Bradley’s Buzz: Could the Hall call three former Braves?

Jones marked his World Series debut with a two-run homer in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees.

Credit: JOHNNY CRAWFORD / AJC

Credit: JOHNNY CRAWFORD / AJC

Jones marked his World Series debut with a two-run homer in Game 1 of the 1996 World Series between the Atlanta Braves and the New York Yankees.

Baseball’s 2024 Hall of Fame class will be revealed Tuesday. Three former Braves – all of distinction, though two weren’t here long – have a chance to make it. One was the definition of a professional hitter. Another was a dominant closer in an era of dominant closers. Another was the best center fielder since Willie Mays.

We’ve chronicled Andruw Jones’ Cooperstown chances since before he was Hall-eligible. He was nearly eliminated in his first year on the ballot, the same ballot that saw fellow first-timer Chipper Jones draw support from 98.7% of the electorate.

In 2018, A. Jones received 31 of 422 votes cast, ranking him 19th among that year’s Hall-eligibles. The 20th was Jamie Moyer, who missed the required 5% and was eliminated from further consideration. Much has changed since.

Ryan Thibodaux’s indispensable Hall of Fame tracker shows Jones drawing 70.4% of the votes made public, marking a stunning climb from the 7.3% of 2018. The number for enshrinement is 75%. I doubt he makes it this year – percentages drop when unpublicized votes are counted – but he should go over the top next January.

Jones’ rise is a triumph of the analytics some folks believe have ruined the game. He was never an MVP, though he ran second to Albert Pujols in 2005. Jones’ career batting average was .254. He worked five more seasons after leaving the Braves as a free agent, none of them stellar.

He did, however, hit for power, which the sabermetric set likes, and Baseball-Reference awards him the highest defensive WAR total of any center fielder ever. (Paul Blair is second, Mays third.) In 1999, Chipper Jones came within one vote of being a unanimous National League MVP; going by B-Ref WAR, he wasn’t the best player on his team. A. Jones topped C. Jones in WAR that year, 7.1 to 6.9.

Billy Wagner was a Brave for one season, his last. In 2010, he earned 37 saves, striking out 104 batters over 69-1/3 innings. His four-out save secured a wild card in the final game of Bobby Cox’s final season. (The closer hurt his arm in Game 2 of the NLDS versus the Giants. The Braves blew saves in Games 3 and 4.) Wagner’s 2.5 WAR that season – WAR doesn’t flatter closers – was fifth-best of a 16-year career.

In his ninth year on the ballot, Wagner is polling at 79.3% of known votes. If he doesn’t make it this time, he should next year. There’s such a thing as a final-year bounce.

Gary Sheffield is the beneficiary of such a bounce. He drew 55% of last year’s vote; he’s at 74.3% now. He was a Brave for two years, arriving in a 2002 deal that sent Brian Jordan and Odalis Perez to L.A. (Sheffield sought assurance the Dodgers would keep him after his contract lapsed. They said, “Take it up with your new club,” or words to that effect.)

Sheffield had a good first season as a Brave, though it ended badly. He struck out against the Giants’ Robb Nen with the tying run at third and nobody out in the ninth inning of the decisive NLDS Game 5. C. Jones hit into a double play to end it.

In 2003, Sheffield hit .330 with 39 homers and 132 RBIs. His OPS was 1.023. His WAR was a career-best 6.8. He finished third in 2003 MVP voting behind Barry Bonds and Pujols.

Over the Braves’ 14-division-titles-in-a-row run, that was the one team that hit better than it pitched. It led the NL in runs, homers, batting average and OPS. Going by WAR, the top six Braves were Marcus Giles, Sheffield, Javy Lopez, A. Jones, Rafael Furcal and C. Jones. Their best pitcher was John Smoltz, then the closer. Their top starter was Russ Ortiz, who won 21 games but whose walks drove Cox nuts.

Those Braves were outpitched by the Cubs’ Kerry Wood and Mark Prior in the NLDS. No shock there. Sheffield then exited as a free agent, signing with the Yankees. No shock there, either.

A career WAR of 60.5 over 22 seasons casts him as a borderline Hall of Famer. (A. Jones’ is 62.7, FYI.) I didn’t vote for Sheffield the first five years; I have for the past five. I doubt he’ll make it, but I wouldn’t mind being wrong. And I’ll say this: Were there an HOF for bat speed, he’d be first through the door.

The above is part of a regular exercise available to all who register on AJC.com for our free Sports Daily newsletter. The full Buzz, which includes extras like a weekly poll and pithy quotes, arrives via email around 1:30 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

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  Andruw Jones (R) and Chipper Jones talk with the players before the start of the opening season game with the Cincinnati Reds at Truist Park Thursday, April 7, 2022 (Steve Schaefer / steve.schaefer@ajc.com)

Credit: Steve Schaefer

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Credit: Steve Schaefer

Braves closer Billy Wagner reacts to setting down the Phillies in the 9th inning to hold on for the 8-7 victory at Turner Field in Atlanta on Sunday, Oct. 3, 2010. Curtis Compton / curtis.compton@ajc.com

Credit: Curtis Compton

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Credit: Curtis Compton

031005 - ATLANTA, GA -- Atlanta Braves batters Gary Sheffield (R) and Chipper Jones prepare to face Chicago Cubs Kerry Wood in fourth inning action in Game 5 of the National League Division Series at Turner Field Sunday, Oct. 5, 2003. (RICH ADDICkS/AJC staff)

Credit: RICH ADDICKS

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Credit: RICH ADDICKS

070220 - Kissimmee, FL -- (CQ) Braves outfielder Andruw Jones gets ready to practice in the batting cages during spring training at the Disney Wide World of Sports complex in Kissimmee, FL, Tuesday, February 20, 2007. (VINO WONG / AJC STAFF)

Credit: AJC

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Credit: AJC

Braves Andruw Jones, left, laughes while celebrating a win over the Cincinnati Reds with Chipper Jones, right. Andruw Jones hit a home-run in the 6th inning of the 10-4 victory over the Reds. (SUNNY SUNG/STAFF)

Credit: AJC staff

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Credit: AJC staff

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