Righthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Outfielder
Seasons With Braves: 1968-1975
Stats With Braves: .278/.351/.440, 77 HR, 324 RBI, 311 RS
Dusty was drafted in the 26th round in 1967 out of a California high school. By September of 1968 he was briefly in the majors, but it took until 1972 for him to stick for good. I’m not sure why the Braves preferred to play Mike Lum and Sonny Jackson to the kid who was hitting .300 in the minors, but whatever. In 1972 he was the regular centerfielder and hit .321/.383/.504, making him the second-best hitter on the team.
It might have been better if he hadn’t played so well right off the bat, because he wasn’t really a .320 hitter (at least not yet) and when he started hitting a more typical .260-.280 the team identified him as a disappointment. Maybe he was, but we’re talking a good outfielder (in center most of the time, until he moved to right his last year in Atlanta) with 20 homers a year. He wasn’t a league leader in anything, but he was a little above-average in a whole lot of things, and that adds up.
Anyway, after the 1975 season he was traded to the Dodgers in a package for Jimmy Wynn, Tom Paciorek, Lee Lacy, and Jerry Royster. It was a terrible deal, and not only because of Paciorek’s broadcasting career or Royster’s incredible number of outs. Baker got off to a slow start in LA but eventually became an MVP candidate.
Baker’s career is sort of like that of some guys who are rated below him — Lonnie Smith, Gary Matthews (actually Baker’s most similar player by Similarity Scores), and Jeff Burroughs. He had one big year which he wasn’t able to match in a career of four full seasons. He just rates a little bit better — his career, because of the three part-seasons, was a bit longer, he was a better defensive player. So he rates here. Maybe it’s a little high.