We've been through the starting lineup for the Braves All-2000s team Second Team, and now it's time to delve into their backups. This isn't simply going to be a who's who of the best players that didn't happen to be in the All-Decade starting lineup: the benches for both the first and second teams are going to be made up of the best Braves bench players of the past ten seasons. So we're talking about guys that were rarely or never everyday starters. Putting together the bench was difficult: there were lots and lots of choices, and the sample sizes sometimes make it very difficult to choose. But it was also a lot of fun, as I ran across tons of different names that I hadn't thought about in a while. So here are the backups for the Braves All-2000s Second Team:
OF: Eli Marrero (2004), .320/.374/.520 with 10 HR, 40 RBI and 4 SB in 90 games.
The Braves acquired Marrero from the Cardinals alongside J.D. Drew in December 2003, in the deal that sent Adam Wainwright to the Gateway City. Marrero was seen as a key bench asset: he was a rare backup catcher who had enough leg speed to patrol the outfield, so he could back up Javy Lopez, then-rookie Adam LaRoche at first base, and also spell Drew and Chipper Jones in the outfield corners. The Braves inherited the second year of a two-year, $4.5 million contract he had signed with the Cardinals, but in spring training the Braves replaced that with a new two-year deal worth $5 million (decreasing his 2004 salary but adding an extra year for 2005).
Marrero had a career year -- his .894 OPS was the only time in his career that he cleared .800 -- providing average defense in both outfield corners and bashing ten homers in limited duty while sharing the left field job with fellow one-year wonder Charles Thomas, whom he narrowly edged out on this list. (Chipper Jones had moved from left back to third base in June, after Mark DeRosa lost the job.) However, Marrero's $3 million salary looked awfully expensive to the Braves as they underwent radical cost-cutting following the 2004 season. The same day that the Braves acquired Tim Hudson, they agreed to ship Marrero (and the aforementioned salary) to the Royals in exchange for pitcher Jorge Vasquez. Marrero would play for four different teams over the next two seasons before falling out of baseball after the 2006 campaign.
IF/OF: Willie Harris (2007), .270/.349/.392 with 2 HR, 32 RBI and 17 SB in 117 games.
Harris was just another face in the non-roster invitee crowd in spring training 2007, but he had a standout spring and continued raking at Richmond after not making the team out of camp. When struggling Ryan Langerhans was dealt to Oakland in May, Harris got the call. He was an instant sensation, hitting .412/.477/.546 over his first 110 PAs, and eventually earning frequent opportunities to lead off. He became a fan favorite as a journeyman underdog from nearby Cairo, GA. He cooled off considerably the rest of the season, posting just a .631 OPS the rest of the way, but still played sparkling outfield defense (+14 UZR/150). His cold streak to close out the year left the Braves skeptical of his future prospects, so they let him sign a one-year deal worth $800,000 with the Washington Nationals the following winter. He's since had two solid years as a roving utility player in the nation's capital.
The rest of the second-best, below the jump...
IF: Split Decision!
Tom's Choice: Keith Lockhart (2000-02), .235/.302/.332 with 10 HR, 76 RBI and 5 SB in 345 games.
Lockhart was never much of a hitter, as that line makes plenty obvious, but he wins some commendation here for his glovely work at the keystone (even in his late-30s), his leadership, and his tenure in Atlanta. The Braves acquired Lockhart in March 1997 in the later much-lamented trade that also brought Michael Tucker to Atlanta and sent a young Jermaine Dye to Kansas City. After the 1998 season, Lockhart signed a two-year extension worth $2 million to keep him in Atlanta through 2000. A .684 OPS in 113 games in 2000, plus some excellent work afield, earned him a one-year invite back for 2001. His bat really started to die in '01, as he hit just .219/.289/.303, but again his defense and leadership got him an invite to camp (this time on a minor-league deal) for 2002, and he made the team once again. He appeared in 128 games as injuries to Marcus Giles forced him to play more, and again his 60 OPS+ was unimpressive but mitigated by quality glovework. He signed a minor-league deal with the Padres for 2003, and backed up Mark Loretta in San Diego in what would be his final big-league season.
Alex's Choice: Wilson Betemit (2001, 2004-2006), .281/.341/.432 with 13 HR, 52 RBI and 4 SB in 233 games
[ed. note from Alex: I wrote this section.]
Betemit's sort of the anti-Lockhart. Lockhart was all glove, no bat; Betemit's all bat, no glove. (Of course, these days he's not much of either.) A former top prospect, the Braves tried to sign him when he was underage and got dinged by Major League Baseball when it was discovered that, unlike most Dominican players, he was actually younger than the minimum age of 16. His first cup of coffee came as a teenager in 2001, but like Omar Infante -- another rushed former top shortstop prospect -- by the time he finally stuck on a big league roster, he was in his early 20s, and a utility man rather than a starter. However, in 2005 and 2006 (when the Braves traded him midseason for Danys Baez and Willy Aybar), he was one of the best utility infielders in baseball. His productivity has fallen precipitously since then, but he was awfully good for us, with a .773 OPS while backing up 3 defensive positions.
He was a bad defender, but it's not clear how bad. By Total Zone, he was -0.3 runs above average at SS, 2B and 3B for his years with the team; he was -9 runs above average for those three years according to Baseball Prospectus. His UZR was -12.2 across all positions. But his sample sizes were tiny at each position, appearing in the field in just 166 games and logging just 1054 defensive innings across three positions, which casts the precision of all these numbers into doubt. It's clear that he was a bad defender -- all the numbers agree, and clearly the Braves did too, or they wouldn't have been so loath to play him -- but I'm not certain his ineptitude was fatal.
I mainly disagree with Tom's choice because I think that the defensive data in favor of Lockhart are flawed. On paper, it looks like Lockhart truly had a bigger impact with the glove than Betemit did with the bat. But I doubt the accuracy of those stats. For example, according to Baseball Prospectus, he was 20 Runs Above Average at 2nd and 3rd from 2000-2002, including 11 RAR in 2002. Baseball-reference's Total Zone has him at 18.6 Runs Above Average from 2000-2002, including 14.9 in 2002. In other words, according to both of those systems, he was an above average defensive second baseman who apparently had a monster year as a backup second baseman at the age of 37. I find that hard to believe, and there are other indications that it may be a fluke of the data rather than a true reflection of his performance. First, his UZR in 2002 was only 2.0. Second, he never had a Total Zone above 8.2 runs in any other season of his career, and his career Total Zone Runs Above Average is only 28.6 -- meaning that fully half of his career total came in 2002, as a part-time player at the age of 37. I simply don't find that plausible. But I know exactly how bad Lockhart was with the bat. Though I admit that my argument rests on a conspicuous lack of data, I'd rather have had Wilson in the field any day.
IF/PH: Matt Franco (2002-03), .289/.358/.451 with 9 HR, 45 RBI and 1 SB in 193 games.
Franco owned a career .703 OPS when he left the Mets after five years to take a minor-league deal with the Braves prior to the 2003 season. Marcus Giles sprained an ankle in late May trying to avoid a tag, and Franco got the call from Richmond. He hit .317/.395/.517 in 233 PAs while splitting time at first base with Julio Franco, a jobshare that continued into 2003. Franco continued his good work in the first half (.795 OPS) but tanked in the second half (.135/.217/.212) to drag his season OPS down to .650. Rather than accept another non-guaranteed minor-league deal with Atlanta, he re-joined his old manager Bobby Valentine on the other side of the Pacific with a one-year, $750,000 deal with the Chiba Lotte Marines in Japan.
C: Paul Bako (2000-01), .205/.295/.349 with 4 HR, 21 RBI and 1 SB in 85 games.
Bako's bounced around the MLB for over a decade now, as a lifetime member of what Baseball Prospectus' Christina Kahrl calls the IBBC (International Brotherhood of Backup Catchers). He was claimed off waivers in July of 2000 from the Marlins to replace Fernando Lunar's .470 OPS on the Braves bench. Bako was nothing special at the plate (.616 OPS), but he was a solid catch-and-throw type as Greg Maddux's personal catcher. His showing earned him a minor-league deal for the 2001 season, and he played his way onto the roster in spring trainin. He did his Paul Bako thing once again, starting 45 games in relief of Javy Lopez and posting a non-embarrassing .655 OPS (again, remember we're talking backup catchers here). That solid '01 campaign got Bako a real major-league deal with the Braves for 2002, complete with a guaranteed $750,000 salary. He and Eddie Perez competed in spring training for the backup catching job, but just days before the season started, the Braves sent Bako and reliever Jose Cabrera to the Brewers for Henry Blanco, who replaced Bako as the second catcher. Blanco would spend two years as a reserve in Atlanta, but his .570 OPS in that time is some 70 points shy of Bako's .644. Lesson learned: they can't all be Eddie Perez.