The Atlanta Braves are a historic Baseball franchise that have had a number of excellent catchers wear their jersey.
This post examines the top Braves catchers since 1912, ranked by career Wins Above Replacement (WAR). Keep reading to learn more!
The Best Catchers in Atlanta (Milwaukee and Boston) Braves History
I’ll admit it. The Atlanta Braves are my favorite team.
I grew up watching them on TBS back in the 90s, when they won the NL East practically every year.
I also love catching, and Baseball history. So this article is right up my alley.
A Quick History of the Braves
The “Braves” name has been in existence since 1912, but the club’s roots go back much further than that. Back to 1871, in fact, when the Boston Red Stockings were formed.
The Red Stockings eventually became known as the Beaneaters, then the Doves, then the Ramblers, before adopting the Braves name in 1912.
The new name must have worked, because the Braves had an amazing turnaround in the 1914 season, culminating in a sweep of the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. Many now refer to that team as the “Miracle Braves”.
The Braves would hang around Boston for the next few decades, being the city’s “other” professional team with the Boston Red Sox playing at historic Fenway Park.
Move to Milwaukee
The owner of the Braves eventually decided to move the franchise to Milwaukee, beginning with the 1953 season.
Milwaukee is the town where future Hall of Famers Hank Aaron, Warren Spahn and Eddie Matthews really made a name for themselves.
In 1957, the Milwaukee Braves also won an exciting World Series in 7 games against a stacked New York Yankees team.
Becoming the Atlanta Braves
In 1966 the franchise moved from Milwaukee to Atlanta, first playing in Atlanta’s Fulton County Stadium. This was the site of Hank Aaron’s legendary 715th home run, where he surpassed Babe Ruth (who was at one time a former Brave) as the all-time home run king.
The Braves had their share of stars in this time, from the great Hank Aaron to Ralph Garr, from Dale Murphy to Bob Horner.
Then the 90s came around and the Braves became a powerhouse team. They made five World Series appearances that decade, winning it all in 1995 against the Cleveland Indians.
In 1997 the Braves moved into Turner Field, and in 2017 they moved into Suntrust (now Truist) Park.
I could go on and on about Braves history, but I hit the really high points so I’ll stop there!
Wins Above Replacement
Commonly known as WAR, Wins Above Replacement measures an individual player’s contributions to his team.
Per the MLB:
“WAR measures a player's value in all facets of the game by deciphering how many more wins he's worth than a replacement-level player at his same position (e.g., a Minor League replacement or a readily available fill-in free agent).”
There is a different formula for pitchers and for position players, and the calculations vary slightly by outlet (such as Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference).
It’s a very useful and popular metric, as it captures the holistic value that a player provides to his team.
For this article, I looked at every catcher who has ever worn a Boston/Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves uniform (with at least 75 games played as a Brave) and ranked them by career WAR, using Baseball Reference metrics. Thus, I scanned player metrics going back to 1912.
The following list showcases the top five Braves catchers ranked by career WAR, with a focus on their best seasons while donning a Braves jersey.
Top 5 Braves Catchers by Career WAR
#1. Joe Torre, 57.6 career WAR
This Hall of Fame Manager had one heck of a playing career.
While with the St. Louis Cardinals, Torre won the 1971 NL MVP award. He had many productive seasons with the Braves as well, with his best being 1966.
1966 is a milestone year for the Braves franchise, as it was the inaugural season in Atlanta.
That season Torre was the starting catcher in the All Star game. He went on to smash a career high 36 homers, collected a .943 OPS, and maintained a .315 batting average. All while leading NL catchers with a 48.6% caught stealing percentage.
Torre ended 1966 with a 6.4 WAR, which was second on the team to Hank Aaron’s 7.9.
#2. Ernie Lombardi, 39.5 career WAR
Although best known for his time with the Cincinnati Reds, this Hall of Fame catcher spent one memorable season with the Boston Braves (1942).
Lombardi was a bright spot in the lineup on a 7th place Braves team managed by a young-ish Casey Stengel, himself a future Hall of Famer.
Among Lombardi’s many accomplishments with the 1942 Braves was the NL batting title (.330 average), an All Star game selection, and a career high OPS+ of 162.
#3. Brian McCann, 31.9 career WAR
Mike Zarrilli, Getty Images North America.
A native of Duluth, GA, McCann made his debut for his hometown Braves in 2005. He would become Atlanta’s staple behind the dish for the next 8 seasons.
McCann’s best season (according to WAR metrics) with the Braves came in 2008.
That season McCann made the NL All Star team, hit .301 with 23 home runs, won a Silver Slugger award, and finished the year with a 5.5 WAR.
#4. Javy Lopez, 29.7 career WAR
The primary backstop for many of those legendary Braves teams of the 90s, Lopez had a number of very productive years in Atlanta.
By far, his best season as a Brave was 2003. That year, Lopez set an MLB record for the most home runs in a season as a catcher - 42. (Note: he had 43 total, but one occurred while pinch hitting). The record stands to this day.
In addition to homers, Lopez also posted career highs in 2003 for batting average (.328), RBIs (109), and slugging percentage (.687), among others. He also served as the NL's starting catcher in the All Star Game that year.
#5. Johnny Kling, 29.0 career WAR
Never heard of Johnny Kling? I hadn’t either until I did my research for this post.
Kling was a consistent and dependable catcher who spent 13 years in the majors, from 1900 - 1913.
Interestingly, he spent just a season and a half with the Braves - part of 1911 and 1912 - the latter being the first year that Boston’s NL franchise adopted the name.
In 1912 Kling hit .317, maintained a 45% caught stealing percentage, and led the league in double plays turned as a catcher. Still, Kling's WAR that season was just 1.9, down from his 4.9 career high earned in 1908 with the World Series winning Chicago Cubs.
Honorable Mention: Del Crandall, 28.2 career WAR
A mainstay of the 1950s Milwaukee Braves, Crandall’s best season came in 1958. That year Crandall hit .272 with a career best in doubles (23) and OPS (.805).
He also won a Gold Glove, made the All Star team, and led NL catchers in Defensive Games as a Catcher, Putouts, Caught Stealing, Assists, and Fielding Percentage.
In the course of my research I encountered a number of hilarious sounding names. I’m a sucker for good Baseball names - especially those from the early 20th century - so I’d be remiss to not share them in this post.
Below are, in my opinion, the funniest names of catchers that have played for the Atlanta Braves or their predecessors.
- Boileryard Clarke, 5.3 career WAR
- Peaches Graham, 3.7 career WAR
- Shanty Hogan, 14.9 career WAR
- Corky Miller, 0.0 career WAR
- Biff Pocoroba, -0.6 career WAR
Thanks for Reading
Hopefully this article was both interesting and informative. I know I definitely learned a few things.
As always, let me know if you have any feedback by heading over to the Contact page or by sending an email to scott [at] catchershome [dot] com.
Here’s to hoping there are more excellent catchers in the Braves’ future!