Lessons from the Braves' offense in June

July 1st, 2019

ATLANTA -- Before entering the three-month stretch that will decide the National League East, let’s look at how the Braves quickly vaulted to the front of this significantly-altered race and analyze whether their tremendous June was just a great month or a sign of things to come.

The Braves exited May trailing the Phillies by three games in the NL East. Per Fangraphs’ projections, they had a 33.7 percent chance to win the division and a 53.7 percent chance to gain a postseason berth.

Those same projections entering July give them a 75.8 percent chance to defend their division crown and a 94.1 percent chance to earn a playoff berth.

There are no guarantees, but while tallying a franchise-record 56 homers in June and going 20-8 for the month, the Braves enhanced any Trade Deadline anticipation and gave their fans reason to plan for October baseball in Atlanta.

Though the Braves’ deep lineup might not be as insanely powerful from top to bottom over the next few months, there’s certainly reason to believe they could continue to get similar power from and , who both hit a team-high nine homers in June.

Here are the key offensive players to watch the rest of the way:

Acuna: Christian Yelich (54), Khris Davis (43) and Hunter Renfroe (43) are the only players that have tallied more homers than Acuna (39) since last year’s All-Star break. At 21 years old, Atlanta’s five-tool All-Star outfielder has proven his power tool is elite.

Among the 151 players who have put at least 300 balls in play dating back to last year’s All-Star break, Acuna ranks seventh with a 14.6 percent barrel rate. The 13.8 AB/HR rate he produced in June seemed to be a sign that he was heating up, much like he did when he homered once every 15 at-bats over last season’s final two months.

Freeman: Freeman’s 12.8 AB/HR rate in June is actually lower than the 11.4 AB/HR rate he has produced dating back to May 16. For the first time since his left wrist was fractured six weeks into the 2017 season, the All-Star first baseman is generating power as frequently as he did when he put up a 12.9 AB/HR rate while homering 38 times during a 132-game stretch from June 15, ‘16 to May 17, ‘17.

During that stretch, Freeman generated an average exit velocity of 91.6 mph and barreled 16.6 percent of the balls put in play. In 2018, his barrel percentage dropped to 9.3 percent and his average exit velocity slipped to 89.1 mph. In ‘19, 15 of his 22 homers have come since May 16 and he has manufactured a 15.4 percent barrel rate with a 91.8 mph.

and : Swanson’s bid for a breakout season weakened in May but gained life as he ranked fourth on the team with 131 Weighted Runs Created Plus in June. But while Freeman and Acuna might have strengthened their MVP resumes this past month, the most valuable emergence came from Albies, who ranked third on the team with 148 WRC+ in that span.

Albies has hit .315 with a .899 OPS dating back to May 17, slashing .289/.374/.482 in 131 plate appearances against right-handed pitchers. Batting from the right side has never been a problem for the 22-year-old second baseman. But when he exited May 16 having slashed .181/.261/.303 from the left side dating back to last year’s All-Star break, there was reason to question whether he should end his days as a switch-hitter.

: While Acuna’s move to the leadoff spot on May 10 might have been this year’s most influential tactical decision, the most beneficial addition has been Riley, who could flirt with a 30-homer season despite not debuting until May 15.

Riley’s more-than-respectable 18.8 AB/HR rate over his past 25 games is more projectable than the 7.8 AB/HR rate he produced while tallying nine homers through his first 18 games. There might be concern if looking solely at the fact he has struck out once every 2.84 at-bats. But that rate is exactly the same whether looking at his first 18 games, the past 25 or the entirety of his young career.

If Riley were to maintain the 15.1 AB/HR rate he produced in June, there’s a chance the Braves could end up with four players with 30-homer seasons for just the second time in franchise history, matching the record set in 1998 (Andres Galarraga, Chipper Jones, Javy Lopez and Andruw Jones).

: While Swanson might have a chance for a 30-homer season, the more likely fourth candidate is Donaldson, who has homered just once since tallying six of his 15 homers within a span of 39 at-bats from June 11-19.

Donaldson’s 13.8 percent barrel rate and 92.4 mph average exit velocity still trump the numbers he produced during his 2015 MVP season (12.2 percent and 92.1 mph, respectively). However, his strikeout rate is up and his uncharacteristic struggles against left-handed pitchers and breaking balls have been well documented.

Per Statcast, as Donaldson produced an .884 OPS in June he also realized a -0.042 difference between his Weighted On-base Average and Expected Weighted On-base Average. This metric indicates he was the unluckiest Braves player during what was still a very productive month and there’s certainly reason to believe the veteran third baseman has the potential to make some noise in the second half.