clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Braves make division-leading lemonade in June

The start of summer wasn’t quite as productive as April or May, but it was enough to give the Braves some breathing room in the standings.

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves had a weird experience in June. It was actually their worst month (of three tries) so far, as they went 16-11 in March/April and then 17-12 in May, in contrast to a 14-11 June. But, what strikes me about the past month is this: when the month started, the Braves were 33-23, tied for first in the division, with playoff odds of 26 percent. When the month ended, the Braves’ overall winning percentage had fallen (from .589 to .580), but their division lead increased from zero games to three, and their playoff needs nearly doubled to 47 percent.

The other striking thing about June is that the Braves experienced their first doldrums of the year, but it didn’t really affect the team’s overall record too much. In April and May, the team had only lost four series, combined. Only two of those series losses came back-to-back. In June, the team suffered four series losses, total, with one pair coming on a West Coast road trip, and another on a short six-game homestand. Those two weeks were probably fairly frustrating for the Braves and their fans, but the good news is that it didn’t really affect anything, other than perhaps some psyches.

June wasn’t really filled with walkoffs or stunning comebacks, unlike May. No aspect of the team really carried the rest. It was very much a steady-as-she-goes month, where the Braves were handed a series of lemons—spotty bullpen performance, some unfortunate injuries, being forced to travel to the West Coast, but made some decent run differential lemonade and extended their division lead all the same. Here’s where they stand, entering play on July 1:

  • Three game division lead over the Phillies; five game lead over the Nationals.
  • Sixth-best record in baseball; trail the Brewers by half a game for the best record in the NL.
  • Fifth-best run differential in baseball; second in the NL. They have underplayed their Pythagorean Expectation by two games.
  • The Braves only had the league’s 11th-best record in June.

Here’s how they got there, series by series:

  • Won two of three against the Nationals (also won the first game of the series in May)
  • Lost two of three in San Diego
  • Lost two of three to the Dodgers in Los Angeles
  • Swept the Mets in a two-game series
  • Took three of four from the Padres
  • Split a two-game series in Toronto
  • Lost two of three to the Orioles
  • Lost two of three to the Reds
  • Won the first two games of a three-game set in St. Louis (final game to be played on July 1)

If records were done on a series basis, the Braves would be .500 in June. Instead, they finished three games over .500. Not bad.

At the season’s exact halfway point, the Braves are currently on pace for 94 wins. Even if they play at a 79-win pace for their remaining 81 games, they’ll finish with 86-87 wins, which could very well be enough for a playoff spot. Play better than that, and a spot seems fairly likely. Even Fangraphs, still heavily regressing the Braves’ performance towards preseason expectations, now projects an 85-win finish, with the 25th percentile outcome still seeing the Braves finish over .500, and the 75th percentile outcome granting them 88 wins.

As noted, team performance was middling-to-above-average across the board in June, rather than superlative in any specific way.

  • The Braves’ 107 wRC+ in June put them 11th in MLB, and 5th in the NL. Defensively (these data are still subject to retrospective revision), they were fourth in MLB and the NL. On an overall position player WAR basis, they finished ninth in MLB, fifth in the NL, for June.
  • Weirdly enough, the starting pitching posted the best ERA in baseball for June. This, however, was driven by ridiculous superlative variation in both strand rate (over 82 percent, by far the highest in baseball for the month) and BABIP-against (.232, by far the lowest in baseball for the month). The FIP for the rotation was eighth in MLB (fifth in NL), which seems more commensurate with actual performance. The xFIP was fifth (second in NL), which is nice to see. Overall, the rotation finished 12th in MLB (fifth in NL) in fWAR.
  • The bullpen was already a sore point coming into June, and got sorer (more sore?). The relief corps posted the fifth-worst ERA (fourth-worst in NL) during the month. However, the FIP was fine (13th, sixth in NL), and the xFIP was okay too (17th, eighth in NL). The bullpen finished 19th in relief WPA for the month. Overall, the bullpen’s collective 0.6 June fWAR put it 15th in MLB (sixth in NL) for the month. Combining both bullpen and rotation value yields a ranking of 11th (third in NL).

The thing is, the Braves’ individual player performance in June was weird. You’ll see what I mean.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for Position Player Excellence in June 2018 — Still Freddie Freeman

Yes, Freddie Freeman has struggled in June. But there was also a June where he was red hot. Put those together, and he still led the team. Freeman’s June witnessed six homers and a 138 wRC+, as well as a team-leading 0.8 fWAR. Most of his numbers trended downward in June, including a huge reversal of his walk and strikeout rates that led to an average below .300 and an OBP below .350. However, his ISO actually increased, so the 20ish point slide in wRC+ was not extended further. He hit four homers in April, five in May, but six in June.

The thing is, June was really a tale of two different halves for Freeman. Through June 15, he had a 237 wRC+ and a ridiculous .471 ISO (yes, this is over a two-week stretch). All six of his June homers came in that span. For the remainder of the month, he limped to a sad 37 wRC+ and .060 ISO, with a strikeout rate north of 30 percent. Even scarier, he didn’t even have any good games in this span, as his best effort over the last two weeks has been a 1-for-4 with a walk and a single in the series opener in St. Louis. Exploring his issues is a topic for another post, but you have to admit that it’s pretty impressive that the Braves continued to roll along to any extent given Freeman’s struggles. Even with the struggles, only Kurt Suzuki (163 wRC+, 0.7 fWAR) outhit Freeman in June, but he doesn’t get the recognition here due to doing so in only some chunk of the PAs.

Despite the Jekyll-and-Hyde month, Freeman notched numerous big hits in June. He had a 4-for-4 day in San Diego that led the way in that 14-1 clobberfest. He was instrumental in both games of a two-game sweep of the Mets, hitting a game-tying homer in the first game and driving in both Braves runs (including a homer off not-so-nemesis Jerry Blevins) in the second game.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for Starting Pitcher Excellence in May 2018 — Mike Foltynewicz

Who else could this possibly be? Mike Foltynewicz was insanely good in June. His number of starts (four, because he missed a rotation turn on the Disabled List) was greater than the number of runs he allowed. His K/BB ratio during the month was an insane 29/8. Actually, in two of his starts, he had as many or more strikeouts than his walk total for the month. The Braves went 3-1 in his starts; he actually dumbly lost an outing against the Padres where the Braves fell by a 3-1 score.

But, of course, all of this belies one simple fact: Folty essentially would have won this bit of recognition on the back of his first outing of the month, alone, because that outing was a complete game shutout of the Nationals with an 11/1 K/BB ratio and just two hits allowed. Even more impressively, most of that shutdown performance wasn’t the result of garbage time, as the Braves didn’t even score until the seventh. Hats off to you, Mike.

Folty also led the team in fWAR and RA9-WAR for the month, but that’s somewhat beside the point. He was a superlative performer in June for the Braves, in a month where many other players just kind of skated by.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for Relief Pitcher Excellence in May 2018 — Jesse Biddle

A.J. Minter actually had the gaudy relief stats this month (1.46 ERA, 1.07 FIP, .240 xFIP), but Biddle’s my man here. Biddle’s peripherals aren’t actually all that great for June; his 1.50 ERA belies a bleh 4.10 FIP and 4.11 xFIP. Yes, Minter came in and got the job done again and again. But what he didn’t do was have not one, but two outings where he threw three scoreless frames in extra innings to try to give his team a chance to win. No, his team actually did not win either game. But not for his own lack of trying. His June 2 outing was the most bonkers in this regard, as he struck out eight Nationals in those three innings of work.

Biddle was not without his downsides for the month, as he turned a 1-0 lead into a 2-1 deficit when facing the Mets on June 12. He was also tagged for a Cody Bellinger homer in Los Angeles, though the Braves were already down big when it happened.

Minter was great too, but I have to tip my cap to Biddle here. No one could have expected that he had those two three-inning stints in him. If only they had turned out to be not for naught in the end.

Best Offensive Play - Albies walks it off

June 25 was kind of a nightmarish game, except that the Braves won. The Braves jumped to a 2-0 and then a 3-1 lead, only to have it cruelly taken away when for some reason, Lucas Sims was inserted into the sixth inning of a close game. After much kvetching and Sam Freeman allowing the go-ahead run (which caused more kvetching), and an inexplicable game-tying hit by Danny Santana, the Braves mercifully were able to record another “W” on their ledger after Albies essentially said “enough of this” and knocked the first pitch that Dylan Floro threw in the game over the right field wall for a walkoff win. (The pitch Floro threw was a changeup that wasn’t even a strike.)

My favorite part about this whole sequence is not that Albies delivered a win while mired in a bit of a funk, or that his first-pitch swinging ways were rewarded. Rather, it was that in an interview after the game, he expressed what I had been feeling — in my own paraphrasing, “This game has gone on long enough, we want to go home, I told them I was going to hit a homer to end it.” And he did. Thanks, Ozzie.

Best Run-Stopping Play - Sam Freeman makes someone else waste an opportunity, for once

This one is very bittersweet, but less bittersweet than “ugh why did I put my tongue on that?” On June 15, the Braves had a 3-2 lead in the seventh, and asked Sam Freeman to try and hold it even though the first batter he was set to face was a righty. Sam Freeman basically did not hold this lead: he allowed a leadoff single, walked the next hitter, and then failed to retire Eric Hosmer on a high bouncer that came back to him. The bases were loaded with none out, and the one-run lead was in jeopardy.

Inexplicably, Freeman was left in to face Jose Pirela, also a right-handed batter. But then something good happened! Namely, Freeman got Pirela to hit into a 1-2-3 double play. Just like that, there were two outs, and there was a chance to get out of the inning unharmed. (Apparently there’s no easy-to-embed video of this.)

But, get out of the inning unharmed, the Braves did not. Sam Freeman was left in to face yet another righty, Hunter Renfroe, who knocked a two-run single back up the middle to give the Padres a lead and (eventually) saddle the Braves with a loss. Still, it almost worked. Almost! (Sam Freeman continues to be used against righties to this day, so... yeah.)

Most Dominant Offensive Performance

This one is fairly easy — generally when you hit a walkoff homer, you’ve already dominated the other team, just by virtue of that. But when Albies hit his walkoff, that was far from his only offensive contribution to that game.

Albies started that game similar to how he ended it: with a run-scoring hit. In the first, he doubled in Ender Inciarte, and advanced to third on the throw, later scoring on a sacrifice fly. In the fifth, he hit another double, setting up another run when Nick Markakis grounded into a double play with the bases loaded. While he also made a few outs, only one of the Braves’ five runs on the night scored without his intervention. He finished the game with .472 WPA, nearly the entirety of what’s necessary for a win (since each team starts at a 50 percent chance to win, and only needs to another 50 percent to secure the victory).

Most Dominant Starting Pitching Performance

We’ve already gone over it, but what Mike Foltynewicz did to the Nationals was incredible. I can’t recall a better start by a Braves pitcher in years. The fact that he did it while laboring under a scoreless tie just makes it more impressive, as he lacked the luxury to throw strikes and give up garbage time runs at any point.

It was his first career shutout and tied his career high in strikeouts, with 11. Only a few pitching performances this season have been better (Gerrit Cole’s 16-strikeout one-hitter, Sean Manaea’s two-walk no hitter). It repaid Max Scherzer’s earlier two-hit shutout of the Braves in full. My favorite part? He was still throwing gas in the ninth, striking out Michael Taylor on three pitches including an elevated, 98 mph fastball, and then carving up Bryce Harper to end the game on three whiffs in four pitches. Nasty, in a good way.

Most Dominant Relief Pitching Performances

Again, it’s just a shame these went for naught. Jesse Biddle threw a combined six scoreless innings in extra innings, with a combined 12 strikeouts. Only for one of them is video available, but that was perhaps the better outing to have captured for posterity anyway, as it was the one with eight strikeouts and just three total baserunners (one hit, two walks) in that span.

Most Crushed Ball

When you think of Brad Hand, you probably don’t think of allowing moonshots. But, too bad for you, because that’s what Tyler Flowers laid upon him.

Look at how far in the tunnel that ball lands. That’s what happens when you whack it at 106 mph with that angle. Blam.

June also had its share of disappointments. A lot of them were on the macro level, but there were some specific instances of not-too-great occurrences as well.

Most Painful Opposing Plate Appearance

This was probably the dumbest/worst thing to happen to the Braves all season.

I’m pretty sure this ball was foul. I was pretty sure when it happened, and I’m still pretty sure as I can illustrate with this screengrab.

The ball is that little blur right above the intersection of the horizontal and vertical netting lines. You can play with the video a lot, but essentially it looks like the ball crosses the bag somewhat wide of the bag in foul territory. The specific distance covered by the ball between bounces and the horizontal placement of its bounces also suggests that the ball should have been well wide of the bag. Unfortunately, these types of balls are not reviewable, for some reason that I can’t quite grasp.

In any case, not only did the Braves get super-hosed by a potentially bad call, but the result was the coup de grace in a Dan Winkler meltdown in his first ninth inning save situation of the year. The Braves went on to lose the game; Winkler came on with a two-run lead and by the time the inning ended, they were down 7-3. We don’t know what would have happened had the ball been ruled foul, but it could have been better. And it wasn’t. Ouch.

Most Painful Braves Plate Appearance

This is basically that Sam Freeman double play above, but in reverse. And, just like that one had a sad ending, this one had a happy ending.

Yes, that’s a 1-2-5 double play (have you ever seen that before?) with the bases loaded and none out. Thankfully, Ender Inciarte picked Camargo right back up with an RBI single, and the Braves ended up winning this game 8-2 in the end. Still, that was brutal when it happened — almost like the Braves used the month to come up with creative ways to avoid scoring runs sometimes.

Worst Single-Game Hitting Performance

This Tyler Flowers game on June 22 was one of the most brutal hitting performances I’ve ever seen. It’s not like Flowers has been bad, either. It’s actually the opposite; he has the 11th-highest xwOBA in baseball. But man, that series opener against the Orioles... just brutal.

Flowers’ first out was a routine flyout to right with one out in the second, no big deal. A bigger deal came in the fourth, when he fouled out with the bases loaded to end the inning. He led off the seventh with the Braves down by one, and struck out. In the eighth, with the bases loaded and one out, he struck out again. Then, in the ninth, after that really awkward sequence where Freddie Freeman was gunned down as the winning run at home, all Flowers had to do was put some kind of ball in play to score Nick Markakis from third. There was only one out, but Flowers again struck out against Darren O’Day. He struck out three times in consecutive innings, two of them with the bases loaded and one out. That made it three total unsuccessful plate appearances with the bases loaded, to go with two other outs.

Flowers registered -0.514 WPA on the day. That means not only was his day enough to sink the team by itself, but that he actually negated some of the good his teammates did with the effort. That’s probably going to be the worst mark for any position player on the year, and might be the worst mark for any starting pitcher, too (relievers can and do get worse marks by blowing leads and ties). I can’t remember any position player with a worse day. Can you?

Worst Single-Game Starting Pitcher Performance

The day after the Flowers debacle, Julio Teheran delivered the word starting pitcher performance for the Braves in June by getting lit up by the MLB-worst Orioles. He finished with seven runs allowed in four and two-thirds, but this one was seemingly over soon after it started, as Teheran allowed the first four batters to reach base, with Mark Trumbo hitting a grand slam before Teheran was able to record a single out. In the fourth, Teheran pitched himself out of the game by allowing three straight singles and then a bases-clearing double to Chris Davis, of all people.

Let’s resolve to never talk about it again.

Worst Single-Game Relief Pitcher Performance

This is pretty much the same as the most painful opposing plate appearance. It’s all bundled together in one knitting yarn ball of suck. Daniel Winkler, top 10 reliever, came on with a two-run lead in the ninth. He allowed a single. Then he put the tying run on base via a walk. A strikeout of Trumbo suggested he might have gotten on track, but then an RBI single trimmed the lead to one. Then he allowed that probably-foul RBI double to Jonathan Schoop. That was it for him, but going from a two-run lead to a tie game with the go-ahead run on third with one out isn’t great. Ugh.

Most Crushed Ball Allowed

I don’t know if homers can be absolute units, but if they can be, this one counts. Coming in extreme garbage time off of Luke Jackson, this Franmil Reyes moonshot was probably something like the most obliterated ball the Braves have allowed (and possibly will allow) this season. Take a gander.

Well, bye, baseball.

See you next month!

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Battery Power Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Atlanta Braves news from Battery Power