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Braves close out 2015 with comfortable September

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It was the month that, in many ways, was basically the season in microcosm.

Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Not every season that ends abruptly after 162 games goes out with relative silence (I'm looking at you, 2011), but that was definitely the case with the tail end of the Braves' 2015 campaign. After a surprisingly un-bad spring and a woeful summer, the Braves slid into their comfort zone as the season wound down. What's comfortable about a 13-18 month (including four games in October), you ask? Well, just the fact that that .419 winning percentage is the closest the 2015 Braves managed all season to their overall winning percentage of .414.

So, while the spring was a period of relative overachievement, and the summer was mostly a showcase of a team that, despite the dearth of talent on the field, could not possibly have actually been that bad, September mostly indicated that the 2015 Braves were who we thought they were: not the worst team in the league, but something somewhat closer to terrible than average.

(For the record, before the season started I thought the Braves would win 71-72 games but be a bottom five team; gun to my head I'd have picked second-worst in baseball. Instead, the Braves won 65 games and were a bottom three team; six teams finished with 68 or fewer wins, and 72 would've given the Braves only the 8th-worst record in baseball.)

Series by Series

  • Lost two against the Marlins (first game was in August, swept overall in the series)
  • Swept in four games in Washington
  • Won two of three in Philadelphia
  • Swept by the Mets at home in four games
  • Lost two of three against the Blue Jays
  • Swept Phillies in three games
  • Won two of three against the Mets in New York
  • Swept in Miami in three games
  • Won two of three against the Nationals
  • Swept the Cardinals in three games to end the season
The Braves won 5 series in September/October. That's the same number of series they lost! Amazingly, that's basically their best series record of the season, even though the actual game record is heavily skewed by the fact that they were swept three times but dished out only two sweeps themselves.

September/October (and overall stats) by the Numbers

  • 13-18 record (67-95 overall)
  • The Braves finish with the third-worst record, but amazingly (or not), the worst run differential in baseball. By the end, they outplayed their Pythagorean Expectation by six games, and have an expected Pythagorean record of 61-101 (worse than the Phillies by one game). Only one team outplayed its run differential by more (the Cubs, by 7 games, even though the Cubs would still have the third-best record in the NL if all teams had their Pythagorean records instead), and the Braves had a similar season-long success at effective run stacking as the Angels, who took a relevant season down to its last day despite allowing more runs than they scored.
  • Offense: an 89 wRC+ for the month, a little lower than the team's season-long 92 wRC+. But in both cases, the Braves were 26th overall in the majors by this measure (as well as 12th and 13th in the NL, respectively, in these timeframes).
  • Defense: The Braves put up the third-best month, defensively in the majors, and were second in the NL only to the Cubs. Andrelton Simmons and Daniel Castro led the defensive charge. For the season, the Braves turned in the eighth-best defensive showing (6th-best in the NL), again largely on the back of the wizardry of the man they call Simba.
  • Total position player value: 25th in MLB, compared to 24th in MLB over the whole season. By NL rank, this was 4th-worst in September/October and 5th-worst overall. Special shoutout to Freddie Freeman, who managed to be the most valuable position player for the team despite his lingering wrist issues.
  • Rotation: ERA - 15th in MLB, 7th in NL; FIP - 17th in MLB, 10th in NL; xFIP - 25th in MLB, 13th in NL. This is somewhat noteworthy because while it looked like the Braves had a pretty decent starting pitching month to close out the year, it was really more of a non-peripherally-supported windfall of run prevention, especially based on fly balls not leaving the park. For the year as a whole, the rotation was: ERA - 20th in MLB, 10th in NL; FIP - 22nd in MLB, 10th in NL; xFIP - 23rd in MLB, 12th in NL.
  • Bullpen: ERA - 27th in MLB, worst in NL; FIP - 25th in MLB, worst in NL; xFIP - 27th in MLB, 14th in NL. For the year as a whole, the bullpen ended with: ERA - 2nd-worst in MLB and NL; FIP - 2nd-worst in MLB, worst in NL; xFIP - 27th in MLB, worst in NL. Yeah, the bullpen sucked. It sucked over the whole season, it sucked in September, the world keeps turning, and so on. Four teams featured bullpens below replacement level, in aggregate, for the whole season. Two of those were really close to replacement level, but two were considerably worse, and the Braves were one of them (the Red Sox had the overall worst bullpen this season).
  • Total pitcher value: 27th in MLB, 13th in NL. That's a little better than for the whole season, where the Braves featured the least-valuable pitching staff in baseball. At least that's over with. Maybe they'll decide to field an actual competent bullpen next year. (Please stop using roster spots and innings on Matt Marksberry, Brandon Cunniff, Edwin Jackson, and Sugar Ray Marimon, unless you're trying to lose!)

Big Damn Hero for September/October 2015 - Position Players: Freddie Freeman

It's hard to give this to anyone other than Freddie, despite the ongoing controversy about playing time, his ailing wrist, and one's personal feelings about the "Dr. Fredi" meme. Whether or not Freeman should have even been playing is an important question, but what's difficult to disparage is his production when he was in the lineup. He led the team in homers and runs driven in for the month. He walked at an insane 18.7% rate for the month, which is the same rate at which he struck out. He posted a superb OBP of .421 and a wRC+ of 142. He was the most valuable position player for the month.

On top of all this, he delivered crazy heroics against the Mets after coming in as a pinch-hitter (WPA of 0.73 for the game, which is ridiculous). In six other games, he put up WPAs above 0.1. He was the best. At least we still get to watch Freddie mash next year.

Big Damn Hero for September/October 2015 - Starting Pitchers: Julio Teheran

For the second consecutive month, Julio Teheran both looked like Julio Teheran and gave the Braves a real chance whenever he took the mound. He never allowed more than two runs in a start, and this included an outing against the modern day traveling baseball murder exhibition that makes its home in Toronto. That start was the only one in which he posted a negative WPA for the month, and his ERA of 1.76 was sparkling, with a pretty decent 3.72 FIP as well.

Shelby Miller gets a minor shoutout for finally breaking his decades-long winless skid against the Cardinals on the season's final day, but the key note is just how brutal of a September he had: while a 4.39 FIP isn't awful, he was touched to the tune of a 5.40 ERA and seemed to miss all the breaks. In starts where he had good peripherals, random balls in play killed him; in starts where he had awful peripherals, it didn't take much more to do him in. Now that the ridiculous winless streak is over, maybe Shelby can take what he learned this season and use it to put together a supremely dominant, consistent effort for 2016 and beyond.

Big Damn Hero for September/October 2015 - Relievers: Edwin Jackson

I kind of didn't really even want to give one out, as a punishment for the bullpen being so bad, in general. Even Arodys Vizcaino, who's been the go-to for this award, faltered in key situations in September. With that said, Edwin Jackson actually did the best at actually "relieving" in September, even though his tenure as a Brave has been dreadful overall. Jackson posted a 3.92 FIP and 4.80 xFIP this month. Those aren't great and the xFIP's a bit rough. But his ERA sparkled at 1.76, largely due to a freaky .150 BABIP. Still, he made 16 relief appearances and only badly pooched one of them (the ridiculous Ryan Kelly gives up a homer to the last Mets hitter game), where he allowed the Mets to score the go-ahead run in extra innings. Leaving that aside, he posted positive WPAs in 10 of those appearances, including holding a one-run lead in the 8th against the Nationals, and cleaning up a bases-loaded mess by allowing just a sacrifice fly against the Mets.

It was slim pickings, but Jackson fared the best among the relief crew. I still don't think he showed enough to warrant consideration for a legitimate bullpen slot next year (if the Braves want to field an illegitimate bullpen again, feel free to toss him in there, though), but at least he had a BABIP-fueled moment of minor glory this fall.

My Favorite Moments of September/October 2015

This was a pretty good month for cool stuff happening on the field. Even in the mire of the season, there were some definite fist-pumpers going on.

Desmond Does Something Dumb

I'm not too sure why Ian Desmond was bunting with runners on first and second, none out, in the ninth inning of a game in which his team trailed by one. Maybe it was Matt Williams. Maybe he was afraid that if he choked and struck out, Jonathan Papelbon would emerge and choke him. Maybe it was because now that the Braves are obviously bad, the Nationals have absorbed their inherent Barve qualities, like a navy-and-red Kirby. (Dan Uggla = King Dedede. Just sayin.) The point is, Desmond tried to bunt. It didn't work out. It was awesome.

I also like how after doing it, Desmond doesn't start running right away. He has this facial expression like, "Huh, okay, I got it down. Job done, okay, cool." If he ran, maybe he beats the throw from third. Maybe not. Arodys Vizcaino would strike out Matt den Dekker to complete the save, in case you were wondering.

Hector Olivera Showcases Some Massive Power

Logan Verrett has had kind of a weird career. The Baylor product was drafted by the Mets in the third round in 2011, climbed the ladder rapidly but didn't have great results, and languished a bit in AAA before being taken by the Orioles in the Rule 5 draft. The Orioles waived him before the season started, and he was claimed by the Rangers. After nine unsuccessful innings in Texas, the Rangers returned him to the Mets, who pressed him into duty as a swingman. And it was in that role that Verrett found himself shutting down the Braves in New York, throwing four socreless innings. In the top of the fifth, though, Jace Peterson led off the inning with a homer. That loosened the floodgates a bit, as Michael Bourn would single and Nick Markakis would draw an intentional pass to set up this moonshot:

Yes, that's a 2-0 pitch. Yes, it's over the plate. Yes, it's letter-ish high. But man, Hector Olivera absolutely cranks this ball. That's an outside pitch that he pulls and drills well over the wall at spacious Citi Field. We didn't see much out of Olivera this season, whether due to Fredi's weird lineup decisions or just because Olivera didn't really play that well (average hitting, very poor defensive showing), but that blast, his second (thanks, Rocky!) major league homer, was definitely the highlight of his 2015 Atlanta tenure.

Freddie Freeman Filets Phillies

There's nothing too special about this one, but I just thought it was a joy to watch. In some ways, it's a pretty generic Freddie Freeman at-bat: face junky righty reliever, work the count full, hit a ball out to left that doesn't even seem that well-hit off the bat, have it hit the wall for a two-run game-winning double, ya know, the works. But something about the fact that he hits the ball this hard even when the contact isn't great, that he can do so while going the other way, the fact that the Phillies pooch it both in left field and on the relay, the fact that Jerome Williams once played for the Giants, it's just great.

I'm Not Allowed to Do One of These Without Adonis Garcia

And not because there's an edict, but just because he seriously manages to repeatedly hit huge homers for the Braves. Say what you will about him as a player (unsustainable peripherals, doesn't walk, who names their kid Adonis, anyway?), but he has legitimate power and seems to use it in the highest-leverage situations. Who needs an OBP above .300 when you can do this?

This ball is absolutely murdered. I love the way he throws his bat away. I love the fact that this comes against Tyler Clippard, because he's about as sad sack against the Braves as any pitcher can be against any team. The Braves would go on to lose this game because Arodys Vizcaino promptly gave the lead back up in the top of the ninth, but just watch that replay again and marvel at the literal and metaphorical death of a baseball.

Freddie Freeman's Off the Bench Heroics

Again, we're going to leave aside everything related to Freddie's wrist and just marvel at how he manages to come in off the bench and completely whomp the Mets here. First, he comes in as a pinch-hitter with the Braves down by a run and hits a two-run double off of Addison Reed, on a 0-2 pitch. Then, when Higher Draft Pick Enabling Duo Matt Marksberry and Brandon Cunniff blow the one-run lead next inning, Freeman just has to wait until Mets closer Jeurys Familia gets himself into hot water in the ninth:

I will say that in terms of these videos, he's 2-for-2 in making corner outfielders look terrible. And yeah, that pitch from Familia wasn't really a winner (93 that kind of hung there over the plate) but he crushed that too. It's always fun to beat the Mets, and it's even more fun when you can mess with their heads a bit as Freddie did there. Unfortunately, they're playing in the playoffs and we're not, but at least we'll always have the fact that they decided to use Tyler Clippard against us for some reason. Oh, and they'll also have this ridiculousness, below.

The Worst Moment of September/October 2015

This is just kind of dumb. There's not really another way to describe it. The Braves are beating the Mets 7-4. In the ninth inning, Fredi Gonzalez asks Peter Moylan to get some outs. Moylan strikes out Ruben Tejada. Win expectancy at 99.0% Moylan strikes out Kevin Plawecki. Win expectancy at 99.8%. Moylan gives up a double to Juan Lagares. Well, okay, the win expectancy is still at 99.0%. And then Fredi Gonzalez pulls Peter Moylan for a reliever worse than him, one Ryan Kelly. Ryan Kelly is not a lefty. The upcoming Mets' hitter, Curtis Granderson, is a lefty. I don't get it. Granderson walks. The hitters after Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda, are also lefties. Fredi Gonzalez sticks with Kelly. Of course, Fredi Gonzalez didn't have a lefty reliever at his disposal after using Andrew McKirahan for three straight days and the fact that Ross Detwiler was abducted by lizard people or something, but still. Ryan Kelly then throws the most batting practice-y 87 mph batting practice soft serve pitch to Murphy, who hits it into right field for a game-tying homer.

Edwin Jackson and Danny Burawa would combine to give up three more runs in the 10th to sink the game, but, really, the damage was done earlier. How do you go from a 99.8% win expectancy to losing a game? I didn't know, but I do now. Thanks Ryan Kelly, thanks 2015 Braves.

And thank you for reading!