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The other reason the Braves have taken off in June

The offense and the bullpen are big reasons why Atlanta has been the best team in baseball in June. But they aren't the only reasons.

MLB: Minnesota Twins at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The Braves are 20-4 in the month of June. One of the main reasons they’re 20-4 in June is because they can't stop mashing the ball. As a team, the Braves have a 147 wRC+ this month. Just for some context, Chipper Jones had a 141 wRC+ for his career. So for the entire month of June, the entire team is hitting at an offensive level higher than Hall of Famer Chipper Jones. So that's decent.

The other main reason the Braves have become the best team in baseball this month is the work of their bullpen. Atlanta’s bullpen this month collectively has a 2.74 ERA, the third best mark in baseball, which is very convenient considering Atlanta starters this month have a 5.02 ERA, the fifth worst mark in baseball.

The Braves have won 83% of their games this month with a formula of mashing people with their offense, and then closing the game out with their bullpen once they get a lead.

But just behind those two obvious reasons for the Braves strong play in June is a third, more inconspicuous reason. It’s been obscured by a video game-level offense and high leverage relief work. The third reason the Braves are playing so well this month is they've quietly but significantly improved their defense.

Consider this, for April and May, the Braves were at -15 Outs Above Average as team, dead last in MLB. In June, the Braves are at +8 Outs Above Average, third best in MLB.

For two month the Braves were one of the worst defensive team in baseball, and it showed up nightly. There was an uncomfortably long stretch in May, were every pop up hit was a terrifying adventure of who was going to screw this up. Ozzie Albies was playing the worst defense of his career with uncharacteristic misplays and inaccurate throws. Austin Riley was letting everything not hit directly at him roll into left field, Acuna had misplays in right, Olson had misplays at first, there was the 3-week dark period of Vaughn Grissom at shortstop that never needs to be talked about again, left field was always adventure, etc.

Sean Murphy and Michael Harris were generally fantastic at their jobs and Orlando Arcia was solid at short, but other than that, there were way too many plays not being made in the field the first two months of the season.

In June, that hasn’t been the case. In fact, it’s been the opposite.

Riley is at +2 Outs Above Average this month at third, making some terrific stops to his right, which has not always been a strength of his. There was this one against Colorado:

There was this is against Byron Buxton

Miguel Cabrera runs like he’s carrying Byron Buxton but this is still impressive:

And it’s not just improvement at third. Ozzie is also at +2 Outs Above Average this month after being unusually bad at second base for the first 9 weeks of the season. He's always been a plus defender at second, so it’s just nice to see stuff like this again

And this

And one more

Here’s one with both guys turning an impressive double play:

Ronald had some misplays early in the year and he’s the one who got penalized for the lost pop ups in Toronto, but even he’s at +1 OAA this month. (OAA doesn’t yet have an arm component, but that is coming soon)

He’s made this his signature play, running towards the gap, catching it over his shoulder:

Here’s Orlando being Orlando

Even Olson and Rosario have gotten in on it:

With the excellent play in June, the Braves moved from dead last in OOA to 22nd in baseball. Still not great, but moving in the right direction. I opened up Excel and it turns out making more defensive plays is better than making fewer defensive plays so, yeah. This isn’t really a complicated post. The Braves are playing better defense this month than they have at any point in the season and it’s making things much easier. Here’s to more of it.

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