See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.
Switch Hitting, Righthanded Throwing Second Baseman
Seasons With Braves: 1988-1997
Stats With Braves: .248/.319/.327, 32 HR, 263 RBI, 339 RS
Let’s get this out of the way from the beginning: Mark Lemke could not hit. His best season he hit .294/.363/.363, which yields an OPS+ of 89. That year, his OBP was above the league, the only time that happened in his career. He wasn’t that bad at the on-base side in general, but his slugging percentages are anywhere from 70 to 120 points below the league.
In the minors, it looked like Lemmer would be a two-way player. Drafted out of a Utica, NY high school in the 27th round of the 1983 draft, he put up some pretty good numbers in the low minors. He wasn’t quite as good in Greenville and Richmond, but was good enough that there was no reason to think he couldn’t contribute on the major league level. He hit 63 career homers in the minor leagues, 20 at Durham in 1987. He just never hit at the major league level.
He got his first callup in 1988, and another brief callup in 1989. In 1990, he stuck, splitting time between second and third. By this point, it was pretty clear that if he wanted to have a career it would have to be at second and based on his glove.
His glove was special. It’s absurd that Lemke never won a gold glove; he was the best second baseman I’ve ever seen, which is why he’s on this list. He had terrific range, one of the best throwing arms at the position, turned the double play with the best of them, and almost never made an error. In Win Shares, Bill James gives A+ ratings to only five postwar second basemen. Lemke is in that group. He was like an order of magnitude better than the rest of the league, but they decided to give four gold gloves in a row to Craig Biggio instead. One year they gave it to Robby Thompson. If you can explain that as anything but winning it with your bat, be my guest.
Anyway, in 1991 Lemke was a key to the renaissance. He or Belliard was almost always on the field, and late with a lead usually both of them were. With Pendleton and Bream, the Braves had three or four top defensive players on the infield at all times, and the pitching staff, Glavine in particular, got a huge break on balls in play. With a lead late, you were in great shape; anything on the ground was probably an out. Basically, Bobby platooned at both infield positions, Lemmer with Jeff Treadway and Belliard with Jeff Blauser. Lemke was a better hitter righthanded, so it made a certain amount of sense that he’d be a righthanded platoon player; he maybe should have ditched the switch-hitting, or better yet never taken it up.
He usually got on the field sooner or later; he had just 269 AB in 1991 but played in 136 games, 110 at second base. He’s well known for his heroics in the 1991 World Series, where he probably would have been the MVP if the Braves had pulled it out. He played well in the 1992 and 1996 NLCS as well, but his overall postseason batting line isn’t much better than his regular season line.
In 1992, he was more or less the regular second baseman, Treadway relegated to spot duty and pinch-hitting. From 1993 to 1996 he was in the lineup every day when healthy and should have been winning the Gold Glove, but I’ve talked about that already. In 1997 he missed a lot of time with injuries and was eventually shut down; also his hitting had gotten even worse. Tony Graffanino took most of his playing time. Lemmer left the Braves as a free agent for a brief, depressing stint with the Red Sox. After 31 games he hung up his spikes: he was born to be a Brave.
any one think that Lemke could be a very good announcer?
“His glove was special. It’s absurd that Lemke never won a gold glove; he was the best second baseman I’ve ever seen, which is why he’s on this list. He had terrific range, one of the best throwing arms at the position, turned the double play with the best of them, and almost never made an error. ”
I agree 100%
Great write up! I remember Milan fondly, but I would have to agree that Lemke had much greater impact. I also think that he added alot to the clubhouse chemistry.
Pitching and defense, pitching and defense, pitching and defense. Lemke’s place in history reminds us you need good pitching and strong defense up the middle to go far. Get off the A-Rod fantasies and somehow figure out a way to find some young arms and defensive players who aren’t totally incompetent with the bat, all at bugdet prices. Signing aging millionaires won’t rebuild the Atlanta franchise.
#1, actually Lemke does the postgame show on Braves radio (or is it just for Atlanta’s 96 Rock?).
As far as last night, I think every team should have a Molina.
Lemke is one of my favorites. He managed to extract a decent career out of a limited skill set and I agree that he was a big part of the Braves ascendance. I sure liked him a lot better than Brett Boone or Quilvio Veras. To go on a tangent a bit, it sure is looking like we are going to part ways with Marcus Giles. Dang, I don’t get it. I look at last year as the outlier not the previous 3. You could make a case that he is the best ATLANTA Braves second baseman ever.
Lemmer is on Braves radio. I don’t find him particularly impressive, but he’s fine in the post-game show. He should get a shot at announcing for-real (he’s a million times easier to listen to than Chip Caray. Belh), but I’m not sure he’ll stick.
I heard we may send Giles to Cleveland
he was the best second baseman I’ve ever seen, which is why he’s on this list. He had terrific range, one of the best throwing arms at the position, turned the double play with the best of them, and almost never made an error.
Lemke was good, but I’ll take Glenn Hubbard in the field and never think twice. To me it’s not even that close.
Smitty, according to this there maybe 5 teams interested in Giles.
Indians, A’s, Giants, Red Sox, Angels
To go on a tangent a bit, it sure is looking like we are going to part ways with Marcus Giles. Dang, I don’t get it
It’s a tough call. Marcus had one great season (2003) and two good ones (04, 05). This last one of course wasn’t that great. So does he have Brent Gates disease or not? If your the Braves can you afford to invest $5+ million dollars to find out?
I would vote to sell him now before his value completely drops. With his thoughtless approach to the game any drop in his skill level could spell disaster.
I say get rid of him before he becomes a free agent and runs over to a west coast team. I like Giles and I think he’s one of the best 2B’s we’ve ever had. Then again, his power is almost completely gone and he still has some value. We have cheaper replacements that can do the job. I really think the Giles for Byrd and another can help next year…
we still have some prospects…..I think Salty might be traded this winter
Cant we find someone better on the Cleveland roster than Paul Byrd? Jeesh, why don’t we resign Albie Lopez while we are at it….maybe Russ Ortiz
well there is Lee, Sabathia, Westbrook, Hafner, and Sizemore but I really dont think we’ll get one of them. Maybe well get Marte back
He had great minor league numbers, I did think it was going to be him at 2B and Ed Whited at the hot corner for years and years. And of course Jimmy Kremers behined the dish.
Litle Lemke did a fine job, and he was key in the post season in 91-92. if I remember , he was playing in an indy ball league as a knuckball hurler a fe years back.
Anyway I buy into him on this list.
Good job Mac-o
Mark Lemke was one of favorite players. Him, Maddux, and McGriff
You left out one of his most amazing statistics. He was never hit by a pitch, and I believe he has the most at bats of a player never hit by a pitch.
I didn’t know about that. I guess there were two reasons. 1. He was a switch-hitter, meaning that balls pretty much always were breaking in to him instead of from behind him, and 2. He could drive a ball if you went inside on him but didn’t hit the ball well away.