#11: David Justice

See the 44 Greatest Atlanta Braves here.

Lefthanded Hitting, Lefthanded Throwing Right Fielder
Seasons With Braves: 1989-1996
Stats With Braves: .275/.374/.499, 160 HR, 522 RBI, 475 RS

Halle Berry.jpgI never really liked David Justice — I was a Gant man. I didn’t like that he got hurt a lot, or the wild variations in his batting average and the shape of his contributions, or his smugness (people say Chipper and Andruw are smug, there is no comparison), or that he married Halle Berry even though she is mine. Anyway, he was a really good player (when he was in the lineup) and though his career is on the short side compared to the players who rank ahead of him, it is very high impact. Justice was the only player who was a top offensive contributor for the Braves in every year from 1991-95. The man could hit.

Halle Berry2.jpgJustice was drafted out of a small college in Ohio in the fourth round in 1985 and took his sweet time making it to the Show, not debuting until 1989. Basically, he got off to a promising start but hit a roadblock in Greenville in 1987 and had to repeat the level, then had trouble on his first exposure to Richmond as well. He had a cup of coffee in 1989 and then spent most of 1990 in the majors.

At first, he mostly played first base. After the horrible, horrible Murphy trade in August, Justice took his spot in right field. He had been struggling (.235/.322/.389 as a first baseman, according to Retrosheet) but now suddenly blossomed (.332/.424/.683 as a right fielder) and my recollection is that this was credited on him playing his natural position. More likely, it was just the level adjustment he’d had to make in AA and AAA. Justice won the Rookie of the Year award and joined Gant as the team’s building blocks.

Halle Berry3.jpgThe typical David Justice year is hard to see statistically, because he did change from year to year, but typically he would hit really well when fully healthy, then go into a slump that would eventually lead the team to realize he was hurt and needed to go on the DL. He played 109 games in 1991, Otis Nixon mostly filling in when he was out. Justice hit .275/.377/.503 and finished 12th in the MVP voting.

In 1992, he played 144 games but really wasn’t any healthier; he just tried to stay in the lineup more when banged up, and his numbers suffered: .256/.359/.446. He got off to an awful start, was hurt, and came back not fully healthy. In 1993, he managed a career high 157 games and hit 40 homers, making the All-Star team for the first time. His line was .270/.357/.515. Then the next year it was .312/.427/.531, with 19 homers in 104 games (of 114); still really productive, but in a very different way. I never got him. He and McGriff carried the offense while most of the team was trying to find itself. I am not a believer in “protection” except in certain extreme circumstances, but I do believe that Justice was better when he had McGriff around, because when McGriff was on the team Justice could slide into a supporting role instead of being the team’s big bopper.

Halle Berry4.jpgJustice played 120 of 144 games in the World Championship season, hitting .253/.365/.479. He really didn’t do much in the postseason that year — until the homer for the only run of Game Six of the World Series. In 1996, he played only 40 games, though he was lights-out when he did play (.321/.409/.514). Justice dislocated his shoulder on a swing and needed surgery.

Schuerholz traded him and Marquis Grissom for Kenny Lofton and Alan Embree in spring of 1997. The deal was basically to save money which the team could use on the pitching staff and the younger players (Chipper, Javy, Klesko) who were approaching arbitration. At the same time, it more or less marks the end of the dominant Braves and the beginning of the very good Braves. From 1991-1996 they won four pennants in five postseasons, and whatever happened in the World Series the Braves were the dominant team in baseball. From 1997 on, it would be the Yankees.

Justice spent the second half of his career in the AL, periodically DHing to rest his shoulder and legs. He was Comeback Player of the Year with the Indians in 1997 and had a huge year in 2000 with the Indians and Yankees. He retired after the 2002 season even though he could still play.

I was surprised Justice ranked this high, but his career statistics are very good and very high-impact, and I didn’t really discount for the time he missed with injuries. His OPS+ with the Braves was 132, and he played on five division champions and four NL champs. Defensively, he was a pretty good right fielder who had a strong arm early in his career, though to be honest it wasn’t that much of a factor.

David Justice Statistics – Baseball-Reference.com

31 thoughts on “#11: David Justice”

  1. Amazingly, 6.6% of David Justice’s total Major League at bats came in the postseason. I wonder who has a higher % than that. His career postseason stats were surprisingly below average though.

    I always thought Justice was a special player, I remember seeing him in a spring training game back in the late 80’s or 90, sometime before he had secured himself a definite spot in the lineup. In the first game I saw him he drilled a double and homer, and threw out a runner at third with a laser throw from right field. And he had a sweet looking swing. So he immediately became a favorite.

    I had forgotten about how frustrating he could be later with his injuries. I wish he had been able to play a longer time at his potential, and with the Braves.

  2. Are you sure he dislocated his shoulder in 1996 on a swing? I’m almost positive it was on a diving attempt in right field. Maybe he had an awkward swing before that, screwing his shoulder up a bit…

  3. I don’t remember the cause of the injury, but it could never be said that Justice had an awkward swing. As Skip said early in Justice’s rookie year, “If you’re (whoever the Braves hitting coach was), you know what you do with that swing? Nuthin.”

  4. Back to Laroche, if he continues his improvement and new found focus, he will be a player who has truly EARNED my respect and a place as a top player. I emphasize earn as opposed to players whose hype is bigger then their play on the field.

  5. I would suppose that the Chipper has a higher percentage of post season Plate Appearances. It would take an average of 11 postseason games or so to every relatively full season played.

  6. I imagine there are scores of American League pitchers who have 100% of their at-bats in the postseason, who played after the DH rule and before interleague play.

  7. I was at Game 6 in 1995 with my father and still remember that home run vividly. What a moment. As I recall, he had been heavily criticized by the media going into the game for his performance, and replied that he thrived on pressure and was going to show everyone. That he did.

  8. Hats off to Smitty for remembering the last week HR against Cincy, this was the blow that put the Braves over the top, great memory! I always thought Justice was a great player, I guess I kind of forgot the injury problems though.

  9. Mac,

    I think there is a fallacy in connecting the Braves so-called loss of dominance to the Justice trade. The three years after the trade, they won 101, 106, and 103 games and went to one World Series. As a matter of fact, I was looking at the 97-98 seasons in Total Baseball and the Braves were REALLY a dominant team, outscoring their opponents by more than 200 runs in both years. The problem wasn’t that the Braves were less dominant, it was that they ran into hot pitchers (and wide strike zones) in teh playoffs. I don’t think the fall off really began until 2000 or 2001. years. nless you think that Justice would have changed the losses to the Marlins and Padres. I can’t see much connection between the trade and the loss of dominance which, to me, didn’t really occur until 2001 anyway.

    Justice was a good player (and I always thought a much better outfielder than he was given credit for), but hardly a dominant player. He is like a lot of the Braves position players over the years who looked like they would be great players but sort of plateaued out (although with Justice a lot of it was injuries).

  10. The thing I will always remember about Justice was his complete inability to check his swing. The contortions he would go through to try to prove he didn’t break the zone were funny. Dropping his bat, etc.

  11. Mac and Marc are both wrong. The end of dominace came the moment Belliard botched the DP ahead of the Leyritz home run. The Curse of Rafael Belliard has haunted the postseason Braves ever since!

    As for the regular season, they did go on dominating the nL for another few years. However, from 1996 on the starting pitching was maybe not quite so completely dominant, and perhaps that led to the postseason dropoffs.

  12. The starting pitching not so dominant? Bill James dubs the Braves 1997 rotation as the best in Major League history.

  13. Happy birthday, clarke! Mine’s on the 7th… which means it’s going to be slightly overshadowed by Election Day, but that’s alright. They’re both good excuses to go out and drink a lot of beer.

  14. AAR, that reminds me of a conversation I had recently. Didn’t it used to be against the law in these here parts to sell alcohol on election day? I swear I remember something like that….

  15. I always thought Justice was the epitome of pampered, arrogant, young athlete. As such, I never liked Justice either, but I was always impressed by his hitting. And boy, could he hit lefties. (Jim Poole?) The Dibble HR was a real moment—a milestone that told us that the Braves could win it that year. Despite my feelings, Justice did earn my respect.

    One time in August 1992, I went to the stadium for a Braves-Cards game with a pal & we bought tickets off a guy who turned out to be Justice’s high school coach. (The game was sold-out—amazing.) We sat next to him (behind home plate), bought him beers & talked about Justice. Without dogging him at all, he said, “David may still have some growing up to do.” It was a fine evening, but I’ll always remember that conversation.

    BTW, I think alcohol sales used to be prohibited until the polls closed. Of course, I have a feeling I may have a cold one next Tuesday night. ;)

  16. Chipper Jones: 6385 regular season AB, 333 postseason AB
    David Justice: 5625 regular season AB, 398 postseason AB

  17. Flournoy – interesting. I was thinking primarily in terms of the top 3 starts for postseason purposes, but top-to-bottm 1997 is very good. Shows what happens when I just go from memory.

  18. ran him out of town, I m okay with that, Played the “card” in 95 and p’off fans and team mates as well. The begnining of the end in my books.

  19. I just can’t ever like or respect him for that grievous error he made–letting Halle get away!

  20. @1
    Top 10 post season plate appearance % through 2005 (minimum 2,000 regular season PA):

    Player RS PA PS PA PS PA %
    Jorge Posada 4,545 350 7.15%
    Derek Jeter 6,996 528 7.02%
    Hideki Matsui 2,078 151 6.77%
    David Justice 6,601 471 6.66%
    Mark Lemke 3,664 257 6.55%
    Bernie Williams 8,591 541 5.92%
    Chipper Jones 7,066 412 5.51%
    Tino Martinez 8,044 405 4.79%
    Manny Ramirez 7,225 360 4.75%
    Scott Brosius 4,356 217 4.75%

  21. @7:
    Through 2005, there had been 10 players who accumulated all of their plate appearances in the post season. None of them had any hits, but John Rocker did manage a 1.000 OBP by drawing 2 walks:

    Player RS PA PS PA PS PA %
    Scott McGregor 0 11 100%
    Ron Guidry 0 9 100%
    Mike Flanagan 0 7 100%
    Mike Boddicker 0 4 100%
    Mariano Rivera 0 3 100%
    Sammy Stewart 0 3 100%
    John Rocker 0 2 100%
    Les Straker 0 2 100%
    Steve Crawford 0 1 100%
    Bob Stanley 0 1 100%

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *