Marco Estrada: Avoiding the Home Run

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Jul 5, 2015; Detroit, MI, USA; Toronto Blue Jays starting pitcher

Marco Estrada

(25) pitches in the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Marco Estrada was coming off a 2014 season where he struggled mightily as a starter, but provided the Brewers with a reliable arm out of the ‘pen after he changed roles mid-season. This, for the BlueJays, wasn’t a terrible idea.

They acquired an arm who could be a nice piece in their bullpen, who could start if needed, and throw multiple innings out of the pen. They managed to save money and free up the DH spot by trading away a solid, yet flawed hitter. One glaring problem, he was arguably the most home run prone pitcher in the game.

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Of pitchers with a minimum of 150 IP, he was by far the most homer prone in 2014, with a 1.73 HR/9. Even after you move that minimum to 100 IP, the next closest was 1.56. For starters only, with a minimum of 100 IP, Estrada sat at the top with 2.27 (next closest is 1.48). That is horrendous. This wasn’t an anomaly either, his marks of 1.34 and 1.17 in previous seasons showed this was an issue, and it ballooned into a major issue in 2014.

This caused concern among fans, rightfully so, coming to the Rogers Centre wouldn’t help this problem. However, he’s dramatically reduced this concerning trend to a point where it’s a non-factor at this point. This trade wasn’t supposed to save the Jays lackluster staff, even before Marcus Stroman went down, but arguably, that’s exactly what he’s done.

After 10.2 very good innings out of the pen, he was moved to the rotation after the demotion of Daniel Norris and has thrown up terrific numbers, providing the Jays with 1.8 fWAR thus far, a terrific find by Anthopoulos.

After the Aaron Sanchez injury, the Jays were running the fifth spot in the rotation with the likes of Felix Doubront, Scott Copeland, Matt Boyd, and Todd Redmond. With no disrespect to those pitchers, that simply won’t get it done, especially for a team competing for a playoff spot.

Hypothetically, if Estrada isn’t having the season he’s having, and if he were to become a non-option as a starter, the Jays would have had two spots in the rotation filled with the names above. Combine that with Drew Hutchison’s putrid season, and well, it’s scary to think about. The Jays wouldn’t have been close to a position to trade for David Price.

He’s moved his starter’s ERA to 3.45, taking off over a full run from his 4.96 starter’s ERA in 2014. His FIP as a starter is no slouch either, sitting at 3.78, way down from his 2014 mark of 5.73.

It’s largely come down to one thing. Controlling the home run.

This graph from FanGraphs gives you a visual representation of how much better his HR/9 has been this year, sitting at 0.84, getting it below the MLB average and setting a career low. It doesn’t even give you the full picture, as Estrada’s 2014 HR/9 as a starter was 2.27. That’s a massive difference. That 2.27 mark most likely had some bad luck involved in it, but the sample of 107 IP isn’t small enough to cast it aside.

So, what has he done differently? How has he been able to limit the home run?

Next: Part Two: Deeper inside the numbers