Yesterday, Marco Estrada signed with Oakland, formally closing the door on a four year run with the Blue Jays (at least for now). It seems to me he did pretty well to not only get a major league deal for 2019 and at $4-million, but I want to take the opportunity to look at where he stands in franchise history.
Any discussion of Estrada’s place in Blue Jays history has to start with his postseason record. The Jays have played 61 postseason games; having been handed the ball six times, Estrada has started almost 10% of them. But it’s far from just volume, as Big Game Marco excelled when it most matters. Holding the line with backs against the wall in Texas. Staving off elimination in Kansas City. Turning the tables and putting the Rangers in a whole to start. Going the distance in Cleveland.
Though his record was just 3-3 (the Jays were shut out in all three losses), his 2.16 ERA and 3.21 FIP while averaging a hair under 7 innings per start underline his dominance. All three of those marks are the best of all 10 pitchers who have started more than two playoff games, in all cases edging out Juan Guzman. Guzman edges out Estrada for the title of biggest game playoff pitcher with two more starts and three of those coming in the World Series, but inning-for-inning Estrada is at least right there.
No Blue Jays pitcher threw more than Estrada’s 686.2 innings in 124 games and 118 starts over the last four years. That ranks him 14th in franchise history by starts, and 17th by innings. He finished with a 4.25 ERA, equal to an exactly league average 100 adjusted ERA (ERA-). Of course, the first two seasons (357 innings with an 80 ERA-) and last two (329.2 innings and 122 ERA-) were very different. Here’s how that breaks down compared to other pitchers in franchise history:
The pitcher most similar to him, almost right on top of his marker? His contemporary Marcus Stroman, with 665 innings and the same league average 100 ERA-. In terms of 2015-16 only, the Blue Jays pitcher most similar to his production is Mike Timlin, who of course did it as a reliever.
That chart bunches up most of the pitchers thanks to a few pitchers with very long careers in Toronto, so let’s dump the eight pitchers with more than a thousand innings and focus on the rest (with at least 200 innings). This chart below replaces ERA- with WAR/180 innings on a runs allowed basis to measure productivity (essentially bWAR without the adjustments):
Unsurprisingly, Stroman remains the most comparable, with Duane Ward (650 IP, 3.1 WAR/180) entering the picture. J.A. Happ is in a similar ballpark (745 IP, 2.8 WAR/180) and to a lesser extent Brett Cecil (656 IP, 1.9 WAR/180).
But its’s the 2015-16 marker that is most instructive. Very few pitchers in franchise history have ever prevented runs to the degree Estrada did over two those years. Yes, some of that is attributable to an excellent defensive crew around him, but even subtracting a little (bWAR credits him at 7.5 WAR compared to 8.3 RA9 WAR) it’s still pretty rarified space.
If we look at similar careers on the position player side (in terms of similar playing time and productivity with the Blue Jays), a couple of comparables would be Jose Cruz and Shawn Green.
In terms of counting totals, Estrada’s 39 regular season wins and 40 losses rank 21st and 20th in franchise history respectively. He ranks 12th with 107 home runs yielded, and 575 strikeouts ranks 17th. It’s too bad batted ball doesn’t go further back, but his popups and soft contact would surely rank right there too.
In terms of rate stats among the 72 pitchers with at least 200 innings with the Jays, Estrada’s 1.40 HR/9 ranks third, a reflection of fly ball proclivity and the era in which he played. His .257 BABIP is the best, three points of ahead of Dave Stieb and another three n front of Tom Henke. Some good company to say the least. His overall batting average against of .231 is tied with Aaron Sanchez for the 5th best mark. His 20% strikeout rate is the 13th best mark, though this too is partially a reflection of era. His 8.4% walk rate is mediocre at 36th overall.
All in all, not a bad run for a guy initially seen by many as a non-tender candidate when he came from Milwaukee after a disastrous 2014 in exchange for Adam Lind/avoiding the buyout on his contract.