July started out hot (7-3), and then the All-Star Break kind of put the brakes on things. But a hiccup for the Braves still means one game over .500 (9-8) to finish out the last 17 games of July, and overall, it still results in a positive 16-11 month, with the squad unfortunately falling back to six games behind the Phillies.
Without further ado, here are your July most valuable, and least valuable Atlanta Braves, as voted by the Talking Chop crew. Like always, a variety of numbers and factors are examined when coming to these selections, and majority votes rule.
Most Valuable Player
Freddie Freeman (Says it all) ---------------->
#5 / First Base / Atlanta Braves
Sep 12, 1989
Credentials: Played and started in all 27 games in July, and in 120 plate appearances, hit .362/.433/.600 (1.033 OPS), launching six home runs, driving in 18, while scoring 17 of his own. He cut down on the strikeouts (24), while walking more than any other month this season (13), and even stole two bases to boot. Peripherally, he dazzled with a .238 ISO, and his ability to utilize literally all parts of the field led to an absurd .421 BABIP, and got on-base to the tune of a jaw-dropping .446 wOBA. In terms of WPA, he put up a godly +1.795 score, which is the highest monthly score from any position player all year.
It was pretty much a no-brainer for Freddie Freeman, as he pretty much anchored the team's offense all throughout the month, while playing stellar defense at first along the way. An honorable mention goes to Dan Uggla, for having himself an extremely strong July in his own right, hitting .293/.369/.586 with 8 HR and 19 RBI to rebound from the atrocious first half of the season. But nobody was touching Freddie after the kind of month he had.
Jonny Venters Award for Relief Excellence
Credentials: 12.0 innings pitched, 43 batters faced. Allowed just 5 hits, zero for extra bases, zero home runs allowed, zero earned runs allowed, zero runs allowed, and an ERA of zero. Kimbrel struck out 19 batters, while only walking three. Best month of the season in terms of walks/9 (2.25), batting average (.125), WHIP (0.67), BABIP (.238), FIP (0.58). Strand rate of 100%. WPA score of +0.889. 8 for 8 in save opportunities, and broke the MLB record for most saves by a rookie before the All-Star Break (27). In the two inning difference between June and July, Kimbrel threw 60 fewer pitches, which is great news for preservation of that powerful arm.
Just how good was Craig Kimbrel in July? Look at Jonny Venters' numbers, who was pretty much an afterthought in July compared to Craig: 12.1 IP, 49 BF, 4 hits, 0 XBH, 0.00 ERA, 100% strand rate, .100 BA, and a higher +1.038 WPA score. The chief difference was Jonny's walk peripherals in July, which were the worst month of his season. But it doesn't take a genius to see that Jonny was as dominant as could be, and still didn't measure up to Kimbrel. We may have to re-name the award next month...
Credentials: Six starts, a 4-1 record (Braves went 4-2), tossed 41.1 innings with an ERA of 2.83. Five of his six starts, Huddy went at least 7.0 IP. 168 batters hit .237/.301/.329 and hit just three homers, walking 11 times, while striking out 34 times. As always, Huddy kept the ball on the ground (55.9 GB%), inducing five Jose Vidro specials, and stranded runners at an 80.8% clip. Top WPA score from all starting pitchers, at +0.423.
To be fair, July was kind of a brutal month for all the Braves' starters, as the All-Star Break couldn't have come at a worse time. In terms of peripheral stats, Hudson wasn't the best in every category, but his consistent reliability, and the fact that he avoided the implosions that bit Hanson and Jurrjens at least once this month is why he's still an easy choice for our pitching MVP.
David Ross Award for Reliability Off the Bench
Credentials: Played in 18 games, starting in 10. In his 47 plate appearances, Hinske hit .282/.404/.438, and cranked two more home runs, driving in seven, while walking seven times versus 11 strikeouts. Accumulated +0.343 WPA score.
Not a whole lot more superlatives that can be rained upon Eric Hinske that haven't already been said before. Whether it's the clutch hits, or the comedic heroics of his running, plowing, barreling, pseudo-leaping outfield grabs, for the record, little made me happier during the off-season than finding out that Hinske was going to be a Brave for a little bit longer.
Least. Valuable. Player.
Made 25 starts, hindered 26 total games. In 109 plate appearances, A-Gon actually improved his batting average this past month, but still to only just .208. Overall it's .208/.229/.264 (.494 OPS). He struck out 26 times, while only walking thrice, and hit into five double plays. Lowest month of BB/K (0.12), ISO (.057), and wOBA (.223) of the year. The defense is always nice, but overall, he killed the Braves in July - WPA score of -1.120, which almost entirely negates all of Freddie Freeman's contributions.
Least. Valuable. Pitcher.
Derek Lowe started in five games in which he and the Braves went 2-3. In fairness to him, the three losses, the Braves only scored 1, 2, and 2, but the fact remains is that Lowe was far too hittable all throughout July. In 27.1 innings pitched, Lowe faced 127 batters, who fared .325/.384/.404 against him, and despite not giving up any home runs, he still allowed 18 runs, with just 13 strikeouts versus 10 walks, leading to an ERA of 5.86 for the month. His WPA score was a rotation-worst -0.772. He was plagued by a season's worst .359 BABIP, despite actually having the best FIP of the five starters (3.25), and GB% went down while LD% went up. One of the biggest issues however, is the lack of stamina that Lowe has demonstrated in July, as his outings have been 5.1, 6.0, 6.1, 5.0, and 5.0 respectively; the sixth innings have been particularly cruel to him, as he has yielded eight hits and four earned runs in 6th innings this month.
Also making this a race was, you guessed it, Scott Proctor. Take out the 19-inning Pittsburgh game which made his WPA look somewhat less sucky, and you've got -0.772. He appeared eight times, and gave up runs in five of them, with all five of those being Braves losses. Unfortunately, Scott Linebrink was removed with the phantom injury instead of Proctor, and he remains on the roster to this day.