“Wow,” said Kevin Seitzer … for the fifth time in the last two and a half minutes.
He’s the hitting coach for the greatest offense to pass through his sport since George H. (Bambino) Ruth’s 1927 Yankees. But it turns out that even the hitting coach of the Atlanta Braves didn’t totally grasp the greatness he has been watching until we began to roll out the numbers, one after another.
“Wow … wow … wow … wow … wow.”
Then Seitzer let out an apologetic laugh.
“You said to give a quick reaction to all this,” he said. “But I’ve been the same on every one. It’s just wow. I don’t know what else to say other than wow. I mean, words just can’t describe it.”
We don’t know exactly where the journey of the 2023 Braves will lead them. But we now know the magnitude of their journey to this moment in time. They haven’t merely wrapped up the National League East. Their lineup is doing things we haven’t seen done in 50 years, 90 years, 100 years … or ever, for that matter. And that’s only now dawning on them.
There’s something funny about making history, you see. Unless you’re Aaron Judge, chasing a legend, you don’t always recognize how historic it is when you’re in the middle of it, living that history — watching it, day in and day out.
“It’s hard,” said Braves catcher Travis d’Arnaud. “It’s hard to even realize what you’re doing, truthfully. It just feels like normal, I guess, because we’ve been doing it all year.”
So what makes them not normal? What makes them so historic? What have they been doing all year? Let’s tell you all about it, just the way we recently told them all about it — and see how many “wows” you can let out.
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They’re the ’27 Yankees!
THE MAGIC NUMBER: 125
WHAT IT MEANS: For the last 96 years, the fabled 1927 Yankees have stood alone atop the rankings of greatest Weighted Runs Created Plus of any lineup in history, at 125. But with 12 games to go, the wRC+ of the ’23 Braves is … 125!
There’s no perfect stat. There’s no perfect metric that reveals, unequivocally, the identity of the The Greatest Offense of All Time. But wRC+ is an all-encompassing way to measure teams across eras and ballpark environments. So if you’re even in the argument, alongside those ’27 Yankees, there’s no need to quibble about where to place the decimal points. We’re witnessing greatness, period.
BEST wRC+, all time*
125 — 1927 Yankees, 2023 Braves
124 — 1931 Yankees, 2019 Astros
123 — 1930 Yankees
(Source: FanGraphs; *full seasons only)
“I don’t know much about the ’27 Yankees,” said Braves outfielder Kevin Pillar. “I mean, I do. But I don’t know their statistical accomplishments. … I just know they’re like the barometer of the most elite offenses in the history of the game.”
Well said. But here’s an incredible difference between these Braves and those Yankees. Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig both had a wRC+ over 200, meaning they were twice as good at creating runs as the average hitter of that era. But they were part of a top-heavy lineup that didn’t have the depth of this Braves lineup, believe it or not. So beyond them …
’27 Yankees with a wRC+ over 100: 5*
’23 Braves with a wRC+ over 100: 9*
(*minimum 400 plate appearances)
And one more thing: The National League record, if we throw out seasons shortened by labor snafus and the pandemic, is held by the storied 1976 Big Red Machine … at “only” 120!
They don’t just dig the long ball
THE MAGIC NUMBER: 300/100
WHAT IT MEANS: The Braves are almost certainly going to be the first team in history to hit 300 home runs and steal at least 100 bases in the same season. They already have 117 steals. They’re just 11 away from 300 homers with 12 games left.
We’ve assessed their greatness with the new-school metrics. But it doesn’t get much more old-school than home runs and stolen bases. And the triple digits in those categories are a reminder that the Braves can beat you one way one night and a whole different way the next.
That 2019 Twins team that set the home run record the Braves are chasing, for most homers in a season (307)? That team stole 28 bases all season. Ronald Acu?a Jr. almost had that many himself by Memorial Day.
And only two teams in history that stole 100 bases even reached 250 homers the same season: the 2019 Brewers (250) and last year’s Yankees (254).
“Wow,” Seitzer said again. “But I have to say, Acu?a has been carrying the load on the stolen-base side.”
Hard to argue! The only two previous teams in history to bop 300 homers — the 2019 Twins and 2019 Yankees — stole 83 bases combined. Acu?a is on pace to steal 73 this year all by himself!
It’s a whole team of José Ramírezes
THE MAGIC NUMBER: .500
WHAT IT MEANS: José Ramírez is pretty good, right? Well, his career slugging percentage is .501. So does it seem hard to fathom that the Braves have a slugging percentage of .500 this year as a team? It should … since no National League or American League team in history has slugged .500 for a full season. But it looks as if that’s about to change. Repeat after us … wow.
How can we put this into a context that will drive home how astounding it is for any group to slug .500 as a team over a six-month season? What about this: 15 of the 30 teams don’t even have a single qualifying player who is slugging .500 this year, and that group includes the Blue Jays, Yankees, Phillies, Brewers, Giants, Padres and Reds.
Or how about this: If we filter out teams that played at Coors Field and teams that played in shortened seasons, no NL lineup since 1900 is within 20 points in slugging of these 2023 Braves. And the last NL team that slugged .481 over a full season was Gabby Hartnett’s 1930 Cubs.
“It doesn’t sound true,” d’Arnaud said. “It doesn’t sound real.”
But the Braves are almost certainly going to slug .500 — because their slugging percentage has actually been going up all season. It was .448 after April, .458 after May, .493 at the end of June and didn’t top .500 until Aug. 12. So if you toss out the first two months, they’re slugging .526.
Does a .526 slug seem good? It ought to … since it’s essentially the same as Mike Schmidt’s career slugging percentage. Yep, it doesn’t sound real, all right.
They’re in a different solar system than everyone else
THE MAGIC NUMBER: 57 (Going into Monday night’s Dodgers game)
WHAT IT MEANS: It’s hard to believe that the Braves are not only leading the major leagues in homers … but also leading by an incredible 57 homers over the next-closest team, the Dodgers. So has any team ever hit that many more than anyone else? Oh, it’s happened … but the last team to do it was Johnny Mize’s 1947 Giants … that played 76 years ago!
Even if they take their foot off the gas in the next week or so, the Braves are almost a lock to lead the majors in homers by 50. And no team has even done that in 55 years, since Willie Horton’s 1968 Tigers (plus-52).
Or suppose they lengthen that lead to plus-60? The only teams in history to do that were those 1947 Giants (plus-65) and Fred Pfeffer’s 1884 Chicago White Stockings (plus-102).
But here’s the best way of looking at this: The Braves also employ the major-league home run leader, Matt Olson. So even if you took away all 52 homers Olson has hit, they would still be leading the whole sport in homers.
Just think about last year, when Judge led the world in homers and his team needed every one of them. And now this Braves team is so deep, it could employ the home run king but still lead the league without any of them.
“You keep blowing my mind with these stats,” Pillar said.
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The More Homers Than Losses Club
THE MAGIC NUMBER: 52
WHAT IT MEANS: Speaking of Matt Olson, it’s September, and despite the Braves’ messy little four-game losing streak since clinching their division, he still has a shot to finish with more home runs than his team has losses (currently 54). And that’s just ridiculous.
So how many hitters have ever piled up more home runs in any season than their team had losses? Here’s the list in the live-ball era. Good chance you’ve heard of these guys.
It isn’t every day that notes this fun come from the manager. But Braves manager Brian Snitker was the first guy anyone can recall talking about this one.
“It was right around the All-Star break,” Seitzer said. “I think Matty had 30 or 33. And Snit said, ‘He’s got more homers than we’ve got losses. That’s amazing.’ So after that, we lost a few games. Then Matty homers, and Chipper (Jones) tells Matty: ‘Dude, you’d better get it going. We’ve got more losses than homers.’”
The greatest tag team since the Legion of Doom
THE MAGIC NUMBER: 50-50
WHAT IT MEANS: On one hand, there’s Olson and his 52 homers. On the other hand, there’s Acu?a — and his 66 stolen bases. And perhaps you’re wondering how many teams have ever had both a 50-homer guy and a 50-steal guy in the same season. It won’t take long to go through the others!
According to ESPN Stats and Info, only three other teams in history have joined this 50-50 Club:
1995 Indians (Albert Belle, Kenny Lofton)
2000 Cubs (Sammy Sosa, Eric Young Sr.*)
2017 Marlins (Giancarlo Stanton, Dee Strange-Gordon)
(*Now the Braves’ first-base/base-running coach)
So isn’t this just one more reminder of the different ways this Braves team can make life uncomfortable for every team it plays?
“That number 50 (homers) on the stat sheet is obviously historic,” Pillar said. “Pretty rare accomplishment. Obviously, he’s chasing history in terms of the most home runs ever on this team. (Olson has since surpassed Andruw Jones to set the single-season franchise record.) But obviously, what Ronnie (Acu?a) is doing, that’s never been done before, either. And to be honest, I think that kind of overshadows what this team is actually doing.
“I think collectively, we know, offensively we’re a very good team. And we’re very deep, one through nine. But I don’t think we know, in terms of historical context, where we’re at. I think we’ve just got to play every day, and everyone kind of feeds off of each other.”
Gentlemen, start your engines — with Ronald
THE MAGIC NUMBER: 68
WHAT IT MEANS: There are a zillion mind-warping Ronald Acu?a Jr. numbers. But we love this one. The Braves have played 150 games. Acu?a has reached base, to kick off the first inning, in 68 of them. If he gets to 70, that will put him in the top five for the most times to reach base to start a game (in the live-ball era). Except that he does far more damage starting this team’s engine than anyone else ever has.
Here is every leadoff hitter in the live-ball era who reached base at least 70 times in a season when leading off games (errors not included). Acu?a will be joining this group any minute.
(Source: Baseball Reference / Stathead)
But here’s why Acu?a is nothing like those guys. His six leadoff homers are as many as those other four men hit combined. His 16 leadoff extra-base hits are also the most among that group. And his 38 first-inning runs scored are by far the most of anyone on that list.
The Braves have scored more runs in the first inning this season (136) than any other team has scored in any inning. And that all starts with Acu?a, the human energizer.
“When he gets on in the first inning, they’re all excited,” said first-base/base-running coach Eric Young Sr., “because they know something is going to happen. And you know what? They get so hyped that they want to make something happen, too.”
Four more magic numbers
? The Braves could have nine players with at least 20 homers! No team has ever done that. Or they could join the 2019 Twins as the only teams with eight. (They’re at seven right now, but Orlando Arcia has 17 and Michael Harris II has 18.)
? The Braves could also have five players with at least 30 homers! Only the 2019 Twins have done that. And they just became the first team ever to have four men hit 35 or more.
? They could lead the sport in slugging by 40 points! (They were at 43 through Sunday.) The only teams since 1900 to do that are the ’27 Yankees and 1953 Boys of Summer Dodgers.
? They’re going to have the highest slugging percentage in the first inning ever! They’re slugging .595 now — way above the record of .574, by the 2019 Reds. The Braves’ first-inning slash line (.322/.384/.595) means they’re essentially an entire team of 1961 Henry Aarons (.327/.381/.594).
We could spit out many more magic numbers for these Braves. But we’ve made our point. We never saw Ruth and Gehrig in 1927. But we’re watching Acu?a and Olson here in 2023. And even the hitting coach admits it’s been the ride of a lifetime.
“Mediocrity is not even an option in this clubhouse,” Seitzer said. “These guys all want to be great. They work to be great. They care about each other, that each other’s great. It’s not just them. It’s the support that these guys have for each other — the encouragement, the looseness, the fun. It’s unbelievable just to be in this dugout and this clubhouse every day. It’s special. There’s a lot of special happening here.”
But now there’s one more thing that needs to happen — one more thing they need to accomplish to make this season truly special, and historic:
Now the Braves just have to finish it. If October goes like the first six months of this season, they’ll be swirling around all these numbers for the rest of their lives.
“Wow,” Seitzer said, one last time as we recapped what we’d spent the last 15 minutes talking about. “It’s all I can say. I don’t really know what else to say — other than: It will all be for not too much if we don’t win it all. And that’s the bottom line.”
(Top photo of Ronald Acu?a Jr.: Brandon Sloter / Image Of Sport / Getty Images)