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Surging Braves continue to rack up wins in July

It wasn’t quite June, and the Braves only picked up half a game in the division race, but they still barreled through the opposition in July

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at Atlanta Braves Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves’ 21-6 June was so good, it was going to be hard for them to match it in July. In the end, they didn’t do too poorly for themselves, going 18-8. Probably the biggest bummer was something (mostly) out of their control — that the Mets went 17-8 during this span of the calendar, such that Atlanta’s 3.5-game deficit from June 30 was trimmed to... a 3.0-game deficit on July 31.

While it’s hard to take an 18-8 record and inveigh, with full faith, that team should’ve done more, the Braves did lose two series in the month — one to the Mets, and one to the Phillies. The former was a missed opportunity to continuing shaking up the division race; the latter was just annoying because it’s the Phillies. While the Braves’ odds of winning the division have dwindled given that there are only two months left at this point, their playoff odds have become a near-certainty, and whatever the Mets are doing aside, the current team is playing better than projected before the season started, having added around three wins to its preseason projection at this point.

For the season, the Braves sit at 62-41. They’re actually outperforming their cumulative expected win probability based on roster and pitching matchups (60-43), with that outperformance specifically keyed to July (16-10 cumulative probability, 18-8 actual). On a “were they favored to win?” basis, the Braves were actually favored to win all but one game this month. That game happened to be the Spencer Strider-Aaron Nola matchup, which they won.

Another thing I’ve been keeping track of is how the Braves do when they have or haven’t out-xwOBAed the other team in a game. In July, the Braves out-xwOBAed their opponents in 19 of 26 games, and went 14-5 in those games, which is right around what you’d expect. What was crazy, though, was that in the other seven games, they went 4-3, which is frankly pretty mean to their opponents. On the season, they’ve had the higher xwOBA in 68 of 103 games, and won 54 of them — a rate maybe a bit higher than expected. They’ve won eight of 35 games where they’ve been out-xwOBAed, which isn’t that weird, either. July gave them their biggest “steal” of the year so far, in that regard — they beat the Nationals, 5-4, despite a .272 xwOBA when they allowed a .330 to opponents.

Overall, the Braves’ ranks for July weren’t really dominant, though they were more than fine.

  • Offensively, the Braves finished 10th in wRC+ (sixth in wOBA, fifth in xwOBA) for the month.
  • The defense was a little flat, 19th in value for the month. Put this together with the offense and they finished 11th in position player value for July.
  • The pitching was good in aggregate: fourth in total pitching fWAR, including fourth rotation-wise and 14th bullpen-wise. No real HR/FB worries either, as the team finished fourth in July in both FIP- and xFIP-.

On the season as a whole, the Braves now have the seventh-most fWAR by position player units, and are tied with the Astros for the best pitching unit (fifth-most rotation fWAR, second-most bullpen fWAR). The hitting’s been good (eighth in wRC+) but a little unlucky relative to the league (wOBA-xwOBA gap of -.005, 20th in MLB) and the fielding’s been adequate in aggregate, a combination of being great up the middle and pretty weak across the corners.

Anyway, I know we’re all dying to talk about Austin Riley’s July, so let’s talk about Austin Riley’s July.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for July 2022 Performance - Position Players

No headfakes, no funny business. Austin Riley wasn’t just the best Brave of the month, he was the best MLB player in the month of July. In this set of calendar squares, he led everyone in fWAR (2.6) and WPA (2.36). The fWAR was at least close, with Judge a couple of fractional wins behind. The WPA? Nowhere near — Brandon Drury finishes July second with 1.57.

Riley’s 2.6 was over half (59 percent) of his teammates’ total position player fWAR in the month, and 30 percent of the whole team’s total. His 2.36 WPA was 57 percent of the team’s total WPA for the month. The entire position player unit finished with 0.14 WPA. He kind of was the team, at least on the position player side, as it went 18-8.

At this point, I don’t know how much you can really say that isn’t going to covered elsewhere. Riley’s month was the best for a Brave for any calendar month since Chipper Jones’ 2006... but the difference between the two is that while Chipper had like 25 points of wRC+ on Riley’s 267, Riley had 40 more PAs over which he sustained his run. In fact, since 2002, which is the earliest year I’m able to query calendar month stats, there have only been two players with a 267 wRC+ in 100 PAs in a single calendar month: 2002 August Barry Bonds, and 2022 July Austin Riley.

Oh, and don’t look now, but Riley now has 4.6 fWAR, tied for eighth in MLB. His .401 xwOBA is up to fifth in MLB, and his July wasn’t solely driven by a massive xwOBA overperformance. Yes, it was massive, (.056), but the guy still had a .506 xwOBA for the month. Wow.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for July 2022 Performance - Starting Pitchers

Max Fried crossed the 4 fWAR threshold in July, giving him his first such season. (He finished 2021 at 3.8; while it’s possible he dips back under the threshold, that’s a horrible thought.) His seasonal line is 62/64/79; in July, across six starts, it was 51/58/95. Yeah, the xFIP took a hit, as he had some uncharacteristically wonky game — a five-walk affair against the Mets, and a weird game against the Cardinals where he got a ton of weak fly balls instead of other stuff.

In any case, Fried still dominated. The Braves lost just two of his six starts, and one of those losses came due to an A.J. Minter meltdown that had little to do with Fried. He’s had six games so far this season where his WPA exceeded 0.3; three of those came in July, including a .450 WPA in his seven innings of shutout ball in a scoreless game against Arizona, which was the third-highest WPA start of his career.

In amusing/frustrating fashion, Fried actually had the highest xFIP among all five Braves rotation-mates in July, but the second-lowest FIP (and lowest ERA). He was one of just four Braves hurlers (one of whom was Silvino Bracho) that didn’t allow a homer all month.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for July 2022 Performance - Relief Pitchers

Suffice to say, no one really knows how Jesse Chavez does it, but he’s dominated since coming back over from the Cubs. As a Brave, Chavez has a cool 51/65/74 line in 38 13 innings, and while he didn’t have Dylan Lee’s dominant July numbers, he did something that’s been pretty crazy-rare: on July 10, not only did he stop the Nationals from taking the lead in the ninth, but then he prevented them from scoring a Manfredball runner in the 10th. (Collin McHugh was another candidate here as he had an even more insane run in that game, but also had a really bad BABIP-fueled meltdown in Cincinnati.)

I’m not really sure when else Chavez is going to get a nod here given the characters the Braves have in their bullpen, so I’m glad he did enough to get the blurb this month, because he’s been so fun to watch.

Best Offensive Play - Riley caps his amazing month

For probably the first time in these monthly recaps, though I honestly can’t remember, the best offensive play was the very last play of the month. In case you forgot: Austin Riley capped his amazing July by breaking a scoreless tie with a walkoff double off former teammate Mark Melancon in the bottom of the ninth. Woo.

Oh, and then he got a $212 million extension as pretty much the next baseball-related thing to happen to him. How about that?

Best Run-Stopping Play

July 10, as already mentioned, was a wild game with a lot of highlights, and it gave us this game-saving adventure. In the top of the 11th, the Braves intentionally walked Juan Soto, forcing Nelson Cruz to the plate. For a second consecutive Manfredball inning, the Braves would escape without allowing a run, thanks in large part to this fortuitous, first-pitch double play.

Most Dominant Single Game Offensive Performance

Yeah, it’s Austin Riley. But not last-game-of-awesome-month-walkoff Austin Riley. Instead, just run-of-the-mill, still-a-walkoff Austin Riley. And yeah, it’s that same July 10 game.

Riley started that game with a flyout, but he was monstrous from then on. In the third, he broke a scoreless tie with a single up the middle. In the fifth, with a man on second, he hit what probably would’ve been another run-scoring single, except it was a hard smash hit right to short. In the seventh, with the Braves now trailing by a run, he crushed a solo homer to tie the game. After striking out with the winning run on second to end the bottom of the ninth, and getting thrown out at home to end the 10th, he came up in the 12th after the Nationals walked Matt Olson and ended the game.

Probably the most amazing thing about this game is that Riley ended it with nearly .400 WPA, while making the last out of the ninth inning with the winning run in scoring position.

The homer and the walkoff came on hard stuff, including an 0-1 98 mph fastball down the middle, and 97 elevated. Not bad, Mr. Riley.

Most Dominant Single Game Starting Pitching Performance

Ha, the Braves lost this game. Oh well. On July 3, Charlie Morton was having an epic time of it against the Reds. Armed with the slimmest of leads for part of the game, he was perfect through four, faced the minimum through six (thanks to a pickoff of noted risky baserunner Joey Votto), and ended up pitching seven scoreless, including ending his day by striking out Tommy Pham and Votto when facing them for a third time in the game.

Morton finished the game with a 10/1 K/BB ratio and just one hit allowed. It wasn’t anywhere near the best start the Braves have had all year or anything, or really even necessarily Morton’s best outing of the year, but man, it was so good anyway. And for a while, it gave people the renewed hope that maybe this would be the day they’d see a Braves perfect game or no-hitter again.

Of course, the Braves fell apart after Morton left the game, with Collin McHugh turning a 1-0 lead into a 3-1 deficit with some ugly BABIP adventures, and then after the Braves hit two homers in the ninth to tie it, A.J. Minter gave up the ghost with another ugly half-inning. But still, this start! It was great.

Most Dominant Relief Pitching Performance

Back to July 10, where Collin McHugh did the unthinkable: he stopped the Nationals from scoring the free runner on second in not one, but two innings. The first goose egg came in large part due to that Nelson Cruz double play ball; the second with two groundouts and a flyout. McHugh earned an absurd .628 WPA for his efforts, which is the second-highest WPA achieved by a reliever this season, and the highest WPA in a single game by a Braves reliever since Cristhian Martinez pitched six scoreless extra-inning frames in that epic 19-inning quagmire with the Pirates back in 2011.

Most Crushed Dinger

Very kind of Austin Riley to let Ronald Acuña Jr. have this one during his month of awesome:

(For those of you keeping score at home, Riley had the most crushed dinger in both May and June.)

Much like June, there was kind of a dearth of bad stuff in July, but here we go anyway.

Worst Offensive Result - Frustration summed up

Massive dinger aside, Acuña didn’t really factor much into the month of July. Some of it wasn’t really his fault, as a not-great-for-him-but-still-more-than-decent-for-anyone .340 xwOBA was what he inputted for the month, but the .279 wOBA was a bummer, as was his -0.360 WPA in July.

All of this kind of came to a head in that July 10 game, where before Riley’s heroics, in the bottom of the 11th, a single by Michael Harris II nudged the winning run to third with one out. That set up Acuña to pull off a game-winner, but instead...

We’ve seen this frustration before, we’ll probably see it again, but man, just brutal. Brutal plate appearance, brutal month, you get the idea.

Worst Pitching Result - Penny for your Stotts

A.J. Minter has been really good this year. This was not a very good pitch. This was not a very good result.

What makes this more annoying is that Stott has been legitimately awful this year, yet managed the game of his life in large part due to this non-barreled, .370 hit probability homer. Yeesh.

Worst Single-Game Offensive Performance

Travis d’Arnaud’s having a fine season, with 2.0 fWAR in 281 PAs so far, but he’s outhitting his xwOBA by a fair bit and his offense really tanked in July, with a collective 31 wRC+ for the month. When those are your outputs, it’s hard to have positive WPA, and he was the team’s laggard offensively in that regard, with a -0.700 for July. His worst game in this regard came as the Braves lost late to the Cardinals on July 7.

d’Arnaud made the final out of the first with two on. He walked in the fourth and actually made it to third with none out thanks to a double, but was left stranded. He walked again in the sixth and eventually advanced to second, but again, stranded. Then things got dire. With the game tied in the eighth, d’Arnaud hit into a double play with none out and the go-ahead run on first. In the 10th, after the Braves tied the game, d’Arnaud had a chance to win it with the walkoff run on third and one out, but he struck out against Ryan Helsley. The Braves fell in 12.

Worst Single-Game Starting Pitching Performance

This is an easy one. On July 24, Ian Anderson’s first inning consisted of facing 10 batters, five of whom scored. The inning had its share of BABIP and bad defense for sure, but Anderson also allowed a homer and somehow walked Phil Gosselin. A few innings later, after retiring Shohei Ohtani twice in the first inning, he was inexplicably allowed to face him a third time and walked him — a single immediately after chased him, and Jackson Stephens didn’t stop the bleeding. The outing prompted the re-ringing of some alarm bells regarding Anderson’s status, but then he bounced back with a career-best outing the next time out, so... the saga continues, but this was a start to forget.

Worst Single-Game Relief Pitching Performance

Yeah, it’s still A.J. Minter giving up the game-winner to Bryson Stott. That inning also featured, after the first two easy outs, a hard-hit grounder single by Alec Bohm, and a ball beaten into the ground for a hit by Yairo Munoz. Lame.

Most Crushed Dinger Allowed

Kyle Wright’s curveball is very good. Sometimes, he can basically throw it and nothing else and still get a batter out because they can’t handle it. This 3-2 curveball to Josh Bell was not very good. It was very bad, and Bell did the appropriate thing to it.

See you next month!

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