In all the ways that May was a pleasant, exciting surprise for Braves fans, June was an exercise in a sometimes-agonizing trip back to baseline expectations. The Braves did something between treading water and digging a hole for much of the month, and if not for an excellent series where they swept the Mets, June would have looked even uglier. As it is, they finish the third month of the season with an aggregate 36-41 record despite finishing May with a 25-25 mark. Overall, the squad posted an 11-16 mark in June, which is the franchise's worst monthly mark aside from the dreadful Septembers of 2014 and 2011 in quite a while. The last time the Braves had a month this poor aside from a September collapse was April 2010, when they went 9-14.
June was book-ended by two unfortunate narratives-cum-facts. The beginning of the month was rife with bullpen implosions: over the first two weeks, the team lost six games as a result of bullpen meltdowns (5-8 overall), and this doesn't include all the games where the team suffered a meltdown but still managed to win in one way or another. However, the team was actually hitting very well in that stretch, which made the bullpen issues sting a bit more. Since that period, however, the bullpen's been a bit better, only blowing two games over the past two weeks (6-8 overall), but the offense has hung the pitching out to dry. Specifically, Braves' non-pitchers have a wRC+ of 78 over the last 14 calendar days, which I believe is worse than
B.J. Melvin Upton Jr.'s batting line for the entirety of 2014. Part of the reason for this offensive slide is that Freddie Freeman's been out for nearly that entire period, but other players, such as Joey Terdoslavich, Kelly Johnson, Jonny Gomes, Chris Johnson, AJ Pierzynski, Eury Perez, and Cameron Maybin have all been terrible as well (wRC+s for these guys are -9, 11, 23, 40, 75, 77, and 77, respectively, over the last two weeks). Juan Uribe, Jace Peterson, and part-timers Pedro Ciriaco and Ryan Lavarnway have been the only average-or-better offensive players for the Braves in this dismal stretch.
June 2015, by the numbers
- 11-16 record (36-41 overall)
- Currently projected for 74 wins (right in the wheelhouse of the preseason projections); currently on pace for 76 wins. Their Pythagorean Expectation is one game worse than the current record (35-42), but something else interesting is that by SRS (which is Pythagorean Expectation adjusting for schedule played so far, i.e., the runs scored and given up by opposition), the Braves are a bottom 5 team in baseball. (For example, the Marlins have a worse run differential but have played teams with better run differential more often than the Braves, hence you'd expect their performance to be worse by default.) SRS isn't really more predictive than Pythagorean Expectation just because teams change their performance level rapidly from short series to short series, but it's a piece to the "why do the 2015 Braves feel so dismal?" puzzle.
- Offense: 102 wRC+ for the month (yay), good for 14th in MLB and 6th in the NL. However, as noted, this is the result of great offensive play the first two weeks, as the Braves are 27th in MLB (13th in NL) over the last two weeks in offensive output.
- Defense: 18th in MLB, 10th in NL (by UZR, adjusted for position). Andrelton Simmons and Jace Peterson had solid-to-great defensive months, as usual, while Jonny Gomes, Cameron Maybin, and Eury Perez (in a tiny sample) were excoriated by the metrics for their performance defensively.
- Total position player value: 16th in MLB, 8th in NL. Amusingly, this is better than their mark for May, but the record's a lot worse. And that's because...
- Rotation: ERA - 15th MLB, 7th NL; FIP - 15th MLB, 9th NL; xFIP - 21st MLB, 10th NL
- Relievers (don't avert thine eyes): 17th MLB, 10th NL; FIP - 11th MLB, 7th NL; xFIP - 22nd MLB, 12th NL
- Overall pitcher value: 17th MLB, 9th NL (by FIP, including weights for leverage mostly for relievers).
Put together an average-to-pretty good offense, a mediocre aggregate rotation performance, and an average-to-kinda bad bullpen for the month, and you more or less get what the Braves did: a poor month further marred by bad macro and micro sequencing. Welp. Welp welp welp.
Big Damn Hero of June 2015 - Position Players: Freddie Freeman
Despite missing half of June, Freddie Freeman was bombtastic (in the good way) for the two weeks he did play. He led the squad in wRC+ (176!!), home runs (5), runs (14), RBI (15), had as many steals as Jace Peterson (2, tied for second on the team in June), and was an all-around badass. Oh, and did I mention he only played half the month? Even taking into account that WAR is a counting stat, and that he plays first base (and not necessarily super-well, either), he still managed to put up the same WAR figure for the month as Jace Peterson, who plays good defense at a more skill-intensive position and got way more playing time in the month. Who's awesome? Freddie Freeman, you're awesome.
A special mention of big damn hero-ness also goes to Freeman for a bonkers three-game stretch (June 11-13) where he basically slaughtered the opposing team (or would have if everyone else complied). On June 11, he went 3-5 with a homer and an RBI double against the Padres: the double tied the game and the homer gave the team a lead that would be erased with a super happy funtime (not really) bullpen implosion. On June 12, he drew tough walks in a couple of key rallies in a game where the Braves perpetually trailed the Mets: had Nick Markakis not had a bad game of epic proportions behind him, the Braves likely would have tied and won that game. To cap this, on June 13, he started the game by taking Jacob deGrom out of the park, and then later delivering a game-tying single in the 9th with two outs.
It kind of goes without saying that the Braves offense since his shelving is a testament to how much of a badass Freddie Freeman is, but I'm going to say it anyway. Get better soon, Freddie, things are dire without you.
Big Damn Hero of June 2015 - Starting Pitchers: Williams Perez
Let's be frank here: I'm not even sure Williams Perez was that good in June. Sure, his ERA's kinda nice and sparkly at 3.14 for the month, but Alex Wood's was better. His FIP is ugly at 5.00, and that's to be expected from a guy who junkballs up and down the street. A .247 BABIP against and an 82% strand rate will make anyone's runs allowed numbers look pretty good (well... almost anyone's. I feel really bad for Sean O'Sullivan, and I don't think those peripherals are even that good for him...). But watching Williams Perez dance in and out of trouble (and boy, did he succeed at dancing out of it) was kind of a joy in and of itself. So while I don't expect it to continue, he's been pretty heroic just for being a fun, exhilarating light in what was a pretty trying month. The fact that his body language just oozes badassery and defiance of... everything only adds to the awesome.
Oh, and as a side note: despite his unorthodox (read: how is he doing this?!) pitching outcomes, he actually left the Braves in a good position to win every single game he started in June. He shut down the opposing team three times (by runs allowed, not so much by baserunners allowed), garnered a save out of the bullpen in extra innings, and two starts against the Pirates bookended the month in which he didn't necessarily pitch great, but still gave the Braves a fighting chance (both of those games were lost late by the bullpen).
Big Damn Hero of June 2015 - Relievers: Jason Grilli, I guess? I don't know, whatever.
My Favorite Moments of June 2015
Oh boy, this was a tough one. June 2015 wasn't all that great, and I can't just list the entirety of that Matt Wisler debut game, even though I want to. So here are some other great things (including that one) from the month, with an infusion of existential rumination somewhere in the middle.
Jace Peterson Kills a Pitch
I kind of love Jace Peterson. Scratch the kind of, I love Jace Peterson. He plays good defense, he gets on base at a decent clip (and with more success than many thought he would), and occasionally he does stuff like this.
This was a pretty huge three-run blast that unfortunately was not enough for either Mike Foltynewicz or the Braves. Luis Avilan and Brandon Cunniff would hyper-Barve the game late, but Jace destroyed that Dillon Gee pitch to put the Braves ahead by three runs early.
Joey Terdoslavich Hits a Game-Winning Shot (and then is sent to Gwinnett)
Thanks for making sure that the bullpen didn't go to its weaker members and have an even bigger chance of blowing this game, Joey T.
This ball was also crushed. Then Joey T. got sent down to Gwinnett. Then he got called back up and hasn't driven in a run since. Joey T's hitting .190/.227/.333 for the season. Joey T hit a game-winning home run. The sun rises, the sun sets. Joey T. has to go back to Gwinnett. The Braves lose to the Nationals. Such is life.
AJ Pierzynski Causes Emotional Whiplash (and Bryce Harper screws up)
Is this a favorite moment? Well, maybe. Or maybe it's just a significant moment. I'll let you decide, but I did want to note it here.
On June 24, the Braves locked horns with the Nationals, having lost six straight games to them. Despite a great start from Shelby Miller, the Braves trailed 1-0 going into the 9th, having done absolutely nothing against Jordan Zimmermann (sound familiar?). Drew Storen came on, and Nick Markakis singled for a good start to the frame. Then, something crazy-but-not-that-crazy happened. There's not actually a video of this, but AJ Pierzynski pulled a ball to the right side for a base hit. Markakis then tried to take the extra base despite not being all that fast, but Bryce Harper's throw missed the cutoff man. The Braves now had the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position, with none out.
For a moment there, this was a turning point. Maybe not of for a potentially-doomed-from-the-start season, but for something. The Braves had struggled against the Nationals, and here was a huge break, delivered both by the "Hey guys I found the fountain of youth!" Pierzynski as well as a bonehead Harper play. In some other universe, maybe the Braves go on to score Pierzynski from second and win this game, righting the ship a bit and keeping the dream of a non-terrible 2015 season alive. It wasn't a dream I really even wanted, but one I'll gladly take. But alas, this is not that universe. After a Joey Terdoslavich walk, he was thrown out trying to tag on Kelly Johnson's game-tying sacrifice fly. AJ Pierzynski was stranded at third, and Harper redeemed himself with a one-out double off of Dana Eveland and came to score the walk-off, winning run after Eveland pushed him to third with a terrible walk to Clint Robinson.
It was kind of a metaphor for this season: maybe the Braves still didn't have a great chance after that Pierzynski single, but they had something. Maybe the Braves weren't going to do anything in 2015, but for a bit there, it looked like they could. Maybe, before the selloff, the Braves could've done something in 2015. It all is what it is, I can only type things in protest. The Braves have lost nine straight games to the Nationals. This is not a fun baseball universe.
Christian Bethancourt hits a walkoff homer (and then is sent to Gwinnett)
Jace Peterson backs Matt Wisler in his debut (woooo)
Just enjoy, folks. Enjoy the hit, enjoy Juan Lagares failing to screw over Peterson and the Braves, enjoy Wisler being pumped from the dugout, enjoy what's hopefully the harbinger of future awesomeness to come. Enjoy.
The entire park was pumped. Wisler's family was pumped. Peterson was pumped. Pedro Ciriaco was pumped. I have a huge smile on my face right now. Man, that was awesome.
My least favorite moment of June 2015
Don't do it. Just go back and watch the Peterson double again. In a month of dreadful bullpen misadventures, one of the earliest of the month was actually the worst.
This one hurt, in the way that a two-run go-ahead homer after your team was already ahead by one and had earlier put up a five-run inning to take the lead and maybe actually win a series for once can. Brandon Cunniff's offering was torched, the ball went in the pool, and the misery was renewed. Oh well. Other sequences may have been more miserable (that dreadful inning against the Padres comes to mind), but this was the single biggest blow against the Braves in June. It wasn't fun. Hopefully July is better.