It might not feel like it based on the way it ended, but April was actually a decent month for the Blue Jays.
Yes, losing 6 of the last 7 games in the month will leave a sour taste in the mouths of fans, especially with the way the team lost most of those games. Blowing big leads day after day is never a good thing. But don’t let that fool you into thinking this is the same team that stunk up the league in 2013.
A closer look at the statistics shows that this season’s version of the team is much better. They are hitting the ball better, they are fielding the ball better, and they are pitching better (even including the recent bullpen meltdowns).
Don’t believe me? The proof is in the pudding:
On the surface, a two win improvement doesn’t appear to be much – we’re only a short losing streak away from being behind last year’s pace. But look further, and there is cause for excitement, however muted it may be. The Jays are in 4th place instead of last. They are a full 5 games closer to the lead in the AL East than they were in 2013, and are 3.5 games closer to a Wild Card birth. Plus they are scoring more runs and allowing fewer. At the end of April 2013 Toronto was basically dead and buried. This season they are very much alive.
The main reason why that is true has to be the offense. Virtually everything is up. The team is scoring over half a run per game more. OBP and OPS are both up significantly. More impressive is the fact that walks are way up and strikeouts are way down, showing a team that is both more confident and patient at the plate. The only category that is materially lower is stolen bases, which was to be expected with the departure of Rajai Davis. The Jays actually rank dead last in the AL in steals, but considering they ranked 4th last year that should give fans comfort that steals don’t predict wins.
What really jumps out is the fact that the team is hitting the ball much better than last year, yet many players are struggling badly. Reyes, Rasmus, Lawrie, Encarnacion, and all second basemen have gotten off to very sluggish starts. Adam Lind is on the DL. But a rejuvenated Melky Cabrera, a catcher (Navarro) who can actually hit, and a team leader (Bautista) playing out of his mind have really led the way. Just wait until everybody else wakes up.
In terms of pitching, many aspects of the 2014 Jays were much improved in April. Runs against, home runs allowed, and opponents batting are all significantly improved. Strikeouts are way up.
It’s not all good news, however. One thing sticks out like a sore thumb – walks. The Jays staff walked and additional 16 batters this April, 2nd most in the American League. The additional free passes is the main reason why WHIP has gone up, and why K/BB has decreased. It is a very disturbing trend, one that simply has to stop in order for the team to improve overall. The main culprits have been the relief corps, and it is obvious that the team needs Casey Janssen back to restore some order in the ‘pen.
Which brings us to the rotation. Blue Jay starters were easily the team’s weakest link in 2013, easily evident by the stats above. The rotation combined for a 5.27 ERA last April, second worst in the AL, and never really improved that much as the season progressed. Obviously this year’s version has been better, but not by much. Yes the ERA is much lower and the number of home runs allowed is down. But the staff have actually walked more batters, and the 5.44 IP per start ranks dead last in the league and is one of the main reasons behind the recent struggles of the bullpen. Mark Buehrle has been outstanding and Drew Hutchison has been a revelation in his return from injury. But R.A. Dickey has been inconsistent, Dustin McGowan has struggled to pitch past the 4th inning, and Brandon Morrow has been downright putrid. With guys like Sean Nolin and Marcus Stroman starting to dominate AAA, it might be only a matter of time before a change is made.
Overall though, Jays fans should be pleased about April. The team didn’t set the world on fire, and still have some glaring deficiencies.
But they didn’t knock themselves out of contention like they did last year.
That alone is a big reason to smile.