Nine MLB Lessons We’ve Learned in April

Baseball is experiencing another golden age of shortstops, pitching still rules and Shohei Ohtani is somehow even better.
Boston is off to a strong start thanks in part to a change in pitching philosophy.
Boston is off to a strong start thanks in part to a change in pitching philosophy. / Eric Canha-USA TODAY Sports

Juan Soto has re-made the New York Yankees, the American League Central is the only division with four winning teams and three of the top six pitching staffs, the Atlanta Braves still have the best offense in baseball and the MV-Three at the top of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ lineup is as good as advertised.

But you knew all that. As April draws to a close, here are lessons from the first month that you might have missed.

Craig Breslow, Andrew Bailey and the Boston Red Sox are changing baseball

Red Sox pitchers are throwing fewer fastballs than any team in recorded history: 31.2% (not including cutters). Is it working? Boston has the lowest ERA in baseball. Commence the copycat behavior around the league.

Boston ranked 13th last year in how often it threw fastballs: 47.6%, almost exactly at league average (47.7%). We have noticed for years that teams have reduced fastball use even as velocity has risen. In 2022 it sank below 50% for the first time, to 48.6%. It dropped again last year (47.6%) and has dropped again this year (46.7%).

But the Red Sox, under Breslow, their new chief baseball officer, and Bailey, their new pitching coach, are taking the trend to what only a few years ago seemed an absurd level.

What’s behind the thinking? Data. Major league hitters are hitting .244 against four-seamers and .209 against sweepers.

Pitchers still rule

Yes, new rules were designed last season to get more action in less time. But hitting remains very, very hard. The three worst April batting averages since the mound was lowered 55 years ago all have happened in the past four seasons:

Lowest April Batting Average Since 1969

2021 .232
2022 .232
2024 .241

Batting average and on-base percentage are down six points from last April. Slugging is down 18 points to .387, the second lowest in April in the wild-card era. Hits per team per game (8.12) is tracking to be the lowest in a full season since 1968.

Apr 23, 2024; Cincinnati, Ohio, USA; Reds shortstop Elly De La Cruz bats against the Phillies.
De La Cruz has 7 home runs and 18 stolen bases on the season. / Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

We are entering a Golden Age of shortstops

Okay, it’s only one month. Small sample. Got it. But look at what this class of shortstops is on track to do at the plate:

Most Shortstops with OPS .900+ Since 1947

2024 (4): C.J. Abrams, Mookie Betts, Elly De La Cruz, Gunnar Henderson
1998 (3): Nomar Garciaparra, Barry Larkin, Alex Rodriguez
1999 (3): Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez
2020 (3): Corey Seager, Fernando Tatís Jr., Trea Turner

Just missing the cutoff is Bobby Witt Jr. (.896). And these guys are hitting their prime. Abrams is 23 years old, Betts is 31, De La Cruz is 22, Henderson is 22 and Witt Jr. is 23.

Remember how incredible the 40-70 season of Ronald Acuña Jr. was last year? De La Cruz is on pace for 40-100.

And here is one more reason to be wowed by this unprecedented class of shortstops when it comes to size and athleticism:

This unprecedented class of shortstops includes the only three players in baseball who are in the 89th percentile or higher in exit velocity and speed this season: Henderson (100 EV, 89 Speed), Witt Jr. (99, 100) and De La Cruz (95, 99).

Shohei Ohtani has gone next level

Wait, what? The guy who won a home run title last year with 44 dingers while missing almost a month? The MVP who led the AL in on-base percentage and slugging last year? He’s better?

Yep, that guy. He is now the undisputed best hitter in baseball.

Maybe taking a year off from pitching is bringing out the best in his hitting. Or maybe—and this is more likely—he is continuing his ascent as he learns more and more about how to be the greatest hitter he can be. A student of the game with fantastic physical skills, Ohtani, who turns 30 in July, is just entering his prime.

Here is what the new and improved Ohtani has done:

  • Cut his strikeout rate to a career low (18%; it was 30% just three years ago).
  • Hit the ball harder than ever (94.7 MPH average exit velocity, a career high).
  • Cut his groundball rate to a career low (32.3%) while increasing his line drive rate to a career high (36.4%).
  • Slugged .714 against breaking pitches, a career high.

The Astros are in trouble

Houston has dug itself a major hole, though two games against the lowly Colorado Rockies in Mexico City sure helped. Only two teams recovered from a worse start in April to make the playoffs.

Worst April Record by Playoff Team (Min. 15 Games)

The Marlins and White Sox are historically bad

It’s rare to see two teams this bad this early.

Worst April Record, Divisional Era (Min. 20 games)

Paul Skenes is wasting his stuff in the minors

I get the Pittsburgh Pirates’ caution with Skenes. But he turns 22 this month, he is 6’6”, 235 pounds, he threw almost 130 innings at LSU and in the minors last year and he throws 100 mph with a late load to his delivery. He has struck out 34 of the 66 batters he has faced in AAA. With his stuff, he would be one of the five best pitchers in the majors right now—purely on stuff.

Back in 2007, then Giants GM Brian Sabean looked at the advanced stuff of Tim Lincecum, another elite pitcher out of college, and how Lincecum could throw so hard at only 5’11” and 170 pounds. So, he decided to scrap the usual development curve. He didn’t want Lincecum wasting major league stuff on minor league hitters. He promoted Lincecum to the big leagues May 6, 2007, after only 13 minor league starts. Lincecum won the Cy Young Award in each of the next two seasons.

Expect Skenes to be in the majors within two weeks.

The pitching carousel is dizzying

Churn, baby, churn. MLB has used more pitchers in April (527) than in any entire season up to 1994. One hundred fifty-seven pitchers went on the injured list, costing teams $648 million, or $21.6 million per team.

Say hello to reliever Michael Tonkin, the face of musical pitching chairs. In just the past six months he has moved from the Braves to the Mets to the Twins to the Mets to the Yankees via three DFAs and one trade.

Mason Miller is a velocity outlier

There were more pitches thrown 100 mph this month than the entire 2008 season. That’s hardly news. We know the universe for elite throwers is expanding—up 137% in the past decade, from 27 pitchers who hit 100 MPH in 2013 to 64 last season.

But Miller is the outlier of outliers. No one comes close to the Oakland A’s closer when it comes to how often he hits triple digits.

Most Pitches 100+MPH

1. Mason Miller, A’s: 86
2. Michael Kopech, White Sox: 47
3. Ryan Helsley, Cardinals: 35

Highest Pct. of Pitches 100+ mph

1. Mason Miller, A’s: 43.4%
2. Michael Kopech, White Sox: 18.4%
3. Ryan Helsley, Cardinals: 16.9%

Tom Verducci


Tom Verducci covers Major League Baseball and brings Sports Illustrated 41 seasons of experience. Tom is a five-time Emmy Award winner, two-time National Magazine Award finalist, two-time New York Times bestselling author and a member of the National Sports Media Association Hall of Fame. He was the first baseball writer to be named National Sportswriter of the Year for three consecutive years and the only to call the World Series as an analyst. He appears on MLB Network and Fox. He holds a degree from Penn State and lives in New Jersey with his wife. They have two sons.