Toronto Blue Jays: The Curious Case of Marco Estrada
On one hand, the Blue Jays traded away a difference maker at the plate who mashed right-handed pitching, but, the combination of his struggles to stay healthy, limitations against left-handing pitching, and his modest $7.5 million option made Lind expendable.
Jul 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Marco Estrada throws a pitch against the Toronto Blue Jays during the game at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
On the other hand, Estrada is a swing man who can either join the Blue Jays rotation as a fifth starter, or join the Jays bullpen as a middle reliever. Regardless of where he fits in, Estrada throws an average 89 mph fastball and struggles to keep the ball in the park, which is a big problem for an extreme fly ball pitcher like himself.
Not exactly something for Blue Jays fans to be excited about, right?
Well, when you a dig a little deeper into Estrada’s career numbers, you will find an interesting pitcher that actually has some potential.
First off, there is some familiarity here between Anthopoulos and Estrada. Back in 2006, the Washington Nationals selected Estrada with their sixth-round pick. At the time, the Nationals scouting director was Dana Brown. Brown mentored Anthopoulos during their time together in Montreal, and he was also one of Anthopoulos’ top evaluators when he returned to the Blue Jays in 2009 as a special assistant to the general manager. Meaning, Anthopoulos almost certainly got some insight from his former mentor when acquiring Estrada.
While the background story does not explain much about the potential Estrada has on the field, it does delve into what Anthopoulos’ thought process might have been when acquiring the 31-year-old Mexican hurler.
On the field, Estrada’s K/9 rate of 8.45 and his BB/9 rate of 2.43 stack up very well in comparison to other pitchers around the league. In fact, over the last three seasons Estrada has the 21st best K/BB ratio in baseball.
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His high strikeout rate stems from a devastating change-up that has great late breaking action. Estrada does tend to lean on that change-up quite a bit though, throwing it 30.1% of the time last year.
But on the contrary, his consistent control (career BB% of 6.5%) allows him to throw his off-speed pitches (also throws a curveball) at a high rate. With an average fastball, above average off-speed pitches, steady control and the ability to make batters whiff, Estrada has potential on the surface.
Unfortunately, the same problem continues to plague Estrada – the long ball.
Last season Estrada gave up a National League worst 29 home runs, posting a horrific 1.73 HR/9 rate, as well as a dismal home run/fly ball rate of 13.2%.
Of the 29 home runs he gave up, 11 of them were hit when pitching at home in Miller Park. A scary thought for Blue Jays fans, but when you take a look at the hits Estrada gave up at Miller Park last year and overlay them on the Rogers Centre, you will quickly notice that he would have given up even more home runs if his home park was the Rogers Centre last season.
Balls in play by Marco Estrada at Miller Park last season overlayed on the Rogers Centre.
light red = line outs, orange = fly outs, baby blue = doubles, royal blue = triples, dark blue = home runs
The above map shows that Estrada would have given up 15 home runs (maybe 16) at the Rogers Centre last year, opposed to the 11 he gave up at Miller Park.
Of course those numbers will drop mightily if he is placed in the bullpen full-time, but for comparison’s sake, it is a glaring issue Estrada must resolve.
Estrada reminds me of former New York Yankees starting pitcher Phil Hughes.
Jul 1, 2014; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Marco Estrada throws against the Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Peter Llewellyn-USA TODAY Sports
Hughes is an extreme fly ball pitcher who struggled to pitch in the hitter friendly confines of Yankee Stadium. He had a similar skill set to Estrada in terms of his pitching arsenal. He had great control, decent metrics, could make batters whiff, but he could not keep the ball in the park.
The resolution for Hughes?
A change of scenery.
Upon moving to the more spacious Target Field in Minnesota, Hughes rejuvenated his career and posted a 16-10 record this past season. Although he still gave up 11 home runs at home last year, it is a far cry from the numbers he posted at Yankee Stadium. In three of his last four years in New York, Hughes gave up no less than 17 home runs a season.
Could a change of scenery have the same effect on Estrada?
Immediately you would think the hitter friendly confines of the Rogers Centre would say no, but that is debatable.
Although much is unknown at this point when it comes to how the Blue Jays plan on using Estrada, Nick Ashbourne of Blue Bird Banter did an excellent job of exploring what those possibilities might be earlier this week.
Again, whether the Blue Jays decide to use Estrada as a starter, or a reliever, or even trade him is unknown at this point. But, one absolute we can definitively conclude is that Estrada is an interesting pitcher who could eventually become an intriguing piece of the Blue Jays puzzle.
What do you think Blue Jays fans? Can Marco Estrada turn it around in Toronto? Or is he just passing through? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.