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Despite bookend struggles, Braves A-OK in August

The Braves played at a 104-win pace in August despite two of their longest losing streaks of the year

Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

With most of the 2022 season in the books, my feelings regarding the effect the new expanded playoff format has had on the proceedings are unsettled. The Braves’ playoff odds hit 90 percent on June 30; they haven’t been lower than 94 percent since. In the NL as a whole, there aren’t really “races” but for seeing whether the Brewers can knock the Phillies or Padres out of the final playoff spot. Probably the most relevant “race” is whether the Braves can overtake the Mets, thus likely grabbing a first-round playoff bye. So, the season’s kind of weird: the Braves are simultaneously just playing out the string, as they have been for over a month now, while also engaged in probably the most exciting “chase” in the NL. This is not my preferred postseason format, to say the least.

In any case, mixed feelings about just how interesting the remainder of the season will be aside, the Braves had a weird but ultimately successful August. They struggled at the beginning a bit, and they struggled at the end a bit, but still reeled off an 18-10 mark (that’s a 104-win pace over the course of a season). They didn’t make any hay in the division, as they’re still three games back, but they also trailed in the division by seven games mid-month, so it’s been a bit of a hodgepodge of activity and non-activity in that regard. The Braves have now trailed in the division by 3.5 or 3.0 games at the end of each of the last three calendar months.

The Braves lost just two series all month. Unfortunately, one involved losing four of five to the Mets, without which, the division race would look pretty different. Still, at the end of July, the Braves had added about four wins to their preseason expectation. Now, at the end of August, they’re up to six extra wins. It’s hard to fault them, really. They’re slightly outperforming WAR-wins (by a game) and slightly underperforming BaseRuns (by a game). It’s hard to look at this team and say, “Hey y’all, do more.”

By matchup win probability, the Braves should’ve gone 15-13 or 16-12 in August. They did much better, at 18-10. They were favored in 19 games and went 15-4 in them; they were disfavored in nine games and went 3-6. And yet, they lost a Max Fried-Jose Urena matchup, their most favorable on-paper game so far this season. You probably want to feel at least a little disappointed. I can’t tell you that you shouldn’t; I can only tell you that in the big picture, they’re exceeding central expectations anyway.

Like in July, the Braves won in August due to something akin to combined arms. They didn’t really light the world on fire the way they did with superlative performance from their pitchers in June.

  • The Braves finished August third in wRC+, 19th in team defensive value, and fourth overall in position player fWAR.
  • The Braves finished August 13th in pitching fWAR, including 11th in the rotation and 22nd in the bullpen. That makes it two straight months of mediocre-or-worse relief pitching, after blowing most/all of the league of the water in that regard in the first three months of the year.
  • For the season as a whole, the Braves rank eighth in position player fWAR and fourth in pitching fWAR.

There were a lot of individual performances to talk about in August. Let’s dig in.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for August 2022 Performance - Position Players

About two months after he was called up from Double-A, Michael Harris II apparently decided to carry his teammates on his back throughout August. Harris led the team in fWAR with 1.6, which happens to be a top-10 mark in baseball for the month. He put together a 173 wRC+ to go with his neat defense, and while sure, there was some xwOBA outperformance in there, his xwOBA itself was still a fantastic .387. In fact, after back-to-back months of a .330s xwOBA, Harris really hit another gear in August, in part by reining in some of the errant chases and taking walks. There’s probably something to be looked at further with some declining contact quality in August, but we can save that for a full-season review at a later point.

Production aside, what was really superb from the team’s perspective was that Money Mike, in August, was, well... money. His WPA for the month? 1.46. The team’s offensive WPA for August? 1.84. No other Braves hitter had more than 0.35 WPA. There was a six-game stretch in August where Harris added 10 percent win probability or more in four of the games. He later put up a combined 36 percent addition in back-to-back games against the Pirates. What does he have in store for September? Hopefully something awesome.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for August 2022 Performance - Starting Pitchers

Spencer Strider was his old-but-come-on-he’s-only-been-doing-this-for-a-few-months-so-it’s-not-old-at-all-even-if-it-feels-like-he’s-been-doing-this-for-years dominant self in August, compiling 1.0 fWAR, which put him just outside the top 10 in MLB in that regard. But, as great as Strider was and is, I want to highlight someone who only compiled 0.4 fWAR: Kyle Wright.

Wright made five starts in August, and though his monthly slash is 61/100/75, it is dented heavily by the fact that the Mets clobbered him for four homers on August 4. That clobbering came, in large part, due to a curveball that lost a bunch of its signature horizontal break, something that made it work so well when paired with his sinker earlier in the year.

For some hurlers, losing critical motion on a critical pitch down the stretch could’ve posed an insurmountable challenge, perhaps even doubly so when a late-season velocity dip also occurs shortly thereafter. But Wright adjusted: while the extra horizontal motion hasn’t really come back, he may have sped up his curveball, and altered to location to nip the edge rather than sweeping it across the plate as he did previously. As a result, he bounced back from that New York shelling with four great starts, including one at Fenway where his velocity was way down. That’s pretty cool. I mean, Strider just blowing dudes away all the time is also cool, but we can have room for different types of coolness in our lives.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for August 2022 Performance - Relief Pitchers

Honestly, this was not a great month for a relief corps that suffered multiple costly implosions. So, that gives me a chance to point out that hey, Tyler Matzek is still on this team.

The 2022 version of Matzek has basically existed to serve as yet another cautionary tale about relievers. Matzek was unbelievably dominant across about 40 combined regular and postseason innings in 2020, was very good again in 2021, and basically ate everyone’s face in the 2021 postseason. Come 2022, though, the best you can say about him is that, well, he’s a reliever. On the year, Matzek has 0.0 fWAR and a 73/105/134 line that would probably have gotten him demoted multiple times this season if he had options and/or lacked the past two seasons of spectacular work. In August, Matzek’s line is 42/87/141, which is... kind of better? Not really? He’s mostly been relegated to mop-up work, too, with just three high-leverage outings all year. But, in August, when faced with one in the 11th inning, he succeeded with flying colors, and that’s pretty cool.

Best Offensive Play - Swanson turns the game around

After two months of xwOBAs north of .370 in May and June, Swanson hasn’t done too much since, propping up his line with some xwOBA overperformance in July and really sliding down to a .300ish wOBA/xwOBA in August. Still, none of that mattered when he faced off against Ryan Helsley and turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead with one swing.

An epic moment against one of the best relievers in baseball this year, who was somehow asked to come on and preserve the lead in the seventh. Unfortunately, the game went super-south for the Braves afterwards, but this was a super-cool moment in the month if you ignore most of the subsequent moments.

Best Run-Stopping Play

This doesn’t happen much, but when you have the tying runs on base with none out, and you turn a double play that prevents a run from scoring, that’s... pretty great.

Nothing really spectacular here as Austin Riley just happened to be in the right position and Peyton Burdick was dead to rights at first, but a huge play on the defensive side nonetheless to bail Kyle Muller out of trouble.

Most Dominant Single Game Offensive Performance

On August 9, Austin Riley had himself a day. He put the Braves on the board in the first with a triple. In the third, the Braves were now down 2-1, and he hit a two-run homer to turn their deficit into a lead. After a series of outs in the middle innings, he hit a two-run, game-winning single in the 11th.

Come for Riley hitting his 30th dinger of the season over the Green Monster and out of Fenway Park, stay for Ronald Acuña Jr.’s awesome (and ultimately not needed) slide and Chip Caray saying “diving try” when the fielder does nothing of the sort on Riley’s triple.

Most Dominant Single Game Starting Pitching Performance

On August 3, Charlie Morton made a scoreless game, and then a 1-0 lead, stand up for 6 23 innings against the Phillies. The end of that game was not great. The beginning and middle, though? Vintage Charlie Morton.

Honestly, this wasn’t really Morton’s most dominant start of the month — what he did to the Mets on August 16 was way more disgusting, and even his start against his former team, the Astros, was better. But he had less margin of error in this one and faced a team whose power output comes into direct conflict with his struggles this year, but he bamboozled them anyway. Moreover, the 8/1 K/BB ratio came in a start that followed these self-same Phillies roughing him up in his prior outing, not to mention the other two times he faced them this season. Maybe not dominant in the statline, but a different kind of superlative performance.

Most Dominant Relief Pitching Performance

After Riley’s single above, Tyler Matzek came on in an apparently now-unfamiliar role, and slammed the door. With the tying run at the plate in each appearance due to the awful extra-inning rules, Matzek got a groundout and two strikeouts to seal the game and kick off what ended up being an eight-game winning streak in the middle of the month.

Most Crushed Dinger

Not only did this tie the game, it was also an absolute moonshot. There goes Michael Harris II, carrying the team in August again.

Like all months, August had its share of problems, too...

Worst Offensive Result - Frustration summed up

In a World Series rematch game tied 1-1 in the eighth, the Braves had a golden opportunity to win the series as Rafael Montero walked the first two batters of the inning. After Dansby Swanson popped out, Riley had a chance to strike a big blow into the Astros’ chances... but he didn’t.

Fortunately, the Braves went on to win anyway.

Worst Pitching Result - McHugh Meltdown

Remember that outing above where Charlie Morton was great? What happened in the eighth inning was that Collin McHugh came on, and things went south. McHugh entered with a runner on first and one out. A single and a game-tying forceout later, Nick Castellanos came up, and gut-punched McHugh and the Braves:

Worst Single-Game Offensive Performance

In addition to all of his other issues, Marcell Ozuna takes this one with his performance on August 9. Though the Braves won the game, thanks in large part to Riley and Matzek, Ozuna was brutal in this one. He went 0-for-5, including making the third out with runners at the corners in the third, and with two men on in a tie game in the seventh. In the tenth, with the free runner on second and none out, Ozuna flew out to start the frame, though Orlando Arcia was able to bail him out with an RBI double (and was injured on the play).

Worst Single-Game Starting Pitching Performance

As already mentioned, this was Kyle Wright’s obliteration by the Mets on August 4. This was the start of a big series, and Wright allowed a homer to make it 2-0 in the second, two more homers in the third, and then a fourth homer after the Braves had scored three runs. He did last six frames, but when you allow as many homers as you collect strikeouts, that’s really really not great.

Worst Single-Game Relief Pitching Performance

In probably the most obvious candidate given that it is likely going to be the worst Braves’ pitching performance of the year, we have Kenley Jansen on August 27. With a one-run lead, Jansen yielded a one-out double, a wild pitch, a walk, a hit-by-pitch in an 0-2 count, a game-tying RBI dribbler, and then a walkoff walk.

Most Crushed Dinger Allowed

Kyle Wright’s cutter/slider thing: we are not huge fans, though Kyle Tucker clearly is.

See you next month!

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