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Top 60 All-Time Greatest Blue Jays: #45 Marco Estrada

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

Marco Rene Estrada | SP | 2015-2018

Marco Estrada was born July 5, 1983, in Sonora, Mexico. He was a 6th round draft choice of the Washington Nationals in 2005 (the first year after the MLB moved the Expos). He didn’t exactly look like a future star when he was in the Nationals’ farm system, but he turned things around in 2008, when he had a 3.09 ERA in 25 starts, split between AA and AAA. That bought him a late-season callup. He pitched in relief in 11 MLB games and had a 7.82 ERA. In 2009 he pitched 7.1 major league innings.

The Brewers grabbed him off waivers before the 2010 season. He spent five seasons in Milwaukee. In total, he had a 4.11 ERA in 139 games, 70 starts—basically a league-average pitcher.

Then, on November 1st, 2015, the Blue Jays traded Adam Lind to get him. I wasn’t thrilled:

I don’t know, it just seems like Estrada is the type of player that could have been picked up from almost nothing.

I’d likely be happier with the trade if we got someone younger. At 31...he’s not someone that’s going to suddenly become a star. And, with only one year of control left, if he does become someone good, will we keep him?

Wrong again.

I wasn’t the only one displeased, our poll had 70% of us unhappy with the trade, but then we always liked Lind.

He had a great 2015 season, going 13-8 with a 3.13 ERA in 34 games and 28 starts, which was good for a career-high 3.9 bWAR. He led the league with the fewest hits allowed per 9 innings at 6.7. He finished 10th in Cy Young voting.

Two starts in a row, Marco took no-hitters into the 8th inning. On June 19, he gave up his first hit to the Orioles’ Jimmy Paredes leading off the 8th

June 24, against the Rays, his first hit was a 1-out hit in the 8th. He ended up going 8.2 innings, allowing 2 hits, but not getting a decision. The Jays won in the 12th inning, their only run scoring on a Chris Colabello home run. It was the first time a Jays pitcher took a no-hitter into the 8th in consecutive starts since Dave Stieb.

And he was a standout in our playoff run:

  • With the Jays down 2 games to none, Marco started game 3 and threw 6.1 innings of the 1-run ball to start our comeback series win.
  • We won’t mention his start in game one of the ALCS against the Royals. But, in game 5, with the Jays down 3-1, Marco went 7.2 innings, allowing just 3 hits and 1 run on a Sal Perez’ home run in our 7-1 win. Unfortunately, that one didn’t inspire a series comeback.

After the season, our new front office signed Marco to a 2-year, $26 million contract. Reaction to the deal was mixed. Some were happy. Some worried that he would revert to his pre-2015 self.

2016 was a similar season for Estrada. He went 9-9 with a 3.48 ERA in 29 starts, good for a 3.6 bWAR, just a tiny step back from 2015. Win/loss records are strange things. J.A. Happ went 20-4 with an ERA not much different, throwing about the same number of innings. But the Jays scored 6.33 runs for Happ and 3.8 for Estrada. He also made the All-Star team for the first and only time of his career.

Marco was slowed a bit by a bad back, kind of a sign of things to come for Marco. He started the season on the DL and battled the issue later in the season.

He took a no-hitting into the 8th inning again, against the Red Sox, on June 5. With one out in the inning, Chris Young took Marco deep. We won the game 5-4.

Once again, he was terrific in the playoffs:

  • 8.1 innings of 1-run ball in game one of the ALDS to get the win.
  • And two good starts, both losses, in the ALCS against Cleveland. A complete game in his game 1 start, allowing just 2 runs, in a 2-0 loss. And 2 earned in 6 innings in game 5, the last of the series, a 3-0 loss. We couldn’t score in that series.

2017 wasn’t as good a year for Marco (or the Blue Jays). He was our opening day starter (a loss to the Orioles). He went 10-9 with a career-high, 4.98 ERA (he would top that in 2018). He also had a career-high in innings pitched, with 186, strikeouts with 176, and home runs allowed with 31.

He had big reverse splits for the second season in a row. Right-handers hit .289/.364/.500, left-handers .216/.268/.418. Maybe it had something to do with his increasing reliance on the changeup.

We signed him to a $13 million contract for the 2018 season.

It didn’t go well. He had a 7-14 record and a 5.64 ERA in 28 starts and 143.2 innings. He missed some time with a hip injury. He had a nice start in Seattle on August 4th. 7 innings of 1 hit ball. Maybe he knew it was the last time I was going to see him pitch in person and wanted me to have good memories. Maybe it was the 41,230 Jays fans in attendance (out of 41, 238 total. I believe my rough count of 8 Mariners to be accurate). Future Blue Jay (he says, crossing his fingers), James Paxton started for the Mariners.

After the season, he signed with the A’s but only made 5 starts for them and was released in August.

With the Jays, he was 39-40, with a 4.25 ERA in 124 games, 118 starts. 10.1 of his career 12.2 bWAR came with the Jays. At the time of the trade, we worried that his tendency to give up home runs would be a big problem in the AL East. The idea of a fly ball pitcher at Rogers Centre didn’t fill us with confidence. But, though he gave up his share of home runs, he managed to keep the number of base runners down, so he gave up many solo homers.

As I’ll likely say in 10 or so of these profiles, I tend to like pitchers who can be successful without the big fastball. I like the idea that guys can be successful throwing just a little harder than I can.

I tend to think that guys like Marco would make good pitching coach, but I don’t know why who made as much money as Marco did would want to leave his wife, daughter, and son, for several months at a time, to make far less money than it did as a player.

An odd note about Marco, he made 194 starts without a complete game. Doing a Baseball Reference search, he has the most career starts without a complete game, though Jake Odorizzi will pass him with his third start of this season (unless, of course, he throws a complete game in one of those 3 starts. 2020Jay, Chase Anderson, has 167 starts without a complete game, but the chances of him getting 27 more starts is low.

I enjoyed watching Marco. The memory of his 1-hitters and his playoff starts. And the way he held his glove covering his face before starting his windup.

Marco place on the Jays all-time lists among pitchers:

  • WAR: 19th, 10.1
  • ERA: 24th, 4.25 (min 500 innings)
  • Wins: 21st, 39
  • Walks + Hits per 9 innings: 5th, 1.235
  • Strikeouts per 9 innings: 11th, 7.536
  • Innings Pitched: 18th, 686.2
  • Strikeouts: 18th, 575
  • Starts: 15th, 118