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Braves amaze and ascend in awesome June

With one calendar month, the Braves broke free of their early-season torpor and ended up where we probably expected them to be

Atlanta Braves v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Rich Schultz/Getty Images

Did you know that before recent times, the word “awesome” was often used to describe things that were, rather than excellent or cool, things that were intimidating or fearsome? That makes “awesome” an apt descriptor for the Braves in June of 2022: awesome in the modern sense for the Braves and their fans, and awesome in the traditional sense for their opponents.

The Braves finished June at 21-6, winning their first 14 games of the month and then going 7-6 the rest of the way against mostly-tougher competition. This June was even better than the one in 2019, when the Braves went 20-8, and 21 wins on a single calendar page ties this squad for the franchise record. (Unfortunately, they failed to break it by getting blown out by the Phillies on June 30.) Most importantly for the seasonal arc, though, what the Braves did in June is vault themselves back to alignment with preseason expectations. Before the month started, the Braves were 23-27, projected to clock in at 5-6 wins below their preseason expectation, and having shed 25 percent of playoff odds relative to said preseason expectation. As they stand today on July 1, prior to facing the Reds on Friday night, their full-season win expectation is 0-1 wins better than preseason, and their playoff odds have budged up from 86 percent-ish preseason to just over 90 percent at present. There was a lot of damage from April and May to undo, and well, they undid it.

The Braves, of course, had an easy schedule in June — they were non-favored in just three games all month (the three games against the Phillies on the road at month’s end), compared to seven in May and five in April. Still, they went above and beyond. Using pre-game odds, the Braves should’ve gone 16-11; instead, their 21-6 mark was actually closer, for once, to what their record “should have been” if they won each game in which they were favored, and lost the rest. After two months of absurd bad stuff, this was a nice thing to have happen.

June wasn’t a case of the Braves riding an improbable streak of luck to a great month, either. They dominated pretty much across the board. For the month, the team had the third-best position player fWAR, with the fourth-best wRC+ and eight-best defensive value. They had the best pitching fWAR among any team in June, including the top rotation and the second-best bullpen.

All of these things have pushed the team’s seasonal stats at least closer to where you’d expect them to be, though they’re perhaps not quite there yet. The position player unit is now top 10, combining somewhat-above-average offense with somewhat-below-average defense. The pitching staff, perhaps surprisingly, is now second in MLB in fWAR for the season — we knew the bullpen was racking up tons of value even earlier in the year and is still first by quite a bit, but the rotation has now snuck into the top 10 value-wise as well.

Let’s get into some well-deserved but meaningless monthly awards.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for June 2022 Performance - Position Players

A lot of the Braves’ greatness in June came as a result of a quadrumvirate of superlative performance: Dansby Swanson and Michael Harris II both finished in the top five for June fWAR among position players, while Max Fried was also in the top five for pitchers; Kyle Wright rounded out the group with a top-30 finish among pitchers for the month.

Both Swanson and Harris posted absurd numbers for the month — wRC+s of around 160 with very plus defense, giving each more than 1.5 fWAR in June. Yet, I want to call out someone else here, who didn’t play literally every day, but still played a huge part in how successful the month was: Travis d’Arnaud. “Little D” actually led the team in June with with a 182 wRC+, had seven homers in sixty percent of the PAs that Swanson got to hit his seven (Duvall hit eight in 99 PAs, compared to Swanson’s 123 and d’Arnaud’s 75), and had a ridiculous .681 slugging for the month. He never had a singular game where he really saved the team’s bacon, but he had six huge games out of 17 total for the month, including a two-homer game at Coors, another three-hit day in Washington, a three-run homer to salvage a game in Chicago, and a game where he beat up a bit on Zack Wheeler to help the Braves win the opener against their division rivals.

Basically, d’Arnaud had over 10 fWAR/600 for the month, which is hilarious and a nice change of pace from all the stuff warranting wild gesticulation from April and May. And sure, it came with a massive xwOBA outperformance (.440ish wOBA, .370ish xwOBA), but again, better that than the reverse, even if his input quality in June didn’t quite warrant the absurd numbers.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for June 2022 Performance - Starting Pitchers

Yeah, it’s Max Fried. I’m running out of great things to say about his elite arm and the elite body, and elite brain, that they’re attached to, but on the other hand, I’m not sure there’s ever going to be enough said about how good he is.

The Braves were undefeated in Fried’s five starts in June, yet only one was a blowout — he was a huge part of four wins where the margins were two runs or fewer, and once again, was one of the main impediments to the Dodgers’ attempt to sweep the Braves. A 51 ERA-, 49 FIP-, and 66 xFIP- for the month is pretty great too, just in case you were wondering. Fried still hasn’t had a game in 2022 when his xFIP exceeded 4.00. That’s some insane consistency.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for June 2022 Performance - Relief Pitchers

Kenley Jansen made 11 appearances in June. Nine were shutdowns. One was a meltdown that wasn’t quite his fault (more on that below). One was a random low-leverage outing to get his work in. Nine shutdowns in ten meaningful outings is pretty good. So is the 77/62/50 line.

Jansen had a 5/4 shutdown/meltdown ratio in May, which came with good peripherals but obviously unfortunate results. He only had three shutdowns (but zero meltdowns) in April in nine outings. It’s good to see the Braves actually getting what they probably hoped for from a reliever signing, even if it took a few months to get there.

Best Offensive Play - Duvall caps the inexplicable rally

The June 22 game was just bonkers, really. The Braves trailed 3-1 heading into the ninth, and 3-2 after Swanson’s solo homer to lead off the bottom of the inning. A single, a tag-up on a deep fly, and a single later, they were tied. After another out, Adam Duvall came up, and completed the comeback with yet another single.

A sidewinding righty seems like Duvall’s worst nightmare, and the Braves got mowed down by the same delivery earlier in the series, but came away with a crazy win in this one thanks to Duvall’s heroics.

Best Run-Stopping Play - Jansen gets a key out

A few days before Duvall walked the Braves off, they were in a different close game against the Giants. This game, though, was tied heading into the ninth, and the Giants threatened to untie it against Jansen, putting the Braves in an uncomfortable situation. With one out, Joc Pederson started the rally with a weak grounder against the shift that eluded Swanson. Luis Gonzalez followed with a much cleaner liner up the middle, and moved to second when Harris fielded it and tried to throw out Pederson at third. That put Jansen and the Braves in a pickle indeed... but not to worry, as Jansen did this against Thairo Estrada:

A few pitches later, Jansen also struck out Brandon Crawford. Some pitches after that, Orlando Arcia walked the Braves off. Pretty good stuff to get out of a mess, Mr. Jansen.

Most Dominant Single Game Offensive Performance

Duvall was the big blow in that June 22 walkoff, but he wasn’t the biggest contributor to the win. Instead, for that, we go to William Contreras. To be fair, this is kind of a WPA quirk. Duvall had the biggest play of the game, but he also made multiple key outs in the game. Contreras didn’t do anything that special, drawing a leadoff walk and making a couple of outs, but combine that with his game-tying hit, and you have the team’s best single-game offensive WPA in June:

Yeah, it’s kind of a weird non-event for such an amazing month, but it is what it is.

Most Dominant Single Game Starting Pitching Performance

I don’t really know how you top this. Max Fried. Coors Field. A scoreless tie, with no margin for mistakes. Max Fried didn’t make any mistakes. 2.51 FIP and 3.43 xFIP over eight frames at Coors, facing just three batters over the minimum? Yes please. I don’t know if we’re going to see anything better on a single-start basis this year, but I hope we do, because that would be even more awesome.

Most Dominant Relief Pitching Performance

Back we go to June 20, the game where Jansen struck out Estrada and Crawford and Arcia walked us off... but not for Jansen. Instead, for the most-maligned member of the relief corps: Will Smith. Yes, among everyone, he had the single highest-WPA relief outing. And, funnily enough, it was an outing in which he gave up the lead. Weird stuff.

In that June 20 game, Max Fried carried a 1-0 lead into the eighth, but promptly loaded the bases on zero outs thanks to a bunt single, a regular single, and a walk. That brought out Will Smith, who went flyout, RBI single, strikeout, groundout. The strikeout was aided by Wilmer Flores swinging at a 52-footer that would’ve been a go-ahead walk; the two outs were weakly-hit but the RBI single was hit too hard to let the go-ahead run score.

What a crazy outing. Of course, there are no official highlights of it, but watch Flores “swing” at this pitch:

Kind of crazy that Smith got over .200 WPA for this outing, but gave up the lead in the process. That’s just how bad bases loaded, none out is when it happens in the eighth.

Most Crushed Dinger

Austin Riley has the single-highest xwOBA homer in June, among everyone. It is this:

You know that part in Love Actually with Andrew Lincoln holding up the signs and one of them says, “To me, you are perfect” — yeah, that’s me and this homer.

Weirdly enough, it wasn’t even one of Riley’s three longest homers in June. But it was the prettiest.

There wasn’t much bad stuff to dig out in June this year, but I did it anyway.

Worst Offensive Result - The streak ends

Last month, it was Arcia and his unnecessary bunt. This time, it was Arcia failing to extend the winning streak. Woof, Orlando Arcia. Just woof. Down by one, Arcia came up in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded and two outs. The game, and winning streak, ended with this ineffectual bouncer.

Worth remembering, too, that the Braves also lost their prior 14-game winning streak in a 1-0 game against an opponent with an awful winning percentage, where the run that beat them scored on a non-hit play. If only Arcia could’ve avoided this outcome by doing something else.

Worst Pitching Result - The stupid Trayce Thompson liner

I don’t really know how to describe this. It happened and it sucked, and the Braves went from being a strike away from winning a 2-0 game to eventually losing 3-2, because baseball. Pretty much anything could’ve caused this not to happen, like Matt Olson being a bit taller or playing a step back or something.

Ah, well, that’s how the story of a season unfolds. Lots of improbable good things, lots of improbable bad things. I guess we’ll just have to be happy that the playoff odds are around 90 percent right now; any other way is the path to madness.

Worst Single-Game Offensive Performance

Arcia’s grounder up above, not only ended the streak, it also capped off a horrid day for him. He ended three innings, including the game, with men on, and his two-out ground-rule double in his other PA didn’t help matters much. That’s a negative WPA below -.300, and that’s rough.

Worst Single-Game Starting Pitching Performance

Ian Anderson almost managed this by getting destroyed by the Phillies on the month’s final day, but the nod goes to Spencer Strider getting dismantled by the Giants here. Strider threw less hard than usual, whether due to after-effects from his prior outing, or because he was trying to trade velocity for command against a patient team. Whatever the rationale, it backfired horribly and was pretty much his worst start to date. Strider had a 4/1 K/BB ratio but allowed a homer to Austin Wynns and only lasted 3 23 innings.

The reason why it was the worst outing, though, was because the Braves made a game of it. After the Giants went ahead 4-0, the Braves got two back, and then later, Matt Olson hit a three-run homer to put them ahead. But, Strider gave up the lead (to Wynns) and the tie (to a sacrifice fly), squandering an offensive outburst. He wasn’t the only issue, however, as the bullpen bled as many runs as Strider did later in the game, and the Braves lost despite scoring 10 runs.

Worst Single-Game Relief Pitching Performance

This is really more like, “worst thing that happened while a relief pitcher pitched.” Which is, again, Kenley Janse getting victimized by a few two-out singles, including Thompson’s horrid game-tying liner.

Most Crushed Dinger Allowed

Kyle Schwarber, man. He had a June about as great as what the Braves managed (187 wRC+). And Dylan Lee caught the receiving end this time.

See you next month! May it be as great as this one was.

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