T.S. Eliot once wrote that April is the cruelest month. But what the hell did he know? He wrote a book that inspired the musical Cats. His hands are stained with blood. In baseball, April brings hope and uncertainty. The passage of the month brings the first significant statistical endpoint to evaluate players or the team as a whole. However, almost all of these stats–even win/loss record–come with sample size caveats. You can’t project how well anyone will do based solely on their April. But that doesn’t keep people from trying.
Late into the month of April, it became clear that the Royal’s catcher, Salvador Perez, was suffering from overuse. He was hitting worse than anyone else on the team, which caught Player/GM Pat Burrell by surprise. Perez was supposed to be one of the few sincerely good players on the Royals. Burrell decided that the team needed a quality backup catcher and veteran presence. Someone to fill the role that Todd Pratt had during Burrell’s early years in Philadelphia. Unfortunately, Todd Pratt was now 47 years old, so getting him out of retirement would be more than a chore. Burrell would have to trade for a backup, and do so without giving up anything of significant value.
With that in mind, he went to the team’s advance statistics department for advice. Unfortunately, the Kansas City Royals advanced statistics department had been gutted during the Dayton Moore years, and now consisted of nothing but shortstop Alcides Escobar sitting in a small office after every game and browsing Fangraphs.
Even though Alcides Escobar insisted that pitch framing was the most undervalued talent in baseball since pitchers realized they could throw overhand, Burrell was not willing to acquire Yan Gomes. Instead, he did what Escobar called the next-best-thing:
Jose Molina was rapidly approaching his 39th birthday and had never been a particularly good hitter, but Escobar’s pitch framing numbers showed that he was far more valuable than a catcher who could actually hit. Burrell still had his doubts, but Tampa Bay was willing to part with Molina for nearly nothing, so it seemed like the right acquisition.
In the original 2014 timeline (2014 Prime), the Kansas City Royals finished April with a record of 14-12, which was good for 1.5 games back in the division. The results in the newly-created timeline… weren’t much different. As a result of temporal instability, an extra game was played in April and the Royals ended the month 15-12 and .5 games back in the division behind the Tigers.
This was a good start, but it still was not what Mike Trout had in mind when he sent Strike-O-Matic back from the year 2099. The pitching machine was supposed to join the Angels and form a super-team that would be unbeatable, even by the six robot masters. These Royals were barely overachieving their 2014 Prime numbers. The player stats were a mixed bag, with some truly terrible performances buoyed by other great ones.
The incredible performance of Eric Hosmer, the simpleton who said nothing but his own name and hit nothing but baseballs, was the biggest standout. He hit just one fewer home run in April than the entire team of the 2014 Prime Kansas City Royals. His numbers put him on top of the hitting leaderboards in both HR and OPS, while in this universe the Yankee’s Michael Pineda avoided both arm injury and pine tar controversy to top the American League in ERA.
Across the league, the arrival of Strike-O-Matic and the six robot masters created a ripple that continued to expand and alter the course of baseball. Here is what happened around baseball in April:
The Anaheim Angels were supposed to be the team chosen to join Strike-O-Matic in his quest, but without their help ended up trailing the resurgent Seattle Mariners. The Mariner’s success was spurred by an unlikely source: upon hearing that the fate of the world would be decided by baseball, a certain Seattle Mariner great chose to un-retire and despite his advanced age was getting plenty of at bats in an outfield that, in 2014 Prime, was among baseball’s worst.
No one expected much from the 44 year old Ken Griffey Jr., but he kept his OPS over .700 for the first month of a season, clocking in at .720. And more importantly, his veteran leadership helped prodigal prospect Justin Smoak finally realize his potential, hitting .357/.451/.557 for the month.
For the Texas Rangers, the terrifying power-hitter of a robot master Preacher Cobra struggled to even hit his weight. Even worse, despite 98 power, he only managed 3 HR. Most people expected this because he was a catching prospect for the Texas Rangers.
The Houston Astros were terrible.
As seen above, the Detroit Tigers led the division by .5 games ahead of the startlingly inconsistent Royals. Anibal Sanchez started the season 5-0, and Justin Verlander maintained a solid 3.32 ERA. The bats of Miguel Cabrera and Victor Martinez carried the lineup, as they were 5th and 6th respectively in OPS.
Stubby Candyman continued his rebound, getting his ERA down to 3.86 after two horrendous starts to begin the year. The Twins, unfortunately, had no offense to speak of.
Flash Money struggled like the other AL Robot Masters, but speed never slumps. He managed 7 SB in 10 chances while putting up a .214 average and frighteningly low .306 SLG. Meanwhile, the Baltimore Orioles were historically awful, with Delmon Young featuring as their best hitter in part time work (.333/.360/.479) and Wei-Yin Chen being the only decent starting pitcher on the roster.
This gave the Toronto Blue Jays an opportunity to put up the best record in the American League. The Blue Jays lineup was anchored by new addition Billy Butler, and Colby Rasmus’s replacement Anthony Gose did well enough in his stead. But the most important part of the 2014 Blue Jays was R.A. Dickey, who managed to overcome the odds and return to his 2012 form, managing a 4-0 record and 1.80 ERA.
Meanwhile, Ken Griffey Jr. was not the only player to suddenly decide to make a comeback:
San Diego leads the division despite a negative run differential. This was one of the strangest anomalies in the month of April because San Diego, a mess of a team in 2014 Prime, was not affected by the temporal changes.
In the National League Central, the St. Louis Cardinals were absolutely dominant. This had nothing to do with the team preference expressed by me, the chronicler of this First Base War, but rather the addition one more excellent starting pitcher to an already dominant staff. Yes, unlike the AL Robot Masters, PrimeTime Moose had taken quite well to the baseball of 2014. He led the National League with a .094 ERA and a 6-0 record. He allowed only a .142 average against RH hitters, and paired up alongside ace Adam Wainwright and an emergent Carlos Martinez (2.60 ERA). The only Cardinals hitter of note was Matt Holliday, who had a 1.039 OPS throughout the month, but with those pitchers…who needs hitters?
Elsewhere in the NLC, Russell Martin led the league with a .354 average and Starlin Castro had a .605 OPS.
Putting up a .904 OPS from the shortstop position, Dixie Dirtbag was clearly the second most successful of the robot masters. He also helped lead the Atlanta Braves to the top of the NL East, along with a BJ Upton who did not suffer the malaise he experienced in 2014 Prime (.279/.340/.558).
But the Braves did not have a solid hold on the NL East, and they were not the only team with a large addition thanks to the interference of time travel. Like Ken Griffey Jr. and Kei Igawa, portly reliever Ray King heard of the robot invasion and the plan to defeat it via baseball. With the help of a local McDonalds franchise, King worked himself back into playing shape and took the field for the Washington Nationals.
However, King was not satisfied just being a LOOGY this time around. He knew he had to do more, despite being 40 years old and several years out of baseball. He wanted to start, so he researched how he might make such a thing possible. There was only one thing to do: ape the style of someone else who had made an aged comeback. He watched every film that existed of the late, great Satchel Paige and adopted his pitching motion before his tryout. It was a success, and he slotted into the 5th starter role for the Nationals, putting up a 4.55 ERA in his first month of work.
Elsewhere in the NLE, Ryan Howared was batting .183 with 26 strikeouts to 15 hits, in 82 at bats. He was still owed tens of millions of dollars.
Next week, we will get back to focusing on the Kansas City Royals and the addition of their new acquisition, the master pitch framer Jose Molina.