Not to take any of the joy out of what is one of the best Blue Jays seasons to date, but an offseason looms over us and big changes in the pitching staff are bound to happen. For the 2016 season, only one member of the Blue Jays current starting rotation has a guaranteed contract. Obviously priority number one will be locking up the potential AL Cy Young winner in David Price, who will be a free agent at the end of the season.
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Dickey, for what he offers and his effectiveness over the past two years, should get his team option picked up, but nothing is for sure. As this season is dwindling down it looks like Mark Buerhle will be heading towards retirement and finish his career on a great year, adding to his already most certain Cooperstown induction. That leaves Marcus Stroman as the only starting pitcher guaranteed to come back from the five.
One of the surprises this year has been reliever turned starting pitcher Marco Estrada, who will also be a free agent at the end of 2015. Estrada in 2014 was in and out of the Brewers starting rotation after making 21 starts in the year prior. Marco simply gave up too many homers, giving up a league leading 1.73 HR/9 with at least 100 IP.
*Green line= Marco Estrada’s HR/9. Blue line= MLB average. 2014 Estrada= 150.2 IP
On November 1 2014, Marco was traded to the Jays for 1B Adam Lind, a move that was originally thought to boost the struggling Blue Jays Bullpen. Estrada would appear only 6 times out of the ‘pen, however, making his first Blue Jays start on May 5th. Estrada never looked back and has made 26 starts so far this season.
So whats been different over the years for Estrada? Lets look at some of his pitches. Marco throws 4 pitches in his repertoire: Fastball, an occasional Cutter, Curveball, and one of the best Changeups in the league.
The biggest change over the years has actually been in Estrada’s fastball. In 2013-2014, Estrada carried only three pitches in his arsenal. In 2013, his changeup was the best of his career, which made up for his average fastball. In 2014, his struggles with giving up home runs are apparent through the above graph. His fastball became unpredictable and ineffective, and while he leaned on his changeup 5% more often, it cut his effectiveness with that pitch in half.
2015 has been completely different as his fastball has been the best in his career with almost a 20% increase in effectiveness and with this better fastball will come a better changeup. Adding that occasional Cutter has given Estrada more options in sequencing the second and third time through the lineup and offers him the ability to last longer into games.
Marco Estrada seems to have figured out his pitches (especially his fastball) and by continuing to work on his cutter, should continue to sustain a level of success above his pre-2015 averages. So through all this, what is Marco worth? If we look back on the previous year to free agent pitchers that would fall in similar numbers and age to Estrada, we can look at Edison Volquez and Fransisco Liriano.
Liriano resigned with the Pirates after posting the best numbers of his career for 3yr-$39mil. Volquez did not re-sign with the Pirates, choosing to go with the Royals for 2yr-$20mil with a $10mil Team Option in his third year. Estrada could fall more towards the Liriano bracket, potentially getting him $12-$13.5mil a year. Is it worth it for the Blue Jays? I think, absolutely! Estrada has had a classic contract year showing us his full worth, providing the Blue Jays starting rotation with consistency and one entertaining Changeup.
But what if Estrada doesn’t re-sign? What other options will the Blue Jays have in free agency? First thing’s first: no one knows what will happen in Spring Training. Perhaps Aaron Sanchez will find his fastball control and be able to work as a starter. Maybe Liam Hendricks will be stretched back into a starting role. But here are some other Free Agent options the Blue Jays could consider.
Let me get this out in the open in case you didn’t know already. Yes, The Shark has been nothing short of… subpar this year. This has definitely cost him tens of millions on the open market (the impact a contract year can make is amazing) but lets focus on the potential ace Samardzija was considered at one point. The Shark used to live going East to West in the strike zone with an amazing 2-seamer and slider. This year, those pitches have been his worst. He’s shown glimpses of his old talent this season particularly a complete game shutout against the potent Blue Jays, and just recently in a one-hitter against the Tigers. The Shark might be a risk, but at a potential bargain price for a former ace-level pitcher, are you willing to take it?
Credit: Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports
Defiantly one of the more expensive and consistent of free agents available. Yovani has posted an ERA under 4.00 in six of his last seven years while pitching at least 180 IP. He will most likely be in the 16-18mil a year, which might be a stretch for the Blue Jays payroll if they want to consider re-signing Price.
Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports
Maybe not as familiar to Blue Jays fans as the other pitchers, but in Anderson’s first full season starting at 27 years old, Anderson has impressed Dodgers fans with a 3.52 ERA and a 1.7 WAR (Marco Estrada 2015 WAR 1.7) In 168.2 IP. Brett shows a pretty impressive sinker-slider combo with a wild knuckle-curve. Something that would be refreshing for Blue Jays fans is that Brett is an amazing ground ball pitcher. With an elite level infield defense we should definitely show it off some more! Brett leads the league in terms of GB% at 65.9.
All graphs and tables used in this article credited to FanGraphs