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September ends Braves’ season on a high note

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After three straight poor Septembers, the Braves shrugged off the rest of their 2016 season to finally finish above .500 for a calendar month.

MLB: Detroit Tigers at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

September has ended, and with October comes the deluge of playoff baseball. But September (and those two games in October) were very fun for the Atlanta Braves, even if nothing they could do could deliver a postseason berth for them.

Going back to 2010, the Braves have generally faded in the fall.

  • In 2010, the Braves had an awful April but played extremely well until a sub-.500 September. (Note: from here on out, I’m using “September” to refer to all regular season games played in September and October.)
  • 2011 was pretty much the exact same story, but with far more bitterness, as a 9-18 September saw the Braves lose a playoff spot on the last game of the season.
  • 2012 was the outlier, as the Braves had five good-to-great months including September, with May being the only sub-.500 affair.
  • 2013 was a great, 96-win season, but the Braves had their only sub-.500 month in September.
  • While the Braves were more of a .500 team for pretty much every month in 2014 but April, it was their 7-18 September that really doomed them in the end, cancelling out their very hot start to the season.
  • Enacting the rebuild saw even more of the same, as the Braves went 13-18 in what turned out to be Fredi Gonzalez’ last September as the Atlanta skipper in 2015.

So, of course, the 2016 Atlanta Braves went 18-10 in September. It was their only winning month, their only month with a positive run differential, and those 18 wins were more than the club amassed during any other two-month stretch.

For the season, the team was still a bottom-five or bottom-six club, depending on what metric you chose to examine. And while many lament the fact that the late-season surge kicked the Braves from a first or second overall pick in next June’s Rule IV Draft, it was still very fun to watch while it happened. Only one major league team had a better September than the Braves: the Boston Red Sox, who went 19-10 and still had their season end without a 2016 postseason win to their names.

Series by Series

  • Won a game vs. the Padres (concluding a three-game sweep starting in August)
  • Swept the Phillies in Philadelphia
  • Swept in Washington
  • Lost a series to the Mets (1-2)
  • Lost a series to the Marlins (1-2)
  • Won a series against the Nationals (2-1)
  • Swept the Mets in New York
  • Won a series in Miami (2-1)
  • Swept the Phillies
  • Won 2 of 3 against the Tigers to cap the season

The month (of course) featured the team’s longest winning streak of the year, at seven games — this streak featured series wins against two NL contenders in the Nationals and Mets. It was the only month where the Braves avoided a losing streak of five games or more.

September and Overall Team Stats by the Numbers

  • 18-10 record (68-93 overall)
  • Final Pythagorean Expectation of 67-94, the third-worst in baseball. The Braves leapfrogged two other teams in one month by this measure.
  • 4th-most runs scored in September (tops in the NL). For the season, however, the Braves finished second-to-last in runs.
  • Best overall offensive production in baseball for the month, with a 117 (!!!!!) wRC+. However, they still finished in the bottom five for the season, with a 93 wRC+ (third-worst in NL).
  • Defensive production (usual caveats apply): for the season, the Braves clocked in at 19th in MLB (10th in NL). For September, it was 25th. Once again, Matt Kemp and Jace Peterson wreaked havoc on the team’s defense from a metrics perspective.
  • Total position player value: the Braves were effectively tied with the Mets and Mariners for second place overall for the month, behind only the Cubs. On a full-season basis, however, they were a much less rosy 29th, ahead of only the Athletics.
  • Starting rotation: despite the offensive juggernaut, the Braves had the 3rd-worst ERA, 3rd-worst FIP, and 6th-worst xFIP among major league teams in September.
  • The bullpen, however, was a different story, finishing with the 4th-best ERA and 2nd-best FIP for the month, although the xFIP rank was 24th, suggesting some fly ball luck was involved.
  • Thanks to the great relief work, the Atlanta arms finished 17th in the majors in total pitching value for the month, despite a rotation effort that was among the worst in baseball at the time.
  • Overall, the Braves rotation finished in the bottom 5 in ERA, FIP, and xFIP for the season, and was the second-least-valuable rotation in MLB, ahead of only the Reds. The bullpen was better, with ranks of 19th, 7th, and 24th for ERA, FIP, and xFIP, with an overall bullpen value (weighted by leverage) of 14th in MLB. Overall, the pitching staff finished 25th in MLB in total value.

I wrote in August, “suffice to say, it was the offense that really helped the team have its best month yet,” and that goes doubly for September.


Biggest September Impact - Position Players

The Braves effectuated an offensive onslaught on the rest of baseball in April, and Freddie Freeman was the biggest part of the bushels of run production. On the heels of an August where he put up a 198 wRC+, he continued his blistering pace, with a 192 wRC+ to close out the year.

For the second straight month, Freeman had arguably the best month in baseball, albeit buttressed by an insane .453 BABIP. Only former teammate Justin Upton had a better offensive month, but Freeman added two steals as a cherry on top of his Sundae of Offensive Obliteration.

Most impressive to me was a four-game stretch Freeman had to start the month. On September 1, he hit a two-run homer to start the scoring, and later drew a bases-loaded walk. On September 2, he hit a go-ahead RBI double in the ninth to finish off a comeback from a 4-0 score against the Phillies (the Braves would actually score four times in the inning). On September 3, his extra-inning single pushed Adonis Garcia to third base, where he would score the go-ahead run on an RBI grounder. And then on September 4, he homered again, making a 1-0 game into a 2-0 game in the eighth inning. It wasn’t necessarily the most destructive four-game stretch he had in the season’s second half, but it was one where he consistently came through for his teammates.

For those keeping score at home, Freddie Freeman had the biggest impact for the team in three out of the season’s six months. Freeman himself was far and away the Braves’ best player this year on any side of the ball, and should garner some MVP votes as a definite Top 5 player in the National League this year.

Biggest September Impact - Starting Pitchers

Another month of unexciting pitching performance on the whole was September for the Braves. Therefore, this is as good of a time as any to give a shoutout to journeyman Josh Collmenter, who was picked up to make some fill-in starts for the Braves and gave everyone much more than they bargained for.

Collmenter, he of the strange over-the-top delivery that doesn’t generate much mustard on the ball, made three starts as a Brave. The Braves won each of them, and Collmenter allowed just five runs (1, 2, 2) in the process, keeping his team in the game in each start. That’s more than can be said for Julio Teheran, who paired a great seven inning shutout performance at Turner Field’s final game with a couple of clunkers and other quotidian outings. While Collmenter’s 2.37 ERA over those three starts belies much worse peripherals (4.46 FIP, 4.34 xFIP), he did showcase a better set of strikeout and walk rates than he had previously managed in his last few seasons.

It’s not clear whether the Braves will attempt to retain his services for 2017, but whether they do or not, Collmenter’s surprising success was just another bit of delightful weirdness as the 2016 season drew to a close.

Across the six months, I tabbed Julio Teheran in this section thrice, as well as individual nominations for Matt Wisler, Lucas Harrell, and Josh Collmenter. Atlanta pitching was really weird this year.

Biggest September Impact - Relief Pitchers

Jim Johnson had a very good relief season, and a very good September. The Braves then promptly rewarded him with a two-year extension. For the season, Johnson had a 3.06 ERA, 2.71 FIP, and a 3.11 xFIP. While baseball is full of specialized relievers these days who throw up eye-popping numbers over 60-70 innings, Johnson was not chopped liver either: those numbers place him 22nd in fWAR (which is based on FIP and infield pops, and is weighted by leverage for relievers) among all relievers with 60 or more innings in 2016.

Johnson pitched 14 times in the month, allowing just four runs. One of those runs blew a save, but the other three were basically in garbage time, allowing singletons to teams that were well behind the Braves at the time en route to finishing the game. His good outings included preserving an extra-inning tie and four one-run leads. He got the last two outs at Turner Field via the strikeout, punching out both JD Martinez and Justin Upton to give the Braves their last-ever victory at their old stadium.

Weirdly enough, the 2016 season was a story in inconsistent dominance for a corps that mixed and matched young and veteran arms. Arodys Vizcaino started out the season in near-dominant fashion, but fell apart in the summer. Johnson had a great June, but a poor July, wherein his relief work was overshadowed by that of Mauricio Cabrera. Both Johnson and Cabrera were great in August, but Cabrera struggled himself in September.


My Favorite Moments of September (and October) 2016

Like I said, it was a fun month. Hard to pick just five, so I cheated and put in six. First, possibly one of the coolest things this season:

Catch of the season?

Oh hey, Ender Inciarte, watcha doin’? Robbing Yoenis Cespedes of a two-out, three-run, walk-off homer to end the game? Yeah, that’s pretty cool, I guess. No big deal, right?

Adonis Strikes Once

Everything about this game was really weird, given that the Braves were entirely stifled by Andrew Cashner, with the exception of Tyler Flowers, who drove in both runs in different innings to knot the game at two apiece. In the ninth, who else but Emilio Bonifacio (for some reason) reached base on a single, and then with two outs, stole second and moved to third on an error. That set up Adonis Garcia giving the Braves the lead, as Marcell Ozuna somehow didn’t manage to flag the ball down in left field before it dropped in to score Bonifacio.

Adonis Strikes Again

Actually, “again” isn’t appropriate here, as Garcia had this walkoff hit before the one posted directly above. This one came in extra innings against the Mets, set up by none other than AJ Pierzynski. In exciting fashion, Garcia came through after two consecutive hitters (Tyler Flowers, Ender Inciarte) failed to drive in the winning run when a sacrifice fly would have sufficed. Luckily, Garcia hit a single to send everyone home happy.

Persistent Peterson

I don’t know why this one amuses me a bunch, but it does.

Some of it might be that the Braves somehow lost a game despite taking a lead in extra innings, some of it might be Jayson Werth’s horribly slow throw to fail to nab Nick Markakis, who himself seems to be chugging along the bases in slow motion. Some of it might be that despite not being shown here, Peterson’s single gave Jim Johnson his second career plate appearance, and first of the season, but Johnson would then go on to blow the save in his second inning of work.

Jace Peterson had a weird year, and this was a weird component of it. But it was fun when it happened.

Julio Still Has It

Julio Teheran also had a weird year, as some really good pitching to start the season gave way to a swirl of trade rumors that took on more importance than his own performance. Of course, he wasn’t traded midseason, but instead struggled with his health and missed a number of starts down the stretch. Teheran’s performance bounced around — he struggled in April, had great run prevention in May and June, and then, in the midst of his injury woes, had an ERA that ballooned past his FIP in July and August. His peripherals got in sync with his run prevention in September, though that was largely the result of some great outings and some total clunkers.

This was a great outing, albeit against a fairly weak Phillies lineup: Teheran allowed just eight baserunners (and only one extra-base hit) in Philadephia while striking out seven, en route to a 2-0 win.

What’s even weirder about it is that, later in the month, Teheran was blasted by these same Phillies, this time in a much easier park to pitch in (i.e., Turner Field versus Citizens Bank Park). He allowed ten hits and six runs in four innings. Go figure.

Teheran Sends the Ted Off in Style

His occasional September struggles aside, Teheran helped the Braves send Turner Field off in style with seven shutout innings against the playoff-hopeful Tigers on the season’s final day. Teheran struck out 12, tying his career high (also established this year, back in May), and allowed just three hits and a walk as the Braves pulled off a thrilling 1-0 victory.

A fitting sendoff for a stadium that featured a lot of great pitching performances, I think.

And also one that I can’t embed for some reason? Anyway, click here to watch.

The Most Aaargh Moment of September 2016

Like I said, Teheran was inconsistent. Some of that inconsistency was on display in the middle of the month, when he got rocked by the Marlins, thanks in large part to this really bad pitch that was knocked out of the yard for a three-run, go-ahead homer by Marcell Ozuna.

Welp.

As always, it was a pleasure to take in another season of baseball with all of you. The results could have been better, but there were bright moments a plenty, and September itself is going to give a bit of a warm glow to the cold winter until the Braves move to begin their 2017 campaign at SunTrust Park next spring.