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Simply put: Braves are the best in June 2023

It was literally the best month for the Braves franchise since the start of the 20th century.

MLB: JUN 30 Marlins at Braves Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

I don’t think anyone ever goes back to read any of these monthly recaps, but if one were to do so, the very first part of each would give them a refresher about how the month went relative to expectations. I have a feeling that no one is going to need a refresher about June 2023 for a long while, though. The Braves went 21-4; simply put, it was the best month for the franchise, pretty much* ever. After the Braves showed no signs of letup by ending the month with a 16-4 drubbing of the second-place Marlins, I was really hoping the Rays would lose in Seattle, to make things align very neatly: the Braves, riding their historic month, finally ascended to the place they occupied in the preseason projections — baseball’s best team. Alas, the Mariners blew a 4-0 lead en route to a 15-4 Rays win, so the Braves remain a game behind the Rays. Things don’t always neatly align. But really, who cares? Best. Month. Ever.

* The Baseball Reference Stathead tool only searches from 1901 forward. Through the tool, it looks like the Braves really did have their best-ever franchise month. However, you can look through the schedules of pre-1901 teams manually, and the 1897 Boston Beaneaters technically bested the 21-4 mark by going 22-2 in June of that year, during the William McKinley presidency.

It was also the best month for any team since the Dodgers went 20-3 in July 2017. Among current teams, no one was even close. The second-best team in June was the Marlins, who went “just” 19-8 — three games worse than the Braves. It was a blazing turnaround from a pretty meh May, one that had the Braves play at a 15-14 clip.

Given the above, it’s kind of weird to talk about what the expectations and projections were. Of course they smashed ‘em. Look at this!

If you count the rain-shortened series in Philadelphia as a sweep, the Braves had as many sweeps as game losses in June. By game-to-game odds, they were supposed to go 15-10 in June, which they easily cleared. Normally, doing the alternative, i.e., assuming they’ll win every game they’re favored in is a terrible way to forecast, but the Braves were favored in all but three games for the month, and won all but four. (That said, they actually won all three games in which they weren’t favored, and one of their losses was a game in which they were favored by the third-largest margin of the month, in a Bryce Elder-Trevor Williams matchup at home.) On the season to date, the Braves are about seven games ahead of their game-to-game odds. They’re one game ahead of their Pythagorean Expectation and two games ahead of their BaseRuns at this point.

In June, they added 14 percent to their division odds, 18 percent to their chances of getting a first-round playoff bye, the “final” two percent to their playoff odds (which now round to 100.0 percent), and five percent to their championship odds. Relative to where they finished May, they added about seven wins to their forecasted end-of-season total; they are now projected to end with 101 wins, after starting the season in the 93-win range. All this without Max Fried or Kyle Wright, by the way...

A funny thing about all of these superlatives, though — the June 2023 Braves were not some kind of complete team effort. The pitching staff’s production in June? 1.5 fWAR, 25th in MLB. That part of the team amassed 4.4 fWAR in April and 3.2 in May, and couldn’t even manage half of May here. The rotation was horrible in June, totaling just 0.3 fWAR, ahead of only the Rockies. It didn’t matter, though, and you know why because you also watched this team terrorize the opposition all month: the offense was just unbelievable.

The Braves finished June with a 150 team wRC+. The next-closest team finished at 128. Nine of the 11 Braves that got a plate appearance in June finished the month with a wRC+ of 115 or higher; there were as many guys above 190 as below 100.

They not only set the franchise record for homers in a month, but also a bunch of other insane records. On a wRC+ basis, with query-enabled data going back to 2002, their 150 wRC+ was way ahead of the next-highest calendar month, 2020’s September, which was “just” 134. On an OPS+ basis, it was the highest for any team since the Cubs in April 1954. On an OPS basis with no adjustment it was the highest since the Astros of July 2017. Suffice to say, it was the best offensive month in franchise history as well.

They also played good defense, as Stephen noted earlier this week. It was quite a turnaround, bringing them from “awful” to “average” defensively on the year. The bullpen was also great. It was just the rotation that was, well, stinky. But when you’re clubbing balls like this, you can get into shootouts and come out on top, no problem. In fact, the Braves accumulated so much non-rotation fWAR this month that their WAR-wins record for June was around 19-6. They can credit some good fortune to doing even better, but the point is that even horrible starting pitching wasn’t much of an impediment to more or less running the table for a month.

On the year, the Braves are now third in position player fWAR (second offensively, 11th defensively) and ninth in pitching fWAR (15th rotation, third bullpen).

One more set of stats: the Braves had a .387 xwOBA (and .399 wOBA) for the month. That’s hilariously by far the highest 2023 team xwOBA, as the Rangers are in second place with a .357 xwOBA, also in June. In the Statcast era (since the start of 2015), the xwOBA-by-calendar-month rankings are as follows:

  • June 2023 Braves: .387
  • September 2020 Braves: .386
  • September 2020 Dodgers: .374

It’s a bit of a silly statistic because the Braves have essentially been building their team to put up high xwOBAs, but boy, has it ever worked. They had four of the 20 players with an xwOBA above .400 in June, to put a fine point on it.

All of that makes pointing out individual performances kind of silly, but hey, this is a still a monthly recap, innit?

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for June 2023 Performance - Position Players

The march towards an essentially-uncontested MVP title continued apace for Ronald Acuña Jr. in June, as he continued to make a mockery of the game with his performance. He compiled 1.9 fWAR, a 194 wRC+, and a .482 xwOBA for the month. Yeah, Shohei Ohtani had a better offensive June, but that’s really about it. The kid hit nine of his 20 homers in June, and stole 14 more bases. He finished sixth in MLB in WPA for the month, and did it without the benefit of a walkoff or similar; he’s now second in WPA in MLB for the season, and again, he does it by just racking up good stuff game after game, rather than a singular big game-winning hit or something.

It’s a testament to just how consistent Acuña was over the course of the month that he managed to (barely) top Eddie Rosario in both WPA and other stuff in June. Both guys had insane lines in June, but Rosario faded late (33 wRC+ in the last four games) while Acuña surged (409 wRC+) in that span.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for June 2023 Performance - Starting Pitchers

The Braves used eight different starters in June. Of those, four finished with negative WPA, and four failed to pitch, in aggregate, above replacement. Sure, Charlie Morton was more than fine, the Braves won four of five Bryce Elder starts, and so on... but honestly, all of those are boring choices in a very poor month for starting pitching in Atlanta.

So, instead, let’s take a different, maybe not quite defensible, but more interesting tack, and give this meaningless honor to Kolby Allard. Yeah, Allard made just one start, but it was hilariously amazing: an 8/1 K/BB ratio in 4 23 scoreless innings in a fairly close game, in his first start since September 4, 2021. The Braves have pulled out most of, if not all, the stops in their attempt to shore up a rotation missing two key cogs, and those efforts have been hit-or-miss so far, as everyone but Elder has struggled. But here, out of nowhere, came Allard, and despite a pretty horrible major league track record, an oblique injury that kept him out of action most of the year to date, and rock-bottom expectations, managed to give the Braves yet another thing to dream on while helping them notch one of their 21 wins for the month. Even if Allard can’t keep it up, his next start is going to be something to watch.

Totally Meaningless Ivan Award for June 2023 Performance - Relief Pitchers

Get a load of this: A.J. Minter had seven shutdowns and zero meltdowns in June. By comparison, the Braves have just 79 bullpen shutdowns all season. While his stats themselves for the month (51 ERA-, 62 FIP-, 82 xFIP-) don’t jump off the page given how easy it is for a reliever to dominate for a few batters at a time, what was more impressive in June is that Minter never had a negative-WPA outing. He only had one zero-WPA outing. He entered garbage time once, and lower leverage just a couple of other times. The rest of the month was him working with the improved defense to do his job in key situations, over and over again. Maybe most impressive? In only six of 13 outings was he even on the mound for an event where the Braves lost WPA. At one point, he had a stretch of five consecutive outings without allowing a baserunner. He pitched both games of a doubleheader. It was a great month for a guy whose ERA is still stupidly high for reasons having nothing to do with his pitching.

Let me preface this recap of big moments, both good and bad from this month, by saying that I don’t think I’ve ever had such a complete assortment of sheer drama in a monthly recap before. While the Braves prevailed in almost every game during the month, their highs were unbelievably high, and their few meltdowns were epically awful. Enjoy this look back, it’s probably one of the best I’ve ever thrown together.

Best Offensive Play - Rosario Sets the Tone

Eddie Rosario’s June salvaged his season, it’s safe to say. He started June with -0.4 fWAR and a 75 wRC+. He ended it with 0.8 fWAR and a 117 wRC+. It was that kind of month.

More than that, though, he was the guy that set the tone for month, by delivering one of the most improbable comebacks the Braves had and will have all year. On June 4, with the Braves in serious danger of losing a series to the Diamondbacks thanks to trailing 5-4 in the rubber game in the ninth, they threw together pieces of a rally: a walk and a single put the tying run on third with none out, but a strikeout and a lineout to short put Eddie Rosario in a do-or-die situation. If he made an out, it was a loss. If he reached, the game was at least tied.

Part of the preface needed to this moment is that Rosario’s approach has been an enigma so far for much of 2023. He started the season seemingly integrating a “guess until two strikes” approach, hitting the ball mega-hard but swinging at everything and guessing crushable fastball when one wasn’t super-likely to come, and then chasing nowhere-near stuff with two strikes because of an overly-liberal interpretation of what “protect the plate” means. But, a 1-0 count against Miguel Castro was a great time to guess “I can crush this,” and crush it he did, hitting a massive grand slam that gave the Braves an epic, mind-boggling win in Arizona and jumpstarting their all-time-best month ever.

(Watch this one with audio on. Amazing.)

Best Run-Stopping Play - It All Came Together

The series in the Cincinnati was a slugfest, so of course it ended this way: 7-6 Braves in the bottom of the ninth, with runners on the corners and one out. It wasn’t going to be easy. Raisel Iglesias has had his share of travails this season, and this month — a day before this game, he gave up two homers to turn a three-run lead into an eventual one-run win. Here, the game threatened to blow up on him, until this happened:

The confluence of things that had to happen for the Braves to come away with a win here was voluminous.

Kevin Newman, who had fouled off three straight pitches, had to both swing at a borderline pitch and try to pull it. He had to pull it to third base, but where Austin Riley could get it, but not super-softly. Riley had to choose to go for the double play rather than cutting the lead run down at home, he had to succeed at that throw, and Ozzie Albies had to succeed at making the turn in time. Newman has a sprint speed in the 72nd percentile, and he had to somehow not beat out the throw (or even make it close!). All of those things happened, and the Braves came away with another hard-fought, narrowly-earned win, in both the game and the series.

Most Dominant Single Game Offensive Performance

Orlando Arcia was the only regular who didn’t have a good time in June, even though he was voted in to be an All-Star starter during the month. But, he had this one epic game on June 8, and to be fair, with the rest of his compatriots raking as they did, this one effort was enough.

In the second, Arcia had a leadoff infield single that brought the tying run to the plate, though the Braves didn’t score. In the third, he hit an RBI single as part of a rally that eventually brought the Braves to within a run.

After flyouts in the fifth and seventh, he came up in the bottom of the ninth with the Braves still down a run, and crushed David Robertson, tying the game. (Again, audio on, please.)

The Braves walked it off in extras the next inning.

Amazingly, Arcia’s .552 WPA in this game was not only the highest of his career, but already the second time this season he had a game with over .500 WPA.

Most Dominant Single Game Starting Pitching Performance

It was Bryce Elder last month, and yeah, it’s Bryce Elder again. He just dominated the Phillies on June 22, in a game with almost no margin for error, given that neither team scored in regulation. Elder allowed just six baserunners while striking out six and walking two. He faced just five over the minimum, only allowed two baserunners in the same inning once, and didn’t let anyone reach third base. Given the context of the game and the score, it was one of the best outings from a Braves starter for the whole season, and I’m not sure we’ll see a better performance in a close game this season from a Braves arm.

Most Dominant Relief Pitching Performance

After Orlando Arcia hit his game-tying homer off David Robertson, Iglesias took over and did something awesome: he held the Mets scoreless in extra innings. He was initially aided by a bit of good fortune, as Brandon Nimmo lined out to second for the first out, but then he struck out the next two batters. The Braves could’ve let a runner score, because Albies’ walkoff homer was a three-run shot, but of course, neither they nor Iglesias knew Albies would come through in that way at the time.

By the way, those two strikeouts came on seven total pitches. Domination.

Most Crushed Dinger

I don’t have sufficient words for how impressively Acuña hit this ball. This is just straight to dead center, back the way it came, on a meaty fastball right down the middle, with an almost ideal launch angle, in a park where balls just die in center.

Now let’s get to the bad stuff, of which there really wasn’t much. Honestly, the fact that the stuff below is so bad and the Braves didn’t even lose all of the games in which this stuff appeared is a pretty solemn testament to just how much had to go wrong for the Braves to lose a game this month.

Worst Offensive Result - This is a really bad thing to have happen to you in extra innings!

June 12 was one of the Braves’ four losses of the month, and the only one that followed another loss. This play was a big part of it, as Eddie Rosario had a chance to be a hero again but instead hit a fly ball weakly enough that Sam Hilliard got thrown out trying to tag up and score on the play.

The Detroit broadcast was super-excited about this play. That’s the sort of stuff it took for the Braves to lose.

Worst Pitching Result - Bad pitching, bad positioning, bad result

Same game, still June 12, a few minutes before Hilliard got thrown out. Iglesias came on with a three-run lead, and frittered it down to a run. With men on first and second in two outs, Zack Short did not come up short here:

I remember at the time, there was a lot of consternation that Rosario was still in the game, but this ball had zero percent catch probability. It was the positioning, and Iglesias having a horrible outing, that sunk the Braves here. Again, it took all of those things to doom the Braves.

Worst Single-Game Offensive Performance

Rosario’s fly-into-a-double-play was brutal, to be sure, but so was the rest of that game for him. Earlier in the contest, he flew out after a leadoff double, hit into a double play after a leadoff hit-by-pitch, grounded out to end an inning with the bases loaded, and struck out (with the bases empty). It was a charmed month for the guy, but this game wasn’t it.

Worst Single-Game Starting Pitching Performance

Spencer Strider experienced the first multi-game blip of his career in June. On June 8, well before the Arcia and Albies heroics, he had a tire fire of a start — two homers and eight runs charged in four innings, though he at least managed an 8/2 K/BB ratio. Part of the reason the game was so bad is because he didn’t really buckle down: after blowing a 3-0 lead by allowing a five-run inning that featured a grooved pitch on which Nimmo crushed a grand slam, Strider stayed in and allowed a walk-aided sixth run in the third, and then a two-run homer to Francisco Alvarez in the fourth. That last homer came immediately after Strider’s other walk.

Strider had a much worse start on paper the next time out, as the Tigers crushed him for three homers, but he settled down in that game, and floundered most of the way through this one.

Worst Single-Game Relief Pitching Performance

Before Zack Short tied the game off Iglesias, there were a lot of other issues in that inning. Namely, after a leadoff single, Iglesias allowed this tank job to Spencer Torkelson. Oof.

In the end, Iglesias blew a three-run lead and nearly blew the whole game right there. Again, this is what it took for the Braves to lose a game.

Most Crushed Dinger Allowed

Yeah, sadly/hilariously, it’s this one.

“Throw it again,” Pete Alonso still mutters, as his team bumbles its way towards last place in the NL East despite a record-setting payroll. “Throw it again, so that I may rekindle a brief vestige of glory in the nightmare that is my life.”

See you next month, which can’t be anywhere near as great as this one, right?

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