In what I can only hope becomes a semi-regular piece, I look back on memorable Braves from years past. Unlike luminaries such as Chipper, ‘Druw, Maddux, Glavine, and Smoltz, these guys were memorable for all the wrong reasons. They sucked. They were abysmal. 5 to 16 year-old me would sit in bed, crying at the prospect of watching these guys make their way to the plate again when the day started anew. It was like Tom Cruise dying time and time again in Edge of Tomorrow, except I was dying on the inside, emotionally, mentally, hoping the bane of my existence would be DFA’d, only to be disappointed daily as they graced the diamond once more. The obvious first choice for induction is Jeff Francoeur, but his case is far too easy to make, far too long a post, and I don’t think I’m mature enough to handle such a cathartic release. Therefore, your inaugural member of the Barves Hall of Shame is Reginald Laverne (LAVERNE!!!) Sanders.
Before the 2000 season Sanders was traded by the Padres to the Braves in a six-player trade. The Padres received Bret Boone, Ryan Klesko, and Jason Shiell and Atlanta acquired Quilvio Veras, Wally Joyner, and Reggie. The bar for Sanders was set relatively low, as he was set to replace the perpetually mediocre Gerald Williams. Through 8 seasons, Sanders had proven to be a decent 2-3 WAR player, though he also had years of 3.3, 6.6, and 4.1 WAR to his credit–that 4.1 WAR year coming in 1999. In his lone year in San Diego, Reggie clubbed 26 homers, stole 36 bags, posted a double digit walk rate, and a 134 wRC+. If the Braves had even a typical Sanders year–say 15 homers, 20-ish steals, the typical walk rate, a normal BABiP–he’d have been a fine contributor with his usual 110 wRC+ and 2.5 WAR. What the Braves got was an abomination.
In 2000, Sanders managed to “hit” .232/.302/.403–good for a 76 wRC+. He hit 15 fewer homers and stole 15 fewer bags. After having a double digit walk rate in 5 of his 8 Major League seasons, Sanders BB% fell over 3% from 1999, and he would never again manage a walk rate over 10%. Some of Sanders issues can be attributed to batted ball luck. His 2000 BABiP of .271, though not horrible, pales in comparison to his career mark of .312. Most troubling, however, was his sudden loss of power and ability to drive the ball.
In ’99 with San Diego, Sanders had an ISO of .243 and hit 26 homers. In 2001, in the hitter’s haven of Arizona, his ISO was .286(!), and he launched 33 dingers. Sandwiched in between was his time with the Braves, where his power disappeared to the tune of 11 homers and a .171 ISO. In 2000, Sanders took a year long hiatus from hitting for power, he ceased getting on base as efficiently, and when you’re not on base, you sure as hell can’t steal (something, something, BJ Upton).
Reggie Sanders was so abysmal, that when you Google image search “reggie sanders braves,” you get his baseball cards and, no lie, only FOUR actual game images of him in a Braves uni. Two are from spring training. One is of Reggie misplaying a ball in the outfield. Reggie was so bad that only one person on the World Wide Web photographed him playing the game of baseball between Spring Training and his misplaying a ball in the NLDS (one of two very costly misplays in that Cardinals series). So in lieu of an action shot, here’s Reggie looking sad and pensive about his time in Atlanta, forever enshrined on the back of his 2000 Fleer card.
Not only was Sanders a flop, but his place in the Hall of Shame is cemented by the guys the Braves gave up for him. Four of Klesko’s next five years ended with a wRC+ of at least 130, and his one off year he came in a mere 10% above league average. He did this while splitting time between first base and left field–the position Reggie was meant to solidify in 2000. Hindsight is great and all, but to be fair Klesko had had a successful 1999 in which he hit 21 homers and had a 124 wRC+. What we didn’t see coming was Bret Boone bleach frosting his hair, totally not taking any kind of performance enhancing drugs, and going on to have two top-ten MVP finishes in Seattle.
Reggie Sanders was a good Major League player. He ended his career with 39+ WAR, a 115 wRC+, and was a member of the not-super-exclusive 300/300 club. He was a wonderful mark of consistency. Besides his final full year, in his age 38 season, Sanders only posted one negative offensive season. That season was with Atlanta. There are other guys who were here longer. There are other guys who were worse. There is Jeff Francoeur. But Reggie was the one who taught me what it meant to loathe a player. With -10 batting runs, 0.2 WAR, a bevy of All-Star calibre seasons given up for him, and a pair of costly defensive gaffes in the playoffs, Reggie Sanders will forever be number one in my list of most catastrophic Barves of all time. I am sadder for having written this, and I wish to never travel down Reggie Laverne Sanders memory lane ever again. Thank you and good day.