Ever since Tom and Kate asked me to do a Marco Estrada tribute, I’ve been procrastinating. What hasn’t already been said? I mean, barely six months have gone by since my “Marco is the best” fanpost, which summarizes all of the events in 2015 that drew me to this unsung, unassuming, and (at the time) unheralded pitcher.
I could complete the picture with some 2016 highlights, I suppose: shutting down Boston in April; having enough dominant performances to earn a trip to the All-Star Game; gutting it through a game where he could barely walk because the team was desperate for innings; cruising down the stretch against Seattle and New York; dominating performances in the playoffs against Texas and Cleveland; and so on.
But on this, the fourth anniversary of his trade to the Blue Jays, I think his epitaph deserves a bit more than just a recital of some good games.
A Long, Unlikely Road
Much has been written about Marco Estrada’s modest nature and unexpected success, but we should remember the chronology of a number of steps where everything had to go just right for him to even make the minors:
- He was converted to a pitcher from shortstop in senior year of high school when a player was injured
- A community college coach by the name of Jon Strauss happened to be around and recruited a very raw prospect
- Strauss had connections with Long Beach State, where Marco found himself in the company of Evan Longoria and Troy Tulowitzki, among others
- He was selected by Washington in the 6th round of the 2005 draft
Marco’s story could have ended here and it would still be considered a success story. How many talented and amazing phenoms in high school don’t even sniff the minors? I would suspect those instances far outnumber the Marco type scenarios.
As you know, Marco’s story continued. On one day in high-A ball in 2007, Marco was playing long toss with Clint Everts. Everts threw a changeup for the heck of it and Marco asked what the pitch is. Everts showed him the grip, Marco used it in that game, and the underdog Marco surpassed the first rounder and eventually made the majors.
To his improbable chronology, we can now add a random game of catch with a guy he barely knew who showed him a pitch that would change his life.
A Blue Jay Legacy
This brings us to back to that trade that made four years ago today. Though he’s now sometimes described as a “beloved” Blue Jay, I think this requires some revisionist history. In 2015, Estrada barely made the roster in the spring, then only made the rotation after a series of disasters. He was considered by much of the media (and many BBB posters) not to be a good choice for the playoff rotation, and was said to be a one-year wonder because he outperformed his FIP.*
*interlude. For some of us (okay maybe just me, but I’m writing the piece), he caused us to look at baseball statistics and analysis differently. Some people want to live and die with FIP, and that’s okay. But when it doesn’t account for extreme outliers (such as his inordinate amount of popups), it shows to me that looking at just one stat doesn’t provide the answer for everyone. But I digress.
Where was I? As a summary of my TL:DR post, in my view, the whole of Marco Estrada is bigger than the sum of his parts. The implausible rise, the topping out at 89 mph, the Big Game Marco playoff starts, the fact that he doesn’t fit neatly into a statistical model – individually, they’re interesting facts. But as a whole, it reminds us that baseball doesn’t always have to be about who went to the best program, has the best pedigree, and throws the hardest.
Sure, those factors will get you where you want 99% of the time, but I’ve always found that 1% much more compelling.
Marco Estrada is (was?) a Blue Jay. And Marco is (and will always be) the best. /fin