May was a month to forget for the Braves, even though they ended the month with a two game lead in the NL East. That was more a product of how poorly the Nationals have played and average the Marlins have been. The Braves finished 13-16 in May, a stark change from a 17-6 April. While the team had a great swing-and-miss pitching staff, striking out 8.5 K/9, their ridiculous rotation work of April (2.32 ERA) fell to a more believable 3.48 ERA in May. That change led to more loses because the offense was generally the same offense that it was in May. Less power, better OBP, and an OPS fall from .670 in April to .676 in May. Toward the end of the month, the offense began to turn a corner, banging out nearly nine hits a game and 4 walks over the final 13 games of May, leading to 4.2 R/G. Something to build upon.
With that mind, time to introduce the Rookie of the Month and the Worst and Best position players and pitchers.
Rookie of the Month
David Hale…Pickings are slim as the Braves, despite being so young, don’t have many players you can classify as a rookie. That leaves Hale, who followed up a good month out of the rotation with 13.1 scoreless innings in May. He actually hasn’t been scored upon since the first inning of his last start against the Reds. Since that early run on April 26th, Hale hasn’t been scored upon in the last 23 innings. There are concerns as he didn’t really dominate in May. After all, he walked six, hit a pair, and struck out just two. Still, as a long reliever, few have sparkled as bright as Hale. He’ll have more trouble defending this award from recent callups in June.
Worst Position Player of the Month
Dan Uggla…I really despise making this choice since he’s basically been benched, but even when he did come to the plate, he failed to produce. He managed four singles in 30 PA and a pitcher-like .313 OPS. Ouchie. Even Tyler Pastornicky got his OPS over .500, though that’s hardly a good thing. Keeping Uggla at this point is akin to hitting a deer and letting it suffer until it dies instead of putting it down to save it the pain. Maybe that’s hyperbole…though I really don’t think so.
Dishonorable Mention – Pastornicky, Ramiro Pena
Worst Pitcher of the Month
Ervin Santana…After a ridiculous beginning to the season that included a 1.99 ERA in his first 40.2 ING with the Braves from April 9th to May 10th, Santana struggled, giving up at least five runs or more in his next three starts and not exactly pitching that well on the final day of May. Santana’s not the April guy, but he’s also not the May guy. He’s somewhere in the middle and will still contribute even if Braves fans have ridiculously unfair expectations of him.
Dishonorable Mention – Ian Thomas (10.8 BB/9? Ugly)
Best Position Player of the Month
Justin Upton and Freddie Freeman (tie)…While I lean toward solely awarding the former because of better power and defense, it’s fair to give Freeman a share of the title. While playing in every game of May, Freeman slashed .276/.387/.467 with 3 HR, a 142 wRC+, and .379 wOBA. Upton matched Freeman in the latter two categories and hit a team-high five homeruns to go with a trio of steals. It really is surprising how bad the Braves offense was in May with these two, plus the solid production of Jason Heyward (.373 OBP, .346 wOBA, 120 wRC+). It gives us hope that the Braves recent offensive production can not only be sustained, but increased.
Honorable Mention – Heyward (5.5 UZR)
Best Pitcher of the Month
Aaron Harang…At some point, this has to stop. Despite a .420 BABIP in May, Harang still only gave up a 3.68 ERA to go with his 1.36 FIP. He tossed 29.1 homerless innings while walking just 1.53 BB/9 to go with a 10.43 K/9, best among the Braves starters. But because a win-loss record is worth about as much as my collection of beanie babies, Harang went 1-2 in May and entered June with a 4-4 record. In seven of his eleven starts, including three in May, Harang received three or fewer runs of support. Nevertheless, when we talk bargain pickups this season, few have provided so much value as Harang has and been paid so little.