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The Season That Was: Marco Estrada

Looking back at Marco’s 2018 season

Toronto Blue Jays v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

Picked up in trade for Adam Lind, Marco Estrada turned out to far better than we could have ever expected.

In 2015, he had a 3.13 ERA and finished 10th in Cy Young voting. He followed the regular season with terrific work in the playoffs, posting a 2.32 ERA in 3 starts, covering 19.1 innings. I think we’ll always remember his start in game 3 of the ALDS, getting us a needed win against the Rangers, going 6.1 innings, allowing just 1 run off 5 hits. We could have gone out in 3 games, but Marco started the comeback.

In 2016 he was almost equally good. 3.48 ERA in 176 innings. He made the All-Star game, for the first time in his career, at age 32. Again he was great in the playoffs, 2.01 ERA in 22.1 innings. Again he had an unforgettable start against the Rangers, going 8.1 innings of 1 run ball.

2017 wasn’t as great. He had a 5 game losing streak, not picking up a win between May 27 and August 10. In 12 starts, over that stretch, he had a 7.39 ERA in 59.2 innings. Outside of that stretch, he was good, and he did set a career high in innings pitched (186), but he wasn’t what we expected.

The Blue Jays signed him to a $13 million contract for this season and we hoped he’d go back to being the pitcher he was in 2015 and 2016.

It didn’t happen:

Standard Pitching
7 14 5.64 28 28 143.2 154 90 29 50 103 2 3 74 5.44
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/1/2018.

Baseball Reference has him at a 0.6 WAR. FanGraphs 0.5, giving him a value of $4.1 million to the team.

Marco had a BABIP of .282 which was slightly better than 2017’s .295, but far above the .234 from 2016 or the .216 from 2015. His left on base percentage (69.5%) was slightly down from last year (71.9) and down further from the 2 seasons before (75.8 and 79.2).

His FIP (5.44) and his xFIP (5.79) were right around his ERA. In his good years his ERA was much better than his FIP.

Marco’s line drive rate was up from 2017 (20.4 up from 19.4 last year). Ground ball rate was way down (24.0%, from 30.3). And his fly ball rate was up (55.6% from 59.3). Fly balls left the park at the exact same rate as last year (11.2%).

His strikeout rate dropped a lot (16.4%, down from 21.8). His walk rate was down a bit too (8.0% from 8.8).

His hard contact rate was up a little (29.9% from 27.2). Soft contact was down too (19.3%, from 21.4).

Marco had a very large reverse split. RHB hit .302/.358/.559, LHB .231/.292/.467. He’s had large reverse splits the last 3 seasons, before that they were far more normal.

At home Marco was 3-7 with a 5.43 ERA in 14 starts. On the road he was 4-7 with a 5.85 ERA. He was hit harder at home (.273/.326/.566), than on the road (.271/.333/.471) so not sure why his ERA was higher on the road.

He was much better in the first half (4-7, 4.72 ERA, .266/.314/.496) than the second half (3-7, 7.17, .281/.353/.559).

Marco by month:

  • April: 2-2, 6.00, batters hit .283/.333/.566 in 5 starts.
  • May: 0-4, 5.40, batters hit .300/.341/.554 in 6 starts.
  • June: 2-1, 2.35, batters hit .207/.254/.333 in 5 starts.
  • July: 0-1, 12.46, batters hit .353/.435/.765 in 2 starts.
  • August: 3-2, 6.15, batters hit .255/.328/.588 in 5 starts.
  • Sept: 0-4, 7.99, batters hit .300/.372/.520 in 5 starts.

June was pretty great. In July he missed time with a pain in the ass (Brett Lawrie was back with the team?). Ok a hip injury.

The Blue Jays had a 12-16 record in his starts. His longest win streak? Well, he won 2 in a row twice. Longest losing streak? He lost 5 in a row from April 26 to May 29. And he ended the season on a 5 game losing streak.

His best start by GameScore was a 73, August 4 in Seattle. 7 innings, 1 hit, 1 earned, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts. Minor Leaguer, Kate, and I and 25,000 or so of our closest Jays fan friends were at the game.

His worst start by GameScore was a 13, September 14th in New York against the Yankees. He went 2.2, allowed 6 hits, 8 earned, 3 walks and 2 strikeouts (but he didn’t give up a home run.

He averaged 5.1 innings per start.

I’m not sure what was going on with Marco. His fastball speed was down a tiny bit from last year (88.6 MPH, down from 89.9), but in 2016 the average was 88.1). He was throwing more changeups (37% of his pitches were changeups, 31.9% last year and 28.6% in 2016). I’d imagine, because things weren’t going well, he was throwing his best pitch more.

It wasn’t a good time for Marco to have a bad season, since he’s a free agent. I don’t know if he is a great candidate for a bounce back season, although he couldn’t be much worse than this year.

If my vote counts, I’m not all for the Jays signing him again. We could use a starter who can be counted on to pitch every fifth day (over the past four years Marco’s averaged 29.5 starts a season), but I’d like someone more likely to go deeper into a game.

I often think that pitchers like Marco would be good pitching coaches, because if you can win with his stuff, you should be able to teach guys to win with better stuff. But, he’s made enough money in his career he doesn’t have to work as hard as pitching coaches do.

I’ve really enjoyed watching Marco these last few years. I love pitchers who can be effective without the big fastball. The couple of times he took no-hitters into the late innings are games I’ll remember, as well has the playoff games.

And, of course, I’ll remember him holding his glove covering his face, before starting his windup.

A little note that doesn’t fit anywhere: Marco has 189 career starts without a complete game. Looking at Baseball Reference, I can’t find a pitcher with more starts without a complete game:

Rk Player CG GS
From To Age IP
1 Marco Estrada 0 189 2008 2018 24-34 1227.2
2 Bud Norris 0 188 2009 2018 24-33 1221.1
3 Wei-Yin Chen 0 170 2012 2018 26-32 996.1
4 Tony Armas 0 167 1999 2008 21-30 925.2
5 Jake Odorizzi 0 158 2012 2018 22-28 869.2
Provided by View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 10/2/2018.

Presuming he time with the Blue Jays is over, we ought to check out where Marco sits on the Jays all-time lists among pitchers:

  • WAR: 18th, 10.4
  • ERA: 23rd, 4.25 (min 500 innings)
  • Wins: 21st, 39
  • Strikeouts per 9 innings: 11th, 7.536
  • Innings Pitched: 17th, 686.2
  • Strikeouts: 17th, 575
  • Starts: 14th, 118
  • Home runs allowed: 12th, 107

I wanted to include a clip of a memorable moment for each player, it is a little tougher for pitchers than hitters. But, in the game in Seattle, Marco went 6.1 innings before giving up his first hit and the crowd appreciated his effort.