Upon my return

In a few days I’ll be boarding a plane and heading for Australia on a two-week vacation.

Never been there before but I don’t think baseball’s too big down there. Especially the Jays. So between that and the fact I’m going to be in fucking Australia (note: !!!?!?!!!!?!) I probably won’t be paying a ton of attention to the team. I’ll be returning in early June, at which point the season will be a third complete.

Here are some of the things I hope to see when I return:

  • Bullpen stability. Probably the biggest for me. This team is the return of its strong bullpen away from being a really good team. The lineup’s strong, the starters are on the good side of what we expected, and the fielding’s decent. It’s just the damn bullpen. With Janssen returning today my hope is that the bullpen goes on a nice run and when I return no one will be talking about bullpen meltdowns.
  • Roster construction. At some point this eight-man bullpen’s got to go. If I come back and the team still has a shitty bench like it does now, I’ll be a sad koala. I’ve been pining for Darin Mastroianni since the team reacquired him earlier this year. He’d make a good fourth outfielder, a decent right-handed bat and a useful piece off the bench. A bench of Mastroianni, Francisco, Thole and pick your middle infielder looks downright ok to me.
  • Dickey dominance. A good stretch of games from RA Dickey could go a long way towards making everyone feel better about the starters. I was thinking the other day: in a do-or-die game tomorrow who would I want to start? I have no idea. Buerhle’s good, but he’s not your shutdown guy. Dickey’s knuckleball can be awful at times. There’s Hutchison, but we’re already putting a lot on him. If Dickey can put together a nice string then the rotation has a little more clarity.
  • Back end solutions. That leads me to my next item, the fourth and fifth starters. It’d be nice to have at least one guy among Happ, McGowan, Stroman (or maybe Nolin or Hendriks?) run with things. I know you can’t really expect much with the back end of any rotation, and that those guys are often moved moved in and out routinely, but with the FoR not exactly filled with aces, the back end needs to be better than average. Hopefully someone can establish themselves as a legit starter.
  • Good health. The team’s been fairly fortunate so far, having not faced a plethora of injuries like in the previous few seasons. Hopefully that continues.

When I return the team will have played 58 games on the season. I’m gonna go ahead and say they should have 33 wins by then.

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April 2013 vs April 2014

What a difference a year makes, right?

Last year the Jays went through an awful April, finishing the first month with a 10-17 record, putting a serious dent in their playoff hopes and leaving a lot of fans giving up early. There were ominous signs, to be sure, that the squad maybe wasn’t what a lot of people thought it was. The level headed out there reminded everyone that it was still early, and while they had dug themselves a deep hole, there was plenty of time to get out of it.

This, oh my how things are different. Wellllll…actually not really. They have won precisely two more games than at this point last year. After back-to-back losses to KC, games they probably should have won, the Jays finish this April with a 12-15 record.

So, what are some of the things to note between last year’s April and this year’s?

  • The offence has been better, as a team, to what it was through the opening month last year. In 2013 the team wOBA was .306 in April, and this year the team is hitting to a .327 wOBA. Their ISO has dropped but OBP is up.
  • Starting pitching is better (note: really!). While the starting pitching has been a sore point for fans this year, it’s actually better than last year at this point. Starters pitched 147 innings in the first month last year and 147 innings in the first month this year. Last year’s ERA and FIP were, respectively, 5.27 and 4.83. This year those numbers are 4.41 and 3.93. The big difference thus far is a drop in home runs, cutting HR/9 in half while the rotation’s HR/FB rate has gone from 11.4 to 7.1.
  • The bullpen has, predictably, been much worse. Last year at this time they were rocking a 3.35 ERA and 4.02 FIP in 94 innings. This year those numbers are 5.03 and 4.38, in 91.1 innings. And the big problem thus far is walks. This year’s bullpen is actually striking out two more batters per nine innings, but the 5.12 BB/9 is what’s killing them.
  • Injuries. Last year the team had Sergio Santos, Jose Reyes, Josh Johnson and Brett Lawrie go on the DL during spring training or April (plus all the guys still recovering from Tommy John). This year, Casey Janssen, Jose Reyes, Adam Lind, JA Happ and Maicer Izturis have found themselves on the DL. I suppose you cal call Santos and Janssen a wash (though many wouldn’t). Reyes played 10 games in April last year and 11 so far this year, though he’s now healthy while last year he was facing another couple months out of action. Lawrie’s been healthy, which is great, except for this latest issue. The Johnson injuries, and overall ineffectiveness was a real blow last year. Lind’s injury last week doesn’t appear to be of the serious nature, so overall I’d say their injury luck has thus far improved.

Individually, there are some funky things going on:

  • The starting catcher has been a downgrade over what they got last year in April. Wait, what you ask? Last year in April JPA socked eight dingers and had a .356 wOBA through April. Sure, his OBP was a robust .267, but still! His slugging percentage was .566! This year old Dinner has hit to a .323 wOBA on the back of a .340 OBP and 7.2 strikeout rate. Considering JPA was striking out 36.6 per cent of the time at this point last year, I’ll take Navarro and his more sustainable wOBA.
  • Joey Bats is lighting it up. Jose Bautista had one of the best months of anyone in baseball this April. He’s got 8 home runs and a .460 wOBa, while walking more than a quarter of time times he comes to the plate. Last year he was hitting well, putting up 7 home runs and a .360 wOBA, but not nearly as strong as this year.
  • RA Dickey, after a bad start to 2013, is off to a similar start this year. Through April last year he had a 4.50 ERA and 4.63 FIP, while this year those numbers are 5.09 and 4.31. The good news? His walk and home run rates are down so far.
  • Mark Buerhle has been kinda different. Remember last year when everyone was convinced he couldn’t hack it in the AL East? Well he settled down fine and has been off to a great start. He’ll likely end up exactly like he always does, but it’s sure nice that he had a good April this year.
  • And to finish it off, second base continues to be a clusterfuck. Last year Emilio Bonfacio and Maicer Izturis accumulated most of the plate appearances in April. Izturis had a .226 wOBA in the first month while Bonifacio sported a robust .234 wOBA and playing awful defence. This year, while the defence has been better, Ryan Goins and his .195 wOBA got the lion’s share of April plate appearances. He’s in the minors now, so lets hope that position Getz Goins (sorry for ending on a lame joke).