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April is the Cruelest Month / Breeding Lilacs Out of the Dead Ground: Blue Jays' April in Review

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So, in case you weren't paying attention, here's what happened in April, after we spent January, February, and March hearing about how bad this team was going to be.  Yes, April bred the lilacs of victory out of the dead ground of below-low expectations.  It was the cruelest month for our opposition (except the Royals) and for those who figured the Jays would struggle to win 70 games.

- The Jays went 15-9, good enough for the best/second best record in the A.L.(percentage points behind the Boston Red Sox)  Their Pythagorean record was also 15-9, or 14-10 depending on which page of Baseball Reference you read.      

- The Jays scored 5.92 runs per game.  They gave up 4.67 runs per game

- The Jays lead the American League in defensive efficiency

- For all the problems with the starting rotation, the Jays had the 4th best pitching staff in the A.L. (4.29 ERA) and lead the league in strikeouts.

- The Jays saw more pitches per plate appearance than any team in the American League, lead by Adam Lind with 4.72, a player who last season walked in a scant 4.7% of his plate appearances and swung at 34% of pitches outside the strike zone.  This season, he's walking almost 12% of the time and swinging at just 25% of pitches outside the strike zone.  And those adjustments have translated into his hitting too: Lind hit .320/.400/.557 in April, with 4 home runs and a wOBA of .415.  His BABIP was high (.377), so his batting average may drop a little bit, but with improved line drive, plate discipline, and HR/FB rates, there's plenty of reason for optimism going forward.  Lind is a big reason for the offense's success, and he did it all while hitting in the middle of the order (5th) and against lefty and righty pitching (actually, after struggling practically his whole career against lefties, he's hitting .321/.345/.464 against them this season)

- Marco Scutaro was a great leadoff hitter, walking almost at will (in almost 20% of his plate appearances) en route to a .420 OBP and .409 wOBA.  Scutaro also added power to his game this month, (5 HR, .223 Iso-P) and played incredible defense (19.5 UZR/150 at shortstop).  So much for not being a credible everyday player.  Scutaro is leading all major-league shortstops in OPS, wOBA, OBP, home runs, walks, runs scored, RsBI, and Runs Created.  The truly weird thing is that he's doing it with a puny 11% line drive rate, and he's always been a good line-drive hitter despite being a low BABIP hitter (a trend that has continued this season). 

- Aaron Hill returned from his nightmarish concussion injury and has been unbelievable, squaring up on seemingly every pitch.  Hill, who was previously a slow starter, even returned to his power-hitting ways, hitting 6 doubles and 4 home runs, with an Iso-P of .193.  For the first two weeks or so, Hill wasn't walking all, but there was no reason to worry, and in the second half of the month, Hill started walking a lot (7 times over the second 12 games of the month).  Hill has a .429 wOBA hitting out of the second spot and while part of that is his .400 BABIP, he's also hitting a lot of line drives (almost 30% of his batted balls). Hill, who has always been a superior defender, seems a little uncomfortable at second-base so far (although he has made some incredible plays), and that's borne out by the stats (he's slightly below average so far according to UZR). 

- Scott Rolen had an okay first month, hitting .317/.367/.427, basically in line with his overall performance last season.  Rolen actually got off to a hot start last season, though mostly in May, so his numbers thusfar this season aren't what they were.  Rolen's lack of increased power over last season is a little worrying (actually his power is down, he has a puny Iso-P of .106 so far this season) but he is OPSing almost .800 so we'll just have to see if the power will come.  A .361 wOBA is nothing to sneeze at.  As usual, Rolen is playing superlative defense (15.1 UZR/150 thusfar). 

- The Lyle Overbay/Kevin Millar "platoon-like situation" is working splendidly.  Kyle Moverbay (since we're getting more Overbay than Millar) his .298/.402/.521 as a first-baseman over the first month.  Overbay is supplying most of the OBP (.403) and plenty of the power (.500), while Millar is definitely pulling his own weight as well.  If you don't think Overbay can keep it up, last season he put up a .384 OBP against righties and a .481 SLG, so he can.  

- What's up with Alex Rios?  Rios is hitting just .248/.308/.362, and isn't showing selectivity or power at the plate.  With a -3.3 wRAA, he just hasn't produced.  An absurdly low BABIP (.301) isn't the problem.  Rather, he's hitting too many ground balls (43%), has a ridiculously low HR/FB en route to just 1 home run, and is hitting way to many pop ups (24% of his batted balls).  UZR also suggests he's not performing well in the outfield.  Rios was slightly better in the second half of the month, but no question he's struggling.   

- Despite suffering the slings and arrows of an outrageous fanbase, Vernon Wells had an okay month, hitting .283/.345/.465 for a .356 wOBA and 110 OPS+.  A little more power would be nice, but Wells is walking more than he's striking out and his HR/FB is way below his career numbers so more power is a reasonable expectation for the future.  Wells is popping up an absurd 42% of his batted balls (his career number is 16.5%) and there's no way that trend can continue. Unfortunately, Wells' hot start with the glove didn't continue and UZR is suggesting he's doing a pretty poor job in centrefield.

- In left field, Travis Snider got off to a hot start, hitting .321/.387/.786 over the first half of April but the second half of the month was a very different story (.206/.270/.235).  No doubt he's hitting like a 9th place hitter at the moment.  His overall numbers are fine, and he's actually doing quite a good job at laying off pitches outside the zone, but he could stand to be a little more selective in the zone as well.  He's seeing less fastballs and more offspeed offerings now, and will have to adjust to that.  After a crazy high line drive rate last season (34%), it's now absurdly low (12.8%), leading to a relatively low BABIP of .289.  Still, he is walking a reasonable amount of the time, and striking out a lot less than folks feared, so he's doing fine.  It's just an adjustment he needs to make, and he'll make it.  Jose Bautista (.317/.404/.463) is doing a nice job as his right-handed platoon-mate. 

- Rod Barajas was a nice surprise at the plate, hitting .299/.333/.493, good for the 3rd best catcher in the AL.  It may not last, but he's doing a great job at the plate right now.

- On the pitching side, Roy Halladay was quite good, striking out 8 times as many batters as he walked and putting up good K numbers.  Doc's continuing his deadly combination of inducing grounders, striking out guys, and not walking them, and has been a little hit unlucky.  It's likely he'll get even better as the season goes on.   Ricky Romero was a very pleasant surprise (2-0, 1.71 ERA, 3.25 K/BB ratio) before an oblique strain sidelined him.  Scott Richmond has been quite good (3-0, 2.70, 2/1 K/BB ratio) and has utterly dominated right-handed batters.  We all know about David Purcey's control problems and how he was sent down, so Robert Ray will see what he can do.  Brian Burres, the less said the better.  Enter Brett Cecil.  And Brian Tallet had 2 excellent starts before having one terrible one, so let's not write him off as a useful starter yet.  Sounds like Casey Janssen and Romero will be back soon, with Jesse Litsch returning not too long after that, so if the current squad can hold it together a little longer, things should improve. 

- Our bullpen was outstanding, with a 3.17 ERA as a group.  Scott Downs (0.47 Whip, 14/0 K/BB ratio, 0.84 ERA), Jesse Carlson (1.50 ERA, 1.00 Whip), and Jason Frasor (0.42 Whip, no runs given up, 6/1 K/BB ratio) have lead the charge, with Downs stepping in for B.J. Ryan when the latter struggled amidst a trapezius injury.  Brandon League had a little trouble at the start, but has been lights out lately - over his last 6 innings, he didn't yield a hit and struck out 7, walking 1 and getting plenty of his trademark ground balls. 

- The Jays were 7-3 at home, 8-6 on the road, and 5-2 in one-run games.  Bring on May and the rest of the season!