In Bill James’ underappreciated book The Bill James Guide to Managers, James lists “All-Star Teams” for several of the great managers, choosing the best single-season performances the manager got at each position. This approach led to surprises, a subjective approach notwithstanding. Did Casey Stengel never have a better first baseman than Sam Leslie in 1934? Was Bobby Tolan really a better center fielder for Sparky Anderson than Chet Lemon? Al Bumbry ’80 for Earl Weaver’s center field instead of Paul Blair ’69?
It is premature to compile Bobby Cox’s all-time all-star team given that his players have through the end of the season to jump onto the list before the 69-year-old is expected to wrap up his Hall of Famer career. Despite this, I was inspired by the trade of Yunel Escobar to try to compile a list covering the manager’s 30-year career. The question I wanted to answer: did the Braves just trade the best single-season shortstop of Cox’s career? Escobar’s .299/.377/.436 and 14 home runs of last season would seem to be a strong year by a shortstop for a man who never managed any of the era’s Hall of Fame shortstops.
Here is the Cox list as I see it, covering his first Atlanta sojourn (1978-1981), Toronto (1982-1985), and Atlanta II (1990-2009). As you will see, Escobar didn’t make the cut:
You want notes? I got notes:
- I didn’t mess too much with defense here. The hitters are ranked purely by offensive performance, though in many cases the leaders were so far ahead of the second choice that defense wouldn’t have mattered. It did matter to the shortstops, but not enough to change the outcome. Here are how the Bobby Cox shortstops rank by VORP up to Escobar. No legacies endangered here; Escobar didn't surpass Blauser, no great glove, even if you consider WARP, which includes defense. Blauser wins 7.2 to 7.0. Furcal's 2005 (8.2) would boost him past both:
- Jeff Blauser, 1997 (62.8)
- Jeff Blauser, 1993 (58.6)
- Rafael Furcal, 2003 (49.9)
- Edgar Renteria, 2007 (48.3)
- Rafael Furcal, 2005 (43.1)
- Yunel Escobar, 2009 (39.0)
- I wasn’t sure which of many fine Andruw Jones seasons to go with, 2000, 2002, 2005, and 2006 seeming roughly equal to me. WARP likes '02 fractionally better than '00. I also looked closely at Lloyd Moseby’s 1983 or 1984. Dale Murphy’s 1980 was also very good.
- Chipper Jones was not only Cox’s best third baseman, but also his best left fielder in 2002. I opted to give another player a chance. Both Jones ’02 and Burroughs ’78 had True Averages of .328. It was also difficult to choose among Jones' various third base seasons. His .364/.470/.574 of 2008 was his best hitting season, but I opted for 1999 because he spent the full season on the field.
- Greg Maddux could have been the entire starting rotation.
- Phil Niekro’s 1978 surprised me by not making the cut. He had a 7.0 SNLVAR, not good enough in this crowd. Dave Stieb came close to placing a second season in the top five.
- If you want to avoid listing Smoltz twice, Mark Wohlers ’96 would be the first non-Smoltz option. Given that he was not nearly as good as Smoltz ’02 (as measured by WXRL) and also choked up the World Series that year, I didn’t have a problem ignoring him.
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