The Top 10 Greatest Pitchers in Atlanta Braves History

One of the most storied winning franchises in MLB history, the Atlanta Braves' list of top pitchers ever includes four Hall of Famers.

ATLANTA, GA - OCTOBER 02: Former Atlanta Braves players Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Greg Maddux are introduced as members of the All Turner Field Team prior to the game at Turner Field on October 2, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

The Braves franchise began play in 1876 in Boston, going by the nickname “Reds” in their inaugural season. The team was simply referred to as “Boston” from 1877-1900, before being the “Boston Nationals” from 1901 to 1906 and the “Boston Doves” from 1907-1910.

After returning to simply being Boston for 1911, the Braves nickname was adopted in 1912 for the first time. However, even that nickname hasn’t been permanent since.

After going by the “Boston Braves” from 1912-1935, the franchise rebranded as the “Boston Bees” in 1936. That name stuck through the 1940 season, before they reverted to being called the Braves in 1941, which has been the team’s nickname since.

The Braves departed Boston in 1953, moving to Milwaukee, which they called home for 13 seasons. Finally in 1966, the franchise relocated to Atlanta. Since moving to Atlanta, the Braves have been one of baseball’s gold standard franchises, whether it was as “the team of the 90s” or the current group that has won six consecutive NL East titles.

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Because the Braves have had so much success in Atlanta, particularly in the pitching department, we decided to focus on those who have pitched for the team since the start of the 1966 season.

That did exclude Hall of Famers like Kid Nichols and Warren Spahn, but the Braves have had so many great pitchers that their list was hardly thin even if you exclude what they did for their first 90 seasons.

With all that acknowledged, here are the 10 greatest pitchers in Atlanta Braves history.

10. Ron Reed (1966-1975)

Best Season as a Brave: 1969 – 18-10 with a 3.47 ERA, 105 ERA+, 3.25 FIP, 1.173 WHIP, 160 strikeouts, seven complete games and a 3.9 fWAR

Career Stats as a Brave: 80-88 with a 3.74 ERA, 99 ERA+, 3.31 FIP, 1.252 WHIP, 778 strikeouts, 47 complete games and 22.2 fWAR

Reed may be a bit of a complier, but his all-time rankings among a few categories earned him the final spot on this list.

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The righty spent parts of 10 seasons with the Braves, and is among the top 10 in franchise history in innings pitched (1,419 2/3), complete games (47), strikeouts (778) and fWAR (22.2).

To claim the final spot on this list, Reed edged out the likes of Pat Jarvis, Charlie Morton, Rick Mahler, Julio Teheran and Carl Morton.

9. Kevin Millwood (1997-2002)

Best Season as a Brave: 1999 – 18-7 with a 2.68 ERA, 167 ERA+, 3.53 FIP, 0.996 WHIP, 205 strikeouts, two complete games and a 5.5 fWAR

Career Stats as a Brave: 75-46 with a 3.73 ERA, 117 ERA+, 3.74 FIP, 1.216 WHIP, 840 strikeouts, six complete games and 19.7 fWAR

An 11th-round pick by the Braves in the 1993 MLB Draft, Millwood spent the first six years of a 16-season career in Atlanta.

Millwood’s strongest season as a Brave came in 1999, when he led the National League in WHIP (0.996) and all of baseball in H/9 (6.6). Considering it came at the height of the Steroid Era, Millwood’s 1999 season — one of three in Atlanta where he logged over 210 innings — is that much more impressive.

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In a rotation that featured three future Hall of Famers, Millwood was the best starter for the Braves in 1999, ultimately finishing behind only Randy Johnson and Mike Hampton in NL Cy Young Award voting. It was part of a career that probably deserves more attention, but was overshadowed because he was part of such a great team.

8. Max Fried (2017-Present)

Best Season as a Brave: 2022 – 14-7 with a 2.48 ERA, 166 ERA+, 2.70 FIP, 1.014 WHIP, 170 strikeouts, zero complete games and 5.0 fWAR

Career Stats as a Brave: 65-27 with a 3.06 ERA, 142 ERA+, 3.32 FIP, 1.156 WHIP, 734 strikeouts, five complete games and 16.2 fWAR

At the time of publication, Fried is in a contract season. Obviously, whether he remains with the Braves beyond the 2024 season will determine whether he can climb up any higher on this list.

As is, though, Fried has quite a few accolades on his Braves resume. He won three-consecutive Gold Glove Awards from 2020-2022. He won what will likely be the final Silver Slugger ever awarded to a full-time pitcher in 2021. And Fried has twice finished in the top five in NL Cy Young Award voting, including in 2022, when he finished runner-up to Sandy Alcántara.

While Fried was a part of the Braves team that won the 2021 World Series, he’s largely struggled in his postseason career, with a 4.57 ERA in the playoffs. Pitching like an ace during a deep playoff run would go a long way in helping to enhance an already-strong legacy.

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7. Steve Avery (1990-1996)

Best Season as a Brave: 1993 – 18-6 with a 2.94 ERA, 136 ERA+, 3.26 FIP, 1.160 WHIP, 125 strikeouts, three complete games and a 5.1 fWAR

Career Stats as a Brave: 72-62 with a 3.83 ERA, 105 ERA+, 3.68 FIP, 1.269 WHIP, 815 strikeouts, 14 complete games and 20.1 fWAR

Like Millwood, Avery was often overshadowed by the all-time great arms that he shared a rotation with. Nonetheless, the No. 3 overall pick in the 1988 MLB Draft deserves to be mentioned among the better starters that Atlanta has ever had.

Avery threw at least 210 innings every season from 1991-1993. He finished sixth in NL Cy Young Award voting in 1991, and was one of five players who represented the Braves at the All-Star Game in 1993.

Additionally, Avery was one the better postseason pitchers of his era, posting a 2.90 ERA across 77 2/3 postseason innings with the Braves. He was the MVP of the 1993 NLCS — considered one of the best postseason series ever — as he went 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA over 16 1/3 innings against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

6. Tim Hudson (2005-2013)

Best Season as a Brave: 2007 – 16-10 with a 3.33 ERA, 131 ERA+, 3.46 FIP, 1.221 WHIP, 132 strikeouts, one complete game and a 4.9 fWAR

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Career Stats as a Brave: 113-72 with a 3.56 ERA, 115 ERA+, 3.88 FIP, 1.242 WHIP, 997 strikeouts, nine complete games and 19.6 fWAR

The absolute peak of Hudson may have come when he was sharing a rotation with Barry Zito and Mark Mulder as members of the Oakland Athletics, but he spent the largest chunk of his career with the Braves.

Initially signed to a four-year, $47 million free-agent deal with the Braves prior to the 2005 season, Hudson ultimately spent nine years with the Braves.

Over that period, he logged more than 210 innings on four occasions. In Braves history, Hudson is in the top 10 in terms of wins (113), strikeouts (997), innings pitched (1,573) and fWAR (19.6).

While some new-school stats suggest that 2007 was Hudson’s best season with the Braves, 2010 was his most decorated, as he went 17-9 with a 2.83 ERA over 228 2/3 innings pitched, making an All-Star Game appearance and finishing fourth in NL Cy Young Award voting.

5. Craig Kimbrel (2010-2014)

Best Season as a Brave: 2012 – 3-1 with a 1.01 ERA, 399 ERA+, 0.78 FIP, 0.654 WHIP, 116 strikeouts, 42/45 saves and a 3.1 fWAR

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Career Stats as a Brave: 15-10 with a 1.43 ERA, 266 ERA+, 1.52 FIP, 0.903 WHIP, 476 strikeouts, 186/205 (91%) on save attempts and 10.9 fWAR

It’s hard to be a reliever and earn your way onto a list like this, but Kimbrel was so dominant during his five seasons with the Braves that he was a sure thing to crack these rankings.

In each of Kimbrel’s four full seasons with the Braves (2011-2014), he led the National League in saves, including in 2013 when he was the MLB leader with 50 saves.

Kimbrel won the NL Rookie of the Year in 2011, and was an All-Star in each of the four years mentioned. Perhaps his most impressive accomplishment is that he finished in the top nine in NL Cy Young Award voting on four occasions (2011-2014) as a Brave, including top-five finishes in 2012 and 2013. That’s almost unheard of for a reliever.

Kimbrel is currently sixth in MLB history in saves, which will give him a real chance to be a Hall of Famer. Given that he also made All-Star Game appearances with the Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies, there’s a distinct possibility his Cooperstown plaque would feature a blank cap. But if Kimbrel were to go into the Hall of Fame as a member of any team, it would definitely be the Braves.

4. Tom Glavine (1987-2002; 2008)

Best Season as a Brave: 1991 – 20-11 with a 2.55 ERA, 153 ERA+, 3.06 FIP, 1.095 WHIP, 192 strikeouts, nine complete games and a 5.4 fWAR

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Career Stats as a Brave: 244-147 with a 3.41 ERA, 121 ERA+, 3.84 FIP, 1.296 WHIP, 2,091 strikeouts, 52 complete games and 54.7 fWAR

A second-round pick by the Braves in the 1984 MLB Draft, Glavine combined peak dominance with tremendous longevity over 17 seasons with the Braves, which he ultimately rode to a spot in Cooperstown.

As a Brave, Glavine won the NL Cy Young Award twice (1991 and 1998), while finishing in the top four in voting for the honor on four other occasions. Eight of Glavine’s 10 career All-Star Game appearances came with the Braves, and he even won four Silver Slugger Awards as the best hitting pitcher in the senior circuit.

Since the Braves moved to Atlanta, Glavine is second among pitchers in wins (244), innings pitched (3,408) and complete-game shutouts (22), while being in the top five in terms of complete games (52), strikeouts (2,091) and fWAR (54.7).

Glavine was a first-ballot Hall of Fame inductee in 2014, with a Braves cap featured on his plaque. During the 2010 season, the Braves retired Glavine’s No. 47.

3. Phil Niekro (1966-1983; 1987)

Best Season as a Brave: 1978 – 19-18 with a 2.88 ERA, 142 ERA+, 2.76 FIP, 1.187 WHIP, 248 strikeouts, 22 complete games and an 8.6 fWAR

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Career Stats as a Brave: 268-230 with a 3.20 ERA, 119 ERA+, 3.46 FIP, 1.229 WHIP, 2,912 strikeouts, 226 complete games and 72.3 fWAR

Niekro never won the NL Cy Young Award, but he finished sixth or better five times and did just about everything else during a staggering 21 seasons with the Braves. (Niekro’s first two seasons came with the Milwaukee Braves, but because the overwhelming majority of his career was spent in Atlanta, he was grandfathered in.)

Niekro led MLB in innings pitched every year from 1977-79, accumulating a staggering 1,006 2/3 innings pitched during his age-37 to 39 seasons.

It should come as no surprise then that Niekro’s 4,533 innings pitched are by far the most of anyone since the Braves moved to Atlanta, with no one else even above 3,500. Among Atlanta pitchers, Niekro also ranks first in complete games (226) and complete-game shutouts (43).

Additionally, Niekro was one of the better defensive pitchers ever. Niekro won five Gold Glove Awards during his time with the Braves, a total that only seven pitchers in MLB history have ever topped.

Niekro was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1997. His No. 35 was retired by the Braves before his playing career even concluded.

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2. John Smoltz (1988-2008)

Best Season as a Brave: 1996 – 24-8 with a 2.94 ERA, 149 ERA+, 2.64 FIP, 1.001 WHIP, 276 strikeouts, seven complete games and an 8.4 fWAR

Career Stats as a Brave: 210-147, 3.26 ERA, 127 ERA+, 3.23 FIP, 1.170 WHIP, 3,011 strikeouts, 53 complete games, 154/168 (92%) on save attempts and 78.2 fWAR

Smoltz spent 20 of 21 years as a big leaguer with the Braves, and was a power pitcher who thrived both as a workhorse starter and dominant closer at various points in his career.

As a starter, Smoltz won the 1996 NL Cy Young Award, one of the 10 seasons in his career he pitched more than 200 innings. Between 1989 and 1998 — his first run as a starter — Smoltz finished in the top five among all starting pitchers in innings pitched (2,164), strikeouts (1,905) and fWAR (47.3).

After missing the entire 2000 season recovering from Tommy John surgery, Smoltz served as the closer for Bobby Cox beginning in 2001, and really on a full-time basis from 2002-2004. Not surprisingly, Smoltz thrived late in games, recording 144 saves over that three-year stretch, which was second only to Eric Gagne.

Smoltz returned to starting in 2005, his age-38 season. Over the next three seasons, Smoltz was fifth in both innings pitched (667 1/3) and fWAR (16.7) among starting pitchers. Being able to log three more 200+ inning seasons that late in his career was truly a remarkable accomplishment.

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Even if you count their time in Boston and Milwaukee, Smoltz is the all-time leader for the franchise with 3,011 strikeouts. He was a first-ballot Hall of Fame selection in 2015, three years after the Braves retired his No. 29.

1. Greg Maddux (1993-2003)

Best season as a Brave: 1995 – 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA, 260 ERA+, 2.26 FIP, 0.811 WHIP, 181 strikeouts, 10 complete games and a 7.9 fWAR

Career Stats as a Brave: 194-88 with a 2.63 ERA, 163 ERA+, 2.95 FIP, 1.051 WHIP, 1,828 strikeouts, 61 complete games and 72.7 fWAR

In the same offseason that the San Francisco Giants signed Barry Bonds, the Braves were able to lure Maddux away from the Chicago Cubs with a five-year, $28 million contract. Those two contracts might be the best in baseball history, because both players ended up being inner-circle members of their second employers.

Utilizing the greatest control of any pitcher the sport has ever seen, Maddux became the greatest pitcher to ever wear an Atlanta uniform. Maddux would win three consecutive NL Cy Young Awards to start his Braves career, giving him four in a row when you add in that he also won the honor during his final season in Chicago.

Over his 11 seasons with the Braves, Maddux won four ERA titles (1993-1995; 1998), led baseball in innings pitched (2,526 2/3) and made six All-Star Game appearances.

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By the time he joined the Braves, Maddux had already won three Gold Glove Awards. But it was in Atlanta that he cemented his place as the greatest fielder in the history of his position, winning a Gold Glove in each of his first 10 seasons with the team.

Because Maddux spent a decade with the Cubs over two separate stints in Chicago, he went into the Hall of Fame with a blank cap on his plaque in 2014.

However, it was in Atlanta that the overwhelming majority of his peak came, which is why the Braves retired his No. 31 in 2009. It’s also why he checks in at the top spot on a countdown that features four players with plaques in Cooperstown.