Marco Estrada spent most of 2015 defying doubters in his first season in a Blue Jays' uniform. It is likely 2016 will be the year of regression for Estrada. It may not be drastic, but Marco Estrada will not be his 2015 self this season.
In 2015, Estrada, the soft-tossing now starter for Toronto, posted a career low in ERA despite having peripherals (FIP, HR/9, xFIP, BABIP) suggesting that he was playing magic tricks on opponents and was thus destined for regression. Actually, that was the narrative all season.
This is the career arc Estrada has made for himself. He's simply one of those pitchers that the peripherals can't seem to get right.
Among the peripherals however, reasons as minute as a transition of catchers and regression to the mean would suggest that Estrada's 2016 won't be nearly as rosy as last year's campaign.
Although Estrada has made a name for himself for pitching above his peripheral statistics, 2015 was a year where he did so at unprecedented levels. For starters, his BABIP was .216, far below his career average of .262. That alone would suggest that when it comes to balls in play, Estrada was the beneficiary of a fair amount of good luck last season.
Additionally, Estrada had a much harder time striking batters out in 2015 as he watched his K/9 fall from 7.59 in 2014 to 6.51 the following season. This trend has continued since 2012 where Estrada struck out 9.3 per nine innings. Reciprocally, Estrada watched his walk rate increase slightly last season to 2.73, up from 2.63 the season prior. With those key statistics trending in the wrong direction along with a conceivable decline in batted ball luck, it wouldn't be ludicrous to suggest Estrada will regress this season.
With that said, one of the main reasons Estrada may struggle, at least initially, is the departure of his former personal catcher Dioner Navarro. Last season, Navarro caught 119 of Estrada's 181 innings with Russell Martin catching the remainder. Pitching to Navarro, Estrada maintained a 2.63 ERA whereas his ERA inflated to 4.11 with Martin behind the plate. Although Martin is known far more for his receiving skills than Navarro, it's undeniable that the two didn't click last season and could be a potential problem if the battery can't come together this season. Estrada himself believes this transition not to be an issue.
"I’d be fine pitching to whoever was back there," Estrada says. "Obviously Navarro did an incredible job back there and I’m going to miss him but with Russell he’s a great catcher. He knows how to call a game and having a guy like Russell back there is just going to make me so much better."
Maybe Marco knows best. It's conceivable he and Martin spent most of their time together in the first half of the season where he was less successful for other reasons than his catching mate. It's even possible that Estrada will continue to out-pitch his peripherals and be one of the shining stars on the Jays' marginal pitching rotation.
What's probable for Estrada is a slight regression in 2016. It's not of this author's opinion that it will be apocalyptic implosion. No, instead it will likely be regression towards the mean of Estrada's career, a season much like his 2013 incarnation where he had 3.87 ERA by season's end.
If Estrada is able to sustain that type of production, the two-year $26 million contract the Jays gave him in the offseason is going to look extremely attractive to Jays fans. While Estrada may regress into more of an average pitcher in 2016, the ceiling has been built for how high Estrada's potential could be.
For a club with limited starting pitching, that can only be a welcomed sight.