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Atlanta Braves offense sizzles in August

Following their July trend, the offense got even better in August, while the pitching continued to hold the team back. The Braves finished August at 13-15, their best calendar month of 2016 so far.

San Diego Padres v Atlanta Braves Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

August is over, so let’s update our 2016 Atlanta Braves Team Narrative Mental Flow Diagram:

  • April - everything is the worst (5-18)
  • May - really good pitching, bats still the worst (10-18)
  • June - bats better, pitching worse, team improves (12-16)
  • July - respectable offense, awful pitching (10-16)
  • August - impressive offense, still awful pitching (13-15)

If late-season wins counted more than early-season wins, the Braves might be in prettier shape. But, they don’t, and the Braves continue to have one of the worst records in baseball. Amazingly, however, they are no longer MLB’s worst team: that honor currently goes to the Twins, who sit one game behind the Braves in the cellar-dweller standings.

In aggregate for 2016, the Braves continue to be a bottom five-ish team across the board, with an average-ish bullpen elevating the pitching a bit. Still, August was pretty fun to watch, whether it was Freddie Freeman obliterating baseballs or Ender Inciarte swooping around center field. It helps to have a spotty memory as far as the August pitching is concerned, though...

Series by Series

  • Won 2 of 3 from the Pirates
  • Won 2 of 3 in St. Louis
  • Split 4-game series in Milwaukee
  • Lost 2 of 3 in Washington
  • Swept in 2 games by the Twins
  • Won 1 of 4 against the Nationals
  • Split 4-game series in Arizona
  • Lost 2 of 3 in San Francisco
  • Swept the Padres

An interesting mix of good and bad series here - the consecutive series wins against the Pirates and Cardinals feel like forever ago, but were impressive if you think about it.

August Team Stats by the Numbers

  • 13-15 record (50-83 overall)
  • Current Pythagorean Expectation (overall) of 51-83, leading the Phillies by a half-game for worst in baseball (Twins are at 56-78)
  • 11th (!!) in runs scored, even more impressive given that 6th-worst was the highest the Braves managed before August
  • Offensive production: 112 wRC+, good for fifth in MLB (and NL). Amazing! High fives all around.
  • Defensive production: usual sample size and data update caveats apply, but 9th-worst in MLB (6th-worst in NL). Ender Inciarte continues to be the substantial defensive contributor for the Braves. Unsurprisingly, Matt Kemp really drags down the team’s defense from a metrics perspective, and Kemp took away more runs on defense in August than Inciarte provided for the month.
  • Total position player value: 12th, 6th in NL. Top half! As you may have guessed, it was really the Freddie Freeman and Ender Inciarte month, as they both had insane tears. Fun fact: if Inciarte and Freeman put up the same value they did in August for a whole season, they’d combine for 21 fWAR, or about 55% of the WAR you need to reasonably field a Wild Card competitor, with just the two of them.
  • Rotation: very poor, with similar results to the woeful July this corps endured. 5th-worst by ERA, 4th-worst by FIP, 7th-worst by xFIP.
  • Bullpen: despite the continued burden from having to clean up after the rotation, the bullpen was quite good in some respects: the ERA was 22nd in MLB, but the FIP was 6th (and 16th xFIP).
  • Total pitching value: 25th in MLB, 11th in NL.

Suffice to say, it was the offense that really helped the team have its best month yet.

Biggest August Impact - Position Players

Freddie Freeman went absolutely berserk this month. Usually (these days) when doing monthly recaps, it’s largely about which Brave had the best month, but Freeman’s August put him in the running for the best month in MLB. I don’t think he wins that prize (Kris Bryant, Gary Sanchez, and oh look, Mike Trout, had wRC+s over 200 for the whole month), but he was definitely a top 10 MLB position player for the month.

The numbers bear this out, because he was a bear to handle at the plate. .313/.460/.688 slash line, 198 wRC+, nine homers, 24 RBI in 27 games, a .375 ISO, and a look-ma-it’s-not-all-luck-dragons BABIP of .344. As far as WPA goes, Freddie Freeman contributed one game with a WPA of over 0.5 (i.e., the entire amount a team needs to win a game), and had five games with a WPA of over 0.25 (i.e., half of the amount a team needs to win a game). He also had a near-equivalent K/BB ratio for the month (27/25), which is pretty cool. But he didn’t hit any triples.

(Also, he hit 18 extra-base hits and 12 singles. Heh.)

Biggest August Impact - Starting Pitchers

This is kind of a tough call, as the three contenders here (Mike Foltynewicz, Matt Wisler, Julio Teheran, just because he’s Julio Teheran) all had their various warts and successes this month. Foltynewicz made six starts and had a nice 3.59 FIP. Julio Teheran is Julio Teheran, and is generally in the conversation by default when talking about this rotation. But while he only made two starts, I like the idea of calling out Matt Wisler here.

Wisler only pitched 14 innings, but they were important both for him and the team. he only pitched 14 innings because he spent part of August in AAA ball, honing his craft, getting his confidence back, or whatever else he was demoted to do in the first place. It was only two starts, but Wisler showed some good stuff: for one, he dominated the other teams as far as run prevention went, allowing just one run in each. His first start had him no-hit the Diamondbacks for six innings; in his second start he struck out 10 Padres.

Again, it was just two starts, but if he can continue to pitch like what he showed in them (3.36 FIP / 3.51 xFIP) as opposed to how he fared for much of the rest of the season, it will have a much bigger impact on the team and franchise as a whole going forward.

Biggest August Impact - Relief Pitchers

I called him our new bullpen overlord last month, and I’m going with him again: Mauricio Cabrera. Jim Johnson had the much, much prettier surface stats (0.75 ERA, 0.65 FIP, 1.49 xFIP) for the month, but he also gave up a game-winning hit to someone named Clint Robinson and largely had the benefit of working in low-leverage situations.

Cabrera, on the other hand, continued to lock it down where it counted, and not melt down except when the damage was minimal. (Ideally he wouldn’t melt down at all, but we’re talking about relievers here.) He allowed just four runs (three earned) all month, and only one came in non-garbage time (against the Twins). He continued to show some nice peripherals (12 K, 4 BB for the month) and didn’t get taken deep - in fact he’s yet to allow a homer this season.

My Favorite Moments of August 2016

Some exciting offensive stuff going on.

Desert Flowers Power

August 24 featured a crazy game between the Braves and Diamondbacks that, sadly, the Braves went on to lose in 11 innings. Before that, though, they crawled out of a five-run deficit in two innings, including four-run ninth. After the first four hitters of the inning reached base to make it a two-run game, Tyler Flowers did this, putting the tying run on third.

Chase d’Arnaud drove in the tying run with a sacrifice fly later in the inning, but sadly, the Braves were unable to score run number 10 to win the game. Still, that double was an exciting last hit in a fun rally.

Freddie Freeman Rampage

There are tons of crazy Freddie Freeman moonshots to choose from here. One I really liked wasn’t even a homer, just this routine eighth-inning game-tying double on the first pitch. Sorry, Kevin Glover, whoever you are.

The double drove in the inning’s third run to make the Nationals sweat a bit. Sadly, the Braves lost this game, too, after Jim Johnson gave up the go-ahead run in the top of the ninth.

Wisler Grand (Re-)Entrance

I loved Matt Wisler’s major league debut. It was a lot of fun, for pretty much everyone but the Mets. So of course, after Wisler got ignominiously demoted to AAA after a really poor June and July, he tried to outdo himself in his return to the majors.

Wisler didn’t dominate the Diamondbacks, but a combination of skill and luck let him complete eight innings while allowing just one run. He seemed to be enjoying himself out there for the first time in a while, and it was fun to watch. Also, the Braves actually won this game.

Another walkoff for Jace Peterson

Jace Peterson was somewhat of a forgotten man in August amidst all the offensive excitement. After struggling mightily to begin the year, including his own demotion to Gwinnett, Peterson has bounced back to showcase a 102 wRC+, and he’s been above the 100-mark by this metric all summer.

But, forgotten man or not, I didn’t forget this thing of beauty:

Matt Kemp Doing Things

It generally doesn’t get much bigger than go-ahead three-run doubles in the eighth inning, with two outs, when down a run, but that’s exactly what Matt Kemp pulled off here.

The right fielder helped Kemp and the Braves out a bit by doing his best Matt Kemp impression in the outfield (sorry), but what an exciting way to beat the Snakes. And on the field, too, not just in the trade arena.

Most Aargh Moment of August 2016

Of course, it can’t all be fun and games. So for the second month in a row, I present the most aargh moment of the month, courtesy of Arodys Vizcaino. After a really good two months to begin the year, where he was largely dominant, Vizcaino began falling apart in June and then completely cratered after that, bouncing between disabled list stints and blowing ballgames all by himself. Last month, he blew a game by giving up a homer to Freddy Galvis, something that is still referred to as impossible by textbooks in 36 states.

This month, he basically pulled the reverse of that really awesome Kemp moment from a second ago, giving up a go-ahead three-run double with two outs and up by two. This actually happened the day before Kemp’s hit, so it wasn’t the Diamondbacks’ revenge or anything, but it was still awful. Get right soon, Arodys.

Just one more month to go, everyone. And then.... well... I don’t really know? 2017?

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