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Big Game Marco: Estrada's Place in the Pantheon of Blue Jays Postseason Pitching

Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Of the 175 pitchers who have started a game for the Blue Jays over their 40 years as a franchise, Marco Estrada ranks 39th with 346.1 innings pitched (as a starter). That already makes him more than just a footnote in franchise history, but leaves him behind many others when it comes to overall franchise significance: his 57 starts account for under 1% of all starts, and likewise just 0.9% of all starting innings pitched.

But the above rankings are just for the regular season, and when it comes to the postseason it's a different matter entirely. Estrada has already made five starts in his career for the Jays, which is almost 9% of the 58 games in franchise history (note: I reluctantly include the wild card game, since this is a postseason tally, not a playoff tally).

Better yet is how good those starts have been: almost shutting out the Rangers and one mistake in a complete game loss Friday this year; and allowing just one run in each of two elimination games last year while working into the 7th and 8th innings. The one lesser performance was allowing three runs without finishing the 6th in his first start against Kansas City, and even that is decent.

While hopefully he is not nearly done, either this year or the future, it got me thinking about where this places Estrada among Toronto pitchers in postseason history. While it's far from the definitive measurement, since getting the opportunity in the first place is largely outside a pitcher's control (here's looking at you, Doc) and modern pitchers have more chances, I was still curious about who has been best at rising to the occasion in October.

In all, 17 different pitchers have started playoff games for the Jays. Seven have two or fewer starts, and they don't have the body of work for further consideration (at least for now as regards active pitchers J.A. Happ and Aaron Sanchez). For the other 10, I pulled the number of starts, innings pitched, ERA and FIP:

J. Guzman 8 51.2 2.44 3.24
M. Estrada 5 35.2 2.02 2.89
J. Key 5 32.2 3.03 3.29
D. Stieb 5 31.2 4.26 3.79
D. Cone 4 22.1 3.22 3.59
J. Morris 4 23 7.43 6.57
D. Stewart 4 25.1 4.26 4.76
T. Stottlemyre 4 16.2 10.26 7.45
M. Stroman 4 25.1 3.91 3.38
D. Price 3 23.1 5.76 4.36

Again, this is as a starting pitcher only. Todd Stottlemyre was excellent out of the bullpen in 1992 (1.23 ERA), but awful in a handful of starts three other years. Joining him in postseason ignominy is Jack Morris in 1992. A pair of Davids, Price and Stewart were bad, though not on the same level. Franchise stalwart Dave Stieb was mediocre to bad, depending on your metric of choice. The same can be said of Stroman, though it's a case of being okay or very good. David Cone was very good in 1992 (what is with all the Dave/Davids?)

That leaves the three at the top of the list who are clearly a cut above. Jimmy Key probably should have got more starts over the years, as he was an excellent performer but never started more than twice (in 1992). It's fair to say he takes the bronze: ranking third by innings, third by ERA, third by FIP.

That leaves Estrada and Juan Guzman at the top of the pile. Estrada edges out Guzman on a run prevention basis by both metrics. But at this point, he trails pretty significantly in innings, about 30% fewer. And Guzman rose to the occasion in some pretty big games: winning Game 3 of the 1992 ALCS to take the series lead and closing the series out with a win in Game 6; eight strong innings in Game 3 of the World Series; two wins in the 1993 ALCS. Like Estrada, he took a 2-0 loss in the 1993 World Series, and also had a mediocre start.

As it stands, Guzman's run from 1991-93 edges out Estrada as the top postseason ace. But a few more big starts from Estrada could elevate him from his already lofty perch in Blue Jay history.