There have been many great things to the Braves’ season so far, but the nexus around which those things swirl is that the games matter. While various players wearing the tomahawk-adorned uniform in the past few years have put up superlative performances in some respect (look at you, Frederick Charles Freeman), those had more or less been in vain, as far as end-of-season outcomes went. Suddenly, and if only for right now, that’s not the case. This state of affairs prompted me to take a look at various places where Braves players have bested their peers in specific ways. Much of this is idiosyncratic, but I don’t believe that’s the point. Rather, the point is that just like the season itself, these little statistical odds and ends are fun. And fun is what it’s all about.
Just Flat-Out Awesome at Hitting: Freddie Freeman and Nick Markakis
The fact that Freddie Freeman is having yet another monster season has fallen by the wayside a bit. There’s been so much excitement with Ozzie Albies, Ronald Acuña, and even Nick Markakis tearing the cover off the ball that Freeman has sunk into the background a bit. But he really shouldn’t have!
Using a 60 PA cutoff (which I’m using because about as many players have gotten 60 PAs now as will get 200 PAs by the end of the year), Freeman ranks ninth in baseball in wRC+ with a 166 mark. Nick Markakis, career revival edition also places highly on this list: his 154 wRC+ is good for 22nd in baseball. Only half of the teams in baseball have even one player with a wRC+ at or above Markakis’ 154 mark. Only one team (the Red Sox) have three players above this threshold. Nick Markakis has a better batting line than the best hitter on 15 other teams right now. Let that sink in.
Ozzie Albies is tied for fifth in MLB with 14 homers
Yeah, yeah, we all talk about this all the time. It’s still wild. He’s got more homers than Aaron Judge right now! He’s got more homers than Gary Sanchez! He’s got more homers than Nelson Cruz and Joey Votto combined. He’s 13th in ISO and 36th in wRC+. Baseball is weird.
Together with Freeman and Markakis, this trio of Braves has pumped out a superlative performance for counting and other baseball card stats.
- Freeman is 15th in runs and ninth in RBI. He’s 16th in average, fourth in OBP, and 22nd in slugging percentage. He’s eighth in hits and tied for 27th in doubles. He’s eighth in walks. He’s 19th in walk-to-strikeout ratio.
- Markakis is 20th in runs and 20th in RBI. He’s fifth in average, 13th in OBP. He’s first in hits. He’s fourth in walk-to-strikeout ratio.
- Albies is tied for fifth in homers, second in runs, 12th in RBI, and tied for 28th in stolen bases. He’s 12th in slugging percentage. He’s 11th in hits and tied for seventh in doubles.
Speaking of stolen bases...
Ender Inciarte leads the league in stolen bases, with 18 so far
What’s amazing about this is that with four more steals, he will have tied his career high... and it’s still May. While both Trea Turner and Dee Gordon have technically been better basestealers (16-for-18 and 13-for-14, respectively, compared to Inciarte’s 18-for-22), Inciarte could be the first Atlanta Brave to ever league the league (any league) in steals. It warmed my heart when, during Tuesday night’s broadcast, even Chip and Joe acknowledged that they, as well as Brian Snitker, liked hitting him down in the lineup as it gave him a chance to run ahead of the less-powerful hitters comprising the bottom of the order. I hope it warmed yours as well.
Inciarte is also third in MLB in Fangraphs’ aggregate baserunning metric. By the component pieces, he’s 12th in taking extra bases on balls in play and third in stolen base value (and not notably good at avoiding double plays, so shh).
Johan Camargo, walk master
I’m going to read you a blurb. It’s from the Fangraphs player profile of Johan Camargo, crafted before this season.
In summary, Camargo is an impatient hitter with a below-average whiff rate, very little power, and unimpressive speed.
Let’s ignore the last two things there. Impatient hitter? Well... last year Camargo finished in the ninth percentile in walk rate, the 80th percentile in o-swing rate, and the 79th percentile in overall swing rate. Yeah, that’s impatient. His whiff rate was 60th percentile, so yeah, “below” average (i.e., higher is worse).
But, something’s happened. Johan Camargo is currently sixth in MLB in walk rate. He has more walks than strikeouts. His o-swing rate has done a complete 180, going from one of the highest to one of the lowest. From the 80th percentile to the 12th percentile. He has the lowest overall swing rate on the team, in the 15th percentile. Even his whiff rate has fallen from being higher than average to just 7.4 percent, which puts him in the 17th percentile. This isn’t a post about how Camargo has done what he’s done, and I’m not going to describe this as a miracle... but seriously, who saw this coming? Way to mock your own player profile, Johan.
Camargo’s turnaround puts him 10th in MLB in walk-to-strikeout ratio.
(Also Freddie Freeman says hi: he has the league’s 30th-highest walk rate.)
Nick Markakis and Kurt Suzuki never strike out
Okay, “never” is an exaggeration. These days, almost everyone strikes out, except Elvis Andrus (3.3 percent strikeout rate!). But, Markakis and Suzuki are fifth and sixth in MLB at avoiding strikeouts so far this year. Their rates are south of nine percent. These are large improvements for both of these guys, who struck out at rates of about 13 percent (Suzuki) and 16 percent (Markakis) last year.
Dansby Swanson’s... defense?
Swanson had a terrible year last year, and folks seemed to really ride him for defense. He ended up finishing the year with a dreadful -7 DRS and a poor-but-not-as-bad UZR of about -3. This year, whether it’s positioning or something else, the worm has turned. Swanson has +5 DRS in just 287 innings. He has +3 UZR. When you combine that with the hefty shortstop positional adjustment, he’s been the 13th-most valuable defender by Fangraphs’ Def metric (UZR plus positional adjustment). This is kind of wild, considering that he missed two weeks with an injury, so other defenders should have had the chance to leapfrog him by positional adjustment alone, if nothing else.
Though, as a small note — despite all this, he’s only eighth among shortstops. It’s just that shortstops are accruing a lot of defensive value so far this year, thanks to their hefty positional adjustment.
Freddie Freeman and Ryan Flaherty are two of only about 40 players that have yet to hit an infield pop
The heading pretty much says it. It’s better in Freeman’s case than Flaherty’s, though, as Flaherty avoids infield pops by mashing everything into the ground — he has the league’s 11th-highest grounder rate. Freeman, though, went all of last season without an infield pop, so this isn’t even interesting for him anymore. But it is true. (And yes, Freeman was the only player with 200+ PAs and no infield pops last year, because he is a treasure.)
Kurt Suzuki just has a bunch of weird superlative stats
He’s among the league leaders at avoiding double plays. Sure, he hits stuff in the air, but there’s still some grounders there. But nope, he hasn’t hit into a single twin killing so far.
He has the highest pull rate in baseball right now — nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of his batted balls are pulled. (Meanwhile, Nick Markakis has one of the lowest pull rates in baseball.) Suzuki also has the sixth-lowest opposite field rate.
Small shout-out to Ronald Acuña here, who also doesn’t hit stuff the other way. He’s 17th from the bottom in opposite field rate, and 21st in hitting balls back up the middle. Also, anti-shoutout to Ryan Flaherty, who is 23rd in opposite field rate.
Some Braves are good against some pitches
- Freddie Freeman is fourth in baseball in run value against fastballs (adjusted to a per-pitch basis).
- Preston Tucker has done a ton of damage on sliders, and is in the top 25ish against them so far.
- Albies is also top 15ish at punishing cutters.
- Tucker and Acuña feast on curveballs — both top four against them. Mmm... curveballs.
- Suzuki and Markakis beat up changeups, and are top 25ish against them. I also can’t remember when Markakis has faced a splitter this season, but he’s apparently 26th in baseball against them.
Nick Markakis and Ender Inciarte continue to be contact masters
Both hitters were already known for great contact skills, and this hasn’t changed. Markakis is 30th in MLB at z-contact (which is important!); both Markakis and Inciarte are in the top 30 in overall contact rate. Markakis also has the 13th-lowest whiff rate in baseball.