Righthanded Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Outfielder/”Second Baseman”
Seasons With Braves: 1987-1993
Stats With Braves: .262/.326/.466, 147 HR, 480 RBI, 515 RS
Apparently, it’s bad left fielder day. Maybe I should link to Lonnie Smith here. Anyway, I originally had Ron much higher — twelfth, maybe. I decided that I couldn’t sustain that. His career with the Braves is relatively short, five full and two partial seasons. I always liked him more than David Justice, but I’ve come to the decision that Justice has to rank significantly higher. It’s not at all clear that Gant should rank ahead of Klesko.
It was a fascinating career all the same. Ron was drafted out of high school in 1983, in the fourth round. I believe he was exclusively a second baseman in the minors, but I don’t know that for certain. He was a slow bloomer and didn’t really hit much until Durham in 1986. He earned a brief callup in 1987, in which he didn’t do much. In April of 1988, he got what seemed like the permanent call, replacing the dessicated corpse of Damaso Garcia at second base.
He couldn’t really play second. A lot of baseball’s received wisdom about body types is probably hogwash, but I think there’s something to the idea of a second baseman as a little guy, and Ron was on the tall side for a 2B, even though he didn’t have the bodybuilder muscles as yet. His defensive statistics at second aren’t actually too bad, and his range factor is better than the league. However, that is probably the same context thing that made Hubbard’s stats there stand out — the Braves allowed a lot of guys to hit the ball.
Gant could hit the ball himself, including 19 homers, and finished fourth in the rookie of the year balloting. He’d played some third base in 1988 and the plan for 1989 was that he’d play there. It didn’t really work out. He made a bunch of errors, and generally played third base like he does color commentary, but the real problem was that he stopped hitting. On June 18, hitting .172/.233/.309, he was sent all the way down to Sumter and told to become an outfielder. He was called up in September and put in the outfield, though he didn’t hit a whole lot better.
Starting in 1990, Gant was in the lineup in center, and he responded with his best year as a Brave. The attention went mostly to his 30-30 season, but that’s not really a big deal, and his SB success rate in 1990 was only break-even. But he hit .303/.357/.539, which was a big deal, and he and Justice provided the franchise with much-needed hope.
His 1991 numbers aren’t as impressive, but that is largely a matter of batting average, .251/.338/.496, and of course the Braves went from worst to first. Gant started the year in center, but moved to left when Otis Nixon came back from suspension. That was a good thing, because he lacked the instincts for center. Bobby picked Ron for the All-Star team in 1992, but he slumped badly in the second half and much of the time had an OBP below .300, finishing at .259/.321/.415. He had a terrible time in the postseason and Bobby eventually replaced him with Deion Sanders, which is never a good thing.
But Gant rebounded in 1993 for one of his best seasons, hitting .274/.345/.510, with career highs in homers, runs, and RBI. He finished one point behind McGriff and seven behind Justice. The Braves during this season made a decision; able to afford only one of their corner outfielders for the long-term, they chose Justice, while offering Gant arbitration. I was not happy about this. However, Gant then made the Braves look like prophets by going out, falling off of a dirt bike, and breaking his leg.
The Braves released him to save a hit on the arbitration decision (which was at the time, I believe, a record arbitration salary) and he signed a deal with the Reds to rehab. Gant won the Comeback Player of the Year award in 1995 and was a productive player until he was 37.
One interesting thing about Gant is that he scored more runs than he drove in, which is odd because his OBP was usually around the league average. I can’t really explain that…