The real reason the 2005 baby Braves won the NL East
By Chase Owens
For many fans the 2005 “Baby Braves” was one of the most exciting, fun to watch teams in franchise history. Not only was the team littered with fresh faces, but it was what these guys accomplished that has left a lasting impression on so many Atlanta Braves fans. They quickly garnered the baby Braves nickname as nightly it felt like a rookie was doing something impactful that led to a Braves win.
In total the Braves had 18 rookies who saw time with the big league club, many of them in significant roles. Personally, this team is what made me fall in love with Braves baseball. I was just a nine year-old boy who was beginning to watch baseball with intent, and living and dying with each win and loss. I still vividly remember Jeff Francoeur’s first big-league home run against the Cubs, and running through my Aunt’s house because I “predicted” it.
This team gave me and so many others numerous lasting memories, and as a result gained a sparkling reputation in the heart of so many Braves fans. At the end of the regular season they were able to capture their last of the well-documented 14 straight division titles, winning the east by two games over an up-and-coming Phillies team. Ultimately, the Braves were eliminated in a memorable NLDS against the Astros. Although, it was not the ending the Braves wanted, they did manage to put together some moments that fans will remember for a lifetime.
Now although the 2005 Atlanta Braves saw this success thanks to their rookies, it was not the sole reason to their success. Although, they saw nice contributions from the likes of Ryan Langerhans, Kelly Johnson, and Brian McCann, the leader among rookies in Fangraphs WAR was Jeff Francoeur with a 3.0 fWAR. Still, Francouer’s mark was only good enough for sixth highest on the Braves that season. The team is often paired with the rookies as THE reason for the success, but in reality it was the mix of the baby Braves and established stars of the team that led to another division title.
The pitching staff was anchored by former Cy Young winner and hall of famer, John Smoltz. He produced a 14-7 record, threw almost 230 innings, and finished with a 3.06 ERA and 3.27 FIP. The lineup was driven by a few veteran guys.
- Rafael Furcal – Finished with a 4.5 fWAR
- Marcus Giles – Slash line of .291/.365/.461
- Chipper Jones – The usual season of 153 wRC+
Even though each of these rookies and veterans mentioned had significant contributions to winning the east, none of them had the most impactful season from a Brave.
The MVP Runner-up
Instead, it was established star and fan-favorite Andruw Jones who had the greatest impact on leading the baby Braves to their 14th straight division title. I know what you are thinking, “Way to go out on a limb.” But this article isn’t meant to be a piece discrediting what the amazing rookies were able to accomplish. Instead, this article is meant to showcase just how great a player Andruw Jones was. I think the success of the ‘05 baby Braves is often misinterpreted and because of this I wanted to spend a little time showing some love to the season that Andruw was able to put together.
And what a season it was. In 2005, Andruw finished with the second highest fWAR in the league (7.9) behind A-Rod’s (9.1) and just ahead of NL MVP Albert Pujols’ (7.7). Jones put together a slash line of .263/.347/.575 and MLB leading 51 home runs at the plate, while also supporting a league best 26.2 defensive UZR in the outfield.
Andruw put together a phenomenal 2005 season, which resulted in his highest MVP finish in his career, runner-up to future hall of famer Albert Pujols. It was the production at the plate and the phenomenal defense his pitchers raved about throughout his career that really were near the highest point he displayed in his career in that 2005 season. As of now Andruw’s name is a hot topic as we are in the midst of hall of fame ballet season.
But that discussion is a conversation that belongs in another thread. Regardless of if you think he is a hall of famer or not, you cannot deny the magic Andruw put together to help pace the team that captured my love for Braves baseball. The baby Braves will be in the hearts of many Braves fans for years to come, but lets not forget the production Andruw provided. In the end we got a mixture of great veteran leadership, young rookies shining bright, and yet another division title. I will forever love the 2005 baby Braves.