The Jays are not by any means beating up on the AL as they currently sit at .500, but to have achieved that level of performance despite all of the losses the key players they were missing is both impressive and possibly unexpected. To beat up on the Rangers as they did, winning 3 of 4, and to beat the Yankees in the opener of this series is impressive on its own. They have the chance to be 1.5 games back of the Yankees if they win today’s game as April ends, and could begin to improve on that in May as key players return to the fold and fresh blood from the minors begins to make its impact felt.
Why is it impressive and unexpected?
Almost every analyst out there had the following formula made up for the Jays: they would miss Shaun Marcum dearly, Kyle Drabek would struggle in his first full season, Jose Bautista‘s performance would regress, and the Jays would be at the bottom of the AL East pile. Most of us Jays bloggers, and keen fans, said that all of that was hogwash (aside from missing Marcum), and were we ever right! None of those predictions have proven to be true to this point and none seem likely to occur. Sure, the Jays do miss Marcum’s presence, but all of us could argue that Drabek has filled that hole admirably.
What makes it even more impressive than just beating the odds with a “healthy as predicted lineup”?
The absence or under-achievement of the following players in April:
The Jays were missing their #2 pitcher in Brandon Morrow in the majority of April. His presence alone could have added 2-3 more wins, possibly more as he would be going deeper into games and allowing the pen to rest some as a result.
One of the players identified as the key to ensuring that the offense could put up enough runs to help the Jays remain over .500 in 2011, was not healthy for the majority of April either and played about half of the month. Even when he did play, he was grimacing and not performing at his full potential, which resulted in no HRs and a .242/.265/.290 line – ugly by Hill’s standards and not what the Jays expected to receive from their powerful 2B.
I know he wasn’t the most heralded addition to the Jays lineup, but nobody expected him to do absolutely nothing in 80% of April, but that’s exactly what happened. He was essentially a big black hole in the middle of the lineup that refused to drive in runs or to lengthen innings. So, imagine how many 1-2 run losses the Jays had in April could have wound up in the Jays favor had he produced even a little bit. Thankfully, his bat is coming around and he is getting much more comfortable at the plate of late. Still, his lack of performance, amongst others, begs the question: what if…?
He was supposed to push Rivera for playing time and to give the Jays a spark when needed off the bench, but injuries took him out of April altogether.
The Jays gave him a ton of ABs (84) and he just never put any sort of streak together. His .184/.274/.264 line was atrocious by any standards and something had to be done. hence the demotion. When you add him to Hill and Rivera as parts of the lineup in the early going, and consider that others were not exactly lighting it up, you begin to wonder….just how in the world did the Jays manage to win enough games to be at .500?
Brought in to be at the top of the lineup and a force to be reckoned with on the base paths, Davis never got going before injuries took him out. With fewer than 40 ABs and a .167/.189/.194 line, you get a sense for just how little he contributed to the Jays in April 2011.
If we take out the great series Lind had against Texas, he wasn’t all that impressive. Aside from that series, he only has 1 HR to his credit, only 12 RBIs, and had an AVG of .232 when the series vs Texas began. He wasn’t “protecting” Bautista by any means. Thankfully, that wasn’t required since Bautista took matters into his own hands.
They formed 2/5 of the rotation and neither contributed much aside from lots of effort. Cecil did manage 1 win, but both end April with ERAs above 6 and 5 respectively, and neither is a guarantee to hold a rotation spot with the Jays well into the future. Cecil seems to have the best shot of turning things around and has proven himself effective in the past, so look for him to get another shot soon enough while the days or Reyes in a Jays uniform could be coming to an end soon. Knowing how 2/5 of the rotation pitched, you get a great sense of just how well the other 3/5 pitched. Romero, Drabek, and Litsch combined for 6 wins, all had ERAs under 4, and each gave the team a chance to win as they threw late into games (the Jays won all 5 games started by Kyle Drabek….impressive stat).
So what happened? How in the world did the Jays look so good in April despite all of these under-achievements or missing key players?
Monster month of April doesn’t even begin to explain his mammoth performance for the Jays. He took the leadership role with the club by the horns, proved ALL doubters wrong, and is actually on pace to smash his historic 2010 performance. WOW! He’s breaking records for the Jays, including managing the most walks ever in the month of April with 28 thus far, beating the record previously held by Carlos Delgado. He managed 14 extra base hits in April (4 doubles, 1 triple, 9 HRs) and has 62 total bases, more than double of the majority of Jays players aside from Adam Lind who is 2nd with 44, and Yunel Escobar who is 3rd with 38. His 28 walks are also more than double the number of walks any other Jays player has managed, and his .372/.542 /.795 line is something that even the great Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez what be proud of. To top it all off, he added 3 stolen bases without being caught once and has been as aggressive as anyone in running the bases hard, which is great display of leading by example. Without his April performance, we could argue that the Jays could be as much as 5-7 games back of the Yankees right now. Simply put, he be the biggest bargain in all of MLB with his $8 million salary in 2011.
His role had to be altered at some points due to a lack of a true lead off player, but he proved very effective early on in the season and he looked very impressive until a head injury seemed to slow him some. Back to form of late, he also looks like he’s headed for a great 2011 season. His production (.283/.340/.413 with 2 doubles, 2 triples, and 2 HRs) was very important to Jays wins and he was the next best hitter in the lineup after Bautista.
Three Starters and a Pen
As stated above, 3 of the 5 starters in the Jays rotation have done great thus far in 2011. The pen has been equally effective, showing that many of the additions made by Alex Anthopoulos this off season were great grabs. Carlos Villanueva may be the biggest surprise of them all, as he threw a pen high 14.2 innings and managed a 1.84 ERA and 0.82 whip while allowing a minuscule 4 hits, 8 walks, all while striking out 11. Marc Rzepczynski (2-0) seemed to be leaned on in the same way as Scott Downs had been in 2010 and responded very well. He has a pen low 0.77 Whip, a 3.09 ERA, and only allowed 4 hits and 5 walks in his 11.2 innings of work. When you consider that he’s still “adjusting” to throwing out of the pen, that performance is extremely encouraging. Jon Rauch (.245 ERA) saved all 5 of his save opportunities and is arguably a big upgrade over Kevin Gregg‘s performance in 2010. Other strong perfomances include Casey Janssen (0.87 ERA), Jason Frasor (2.38 ERA), Shawn Camp (3.09 ERA), and most recently for a short period, Frank Francisco (2.08 ERA). When you add a healthy Octavio Dotel and Frank Francisco to an already high performing pen, you add experience and depth that makes the Jays pen one of the top 5 in all of MLB in my opinion.
The additions of Corey Patterson and Jayson Nix really allowed the Jays to get some key ABs in April which drove in runs at key times and seemed to get a laggard offensive machine going when it needed it most. So, Alex Anthopoulos gets top marks for those 2 additions who definitely proved their worth early in the season.
Overall, the Jays pitching stands 7th in K/9 (7.62), but also stand second last in BB/9 with 3.88, in front of only the Cubs who have 4.30. They have managed to allow only a .234 average against, good enough for 8th in the majors, but most of these great statistics come from the 3 top starter performances and the pen. The Jays pen is currently 5th in the majors with a 1.11 Whip, 9th in ERA with a 2.94 total, and stand at the top of the majors in average against with a lowly .187 total average against!!
Offensively speaking, in comparison, the Jays don’t stand near or t the top in any category aside from Walks (2nd), SF (3rd), PA (5th), and SBs (4th). What does this tell us? That the new strategy of being aggressive on the base paths and more patient at the plate is actually allowing the Jays to win more games despite “not so impressive” offensive outputs from the majority of its players. The “scratch runs NL style” strategy is keeping the Jays in games, allowing them to use speed to their advantage, and is getting them wins that they may not have been able to earn under last year’s “smash or nothing” regime. (all stats in last 2 paragraphs courtesy of Fangraphs.com)
Jays fans should thank their lucky stars that the Jays are in the thick of it early on. With Brett Lawrie, Eric Thames, and Zach Stewart all but ready to make the jump into the fold at some point in May/June, the Jays have weathered a big bad storm in April caused by injuries and under-achievements. If fortunes improve in those terms, the Jays could be well above .500 by the end of May and on their way to a very impressive season overall.
I can’t wait to see how much better the Jays are in May and how many, as well as which, prospects make get a shot to prove themselves as David Cooper is currently getting. If Alex Anthopoulos keeps finding players that are needed to keep the Jays in contention, there’s reason to believe that he could try to add a key player or two to make a strong push at the end of the season. It’s a very interesting time for Jays fans, and a particularly good one when we know how much worse the current position of the team this season could be without some very important and outstanding performances.
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