That’s So Cub: April’s Top Contributors and Moments

April was a hell of a month for the Chicago Cubs. They lost Kyle Schwarber for the season, called Munenori Kawasaki up to the big leagues, lost him to Triple-A Iowa shortly thereafter, and tied a 109-year-old record for wins in the month (17). Let’s take a look back at the month’s top performers, and those players’ top plays in this rainy April. If you want a little bit more on the methodology behind the rankings, check out the series debut from last year. If not, let’s dive right in. Here are the five best-performing Cubs so far this season, and their best plays of the month.

(5) Jason Hammel, 0.8 WAR — Jason Hammel, long known (at least by Cubs fans) as a fast starter and a slow finisher, lived up to the first half of that bargain in extraordinary measure this April, starting four times, pitching 24 innings, and allowing just two runs in the process. Sure, he’s walking a few more guys than he did last year (on a rate basis) and he’s not striking out as many either, but he’s pounding the bottom of the zone and it’s showing up in the results on the field. The proof, though, will be in the second half of the season: Hammel put in a great deal of work this winter in order to build his stamina to a point where he can maintain lower half strength through the dog days of the season. For now, though, he’s gotten off to as good a start as you could hope for. His top play of the month came on April 19th, against the Cardinals, when with runners on second and third and one out in a one-run game, he induced a flyout to right from Yadier Molina, whereafter Jason Heyward did this:

I mean, that’s mostly Heyward. But it’s a little Hammel, and by WPA, at least, he gets credit for the play.

(4) Jake Arrieta, 0.9 WAR — This site has already expended a great deal of ink on Jake Arrieta, the National League’s three-time defending Pitcher of the Month, so I won’t belabor the point much here. But he was sensational again in April, starting five times, throwing 36 innings, and allowing just four runs therein. Oh, yeah, and he threw that no-hitter. Like Hammel, his walk and strikeout rates are both slightly worse than his marks from last year, but (a) his marks from last year were sensational, and (b) I’m not all that intrigued by rate statistics over four or five starts. Check in next month, and we’ll talk about it. Arrieta’s top play came against the Brewers on April 28th, when after loading the bases with one out to begin the game he struck out Chris Carter and Kirk Nieuwenhuis in sequence to end the frame:

(3) Anthony Rizzo, 1.0 WAR — Rizzo’s getting to the point where he counts as a grizzled veteran on this club, which is sort of shocking for those of us who’ve been watching him since his Cub debut in 2012. They grow up so fast. Anyway. Despite a low batting average that’s caused much hand-wringing among the poorly-informed commentariat, Rizzo actually had a pretty fantastic April, getting on base at a .385 clip and performing, on the whole, at a rate about 50 percent above league average. Not bad for the Captain. His top play came on April 7th against the Diamondbacks, when he put the Cubs ahead for good with a two-run triple to right, scoring Jason Heyward and Ben Zobrist and putting the score at 8-6 in the fourth. Rizzo also homered in the game, and ended with six RBI.

(2) Kris Bryant, 1.1 WAR — .287/.374/.494. That’s Kris Bryant’s April line, and he hasn’t even really tapped into his power fully, slugging just four home runs in April and adding six doubles. Perhaps that’s a consequence of his new, flatter swing path, but perhaps (also) the Vegas boy just doesn’t like hitting in the cold. Or, you know, maybe it’s something he ate this month. When you’re only talking about a month of data, there’s a lot of things that could go into any set of results. Point is, though, Bryant was great in April and he wasn’t playing close to his full potential. His defense at third base looked extremely solid, though, at least to the eye—his throws have straightened out enormously since he came up last April. His top play of the month came against Brandon Finnegan of the Reds on April 21st, when he homered in the first inning to put the Cubs up 2-0 and exorcised Finnegan’s curse on the franchise (he’d no-hit the Cubs through seven his previous time out against the North Siders). Bryant homered twice that day.

(1) Dexter Fowler, 2.0 WAR — Ah, there he is! The guy nobody thought would be back on the Cubs is back in style, leading not just his club but the entire major leagues in wins above replacement. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what Fowler is doing so well because, well, he’s doing everything well: his eye at the plate has been superb, he’s hitting for power, he’s running the bases sensibly at times and brilliantly at others, and he’s playing a perfectly solid center field. He’ll come down to earth a little, sure, but for now it’s fun to enjoy the ride. For right now, this is Dexter’s world. His top play of the month came off another former Cub, Cincinnati’s Dan Straily, against whom Fowler doubled in the fifth inning of the game on April 23rd, scoring Addison Russell and tying the game 2-2 in the process (the Reds, sadly, would go on to win).

And that’s it for this month! Onwards, to bigger, better, and warmer things.

Lead photo courtesy David Kohl—USA Today Sports.

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