading the staff. He picked up his first four of 35 postseason starts that year, which included a complete game loss in Game 2 of the World Series 3-2.

Glavine pitched a career-best five complete game shutouts in his Cy Young follow-up season of 1992 while finishing behind Maddux in the Cy Young race. He would finish third in the same race behind new teammate Maddux in 1993 as he started 36 games, a career high he would equal twice more. He was able to achieve that number in 1993 when the Braves went to a four-man rotation in their efforts to catch and pass the San Francisco Giants in possibly the last great true division race. He was the starter on the final day of the season against visiting Colorado Rockies and picked up the win while the Giants were pummeled 12-1. It was the 104th win of the season for the Braves.

After a down year in 1994, shortened by the Strike but certainly his worst season since 1990, Glavine came back to form in 1995, finishing third in the Cy Young race. His best moments came in the postseason. After six quality innings in a Game 2 victory, Glavine gave up just a bloop single in Game Six over eight innings. He walked three and struck out a personal high of eight batters before giving way to Mark Wohlers in the ninth. The latter closed the door and the Braves won their only World Series since their move from Milwaukee.

Glavine would go on to win his second Cy Young in 1998 over Padres closer Trevor Hoffman and while productive over the next four seasons, his ERA was a little more kind to him than his FIP, which climbed over 4.00 and stayed there from 1999-02. After 2002, the Braves felt Glavine's best days were behind him, but it's difficult to let a guy go who just put up a 2.96 ERA.

Of course, the winter of 02-03 goes down as the winter the Braves and Glavine had a rough divorce. A low-ball offer from the Braves damaged relations between the two and even as the Braves tried to increase their offer to a more reasonable total, the writing was on the wall. Glavine left the Braves for the divisional rival New York Mets and during five years in Flushing, he continued to deal with decreasing velocity. His time with the Mets was known for its ups-and-downs and his 300th win. However, what many Mets fans may remember the most was his start on the final day of the 2007 season. Needing a win to stay alive, the Mets sent Glavine to the mound and he had one of the worst starts of his long career. He faced nine Marlins that day. All but one, Dan Uggla, reached base. By the time he hit the opposing pitcher Dontrelle Willis to force a run in, the Mets removed Glavine with a 5-0 deficit. Uggla would make it 7-0 with a two-run double. The Mets would lose 8-1 and their season came to a close with them a game behind the Phillies.

He would come back to the Braves in 2008 after declining a $13M player option to stay in New York, but the 42 year-old finally broke down, starting just 13 games. It was the first time he had been placed on the disabled list. He wanted to continue and the Braves brought him back for 2009, but after six scoreless innings for Rome on July 2nd during a rehab stint, the Braves decided to release Glavine and promote young Tommy Hanson instead. I don't think it was because of a cap on possible Tommy's for the Braves.

Glavine decided to take the rest of the season off and in February of 2010, he officially retired.

Like other Braves pitchers, Glavine knew how to help himself out with the bat, a skill certainly lacking with current Braves. He won his position's Silver Slugger four times, second to Mike Hampton, and hit .186 during his career, a respectable number for a pitcher. He was adapt, again especially for a pitcher, at working walks and in 2004 with the Mets, he walked ten times to ten strikeouts in 72 PA. That gave him a .328 OBP, his second best career OBP to his Silver Slugger Award winning 1996 when he slashed .289/.333/342. Amazingly, he only smacked one homer. He took the first pitch he saw from John Smiley in the sixth inning to left-center on August 10th, 1995 for the tater. He also had a bases loaded triple in Game 7 of the 1996 NLCS against the Cardinals, a game that ended 15-0.  Of course, he also handled his typical hitting duties of bunting the runners along very well, finishing in the top ten nine times in sacrifices with a career and league high of 17 during 2001. His 216 sacrifices ranks 69th overall, but since 1970, only Omar Vizquel had more.

And yes, we can talk about the liberal strikezone Glavine received. We can talk about how Braves catchers took liberties with the catcher's box. We can even talk about how Glavine, the player's representative during the 1994 strike, took a massive PR hit with his steadfast support for the Union. But really, all that is noise. Glavine, who will be enshrined in Cooperstown this summer, was an artist at his profession. Every fifth day, Glavine took the ball and stoically fought batters with guile and intelligence. Glavine would stubbornly never give in to hitters and that made him so easy to love. Watching hitter-after-hitter leave the box wondering just why they offered at these pitches a foot outside was delicious for Braves fans.

His color commentating can use some work, though.

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