The Toronto Blue Jays have thrust some names into the MLB’s award season, with Josh Donaldson a favorite for the A.L. MVP and David Price facing Houston’s Dallas Keuchel for the A.L. Cy Young. I’ve always believed that the most indicative awards, though, are those voted on by the players themselves. Recently, Mike Wilner of Sportsnet surveyed “everyone in uniform” from the Blue Jays clubhouse for a handful of team awards and announced the results prior to last night’s game on The Fan 590.
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Marco Estrada took the honour of Pitcher of the Year with 19 votes, a huge showing of support compared to the 7 given to David Price. It shouldn’t come as a surprise, either, given that Estrada’s 2015 season is exactly the performance a teammate would want to get behind.
Little was expected of the former Milwaukee Brewers swingman, but Estrada’s attitude towards his situation in Toronto has impressed me since spring training. In a game plagued with cookie-cutter answers and politically correct opinions, Estrada did not shy away from the fact that he wanted to start. He caused no problems and never allowed this to distract from the team, but he wasn’t shy about his goals. Teammates notice that fire.
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After the Blue Jays swapped Estrada from the bullpen into the rotation, the right-hander took off. He’s carried multiple no-hitters deep into games, mastered the changeup-fastball combination and given the Blue Jays the performance of a mid-rotation starter at a value price.
Entering play on Saturday evening in Tampa Bay, Estrada had pitched 174.1 innings, a career-high in the MLB, and recorded a fantastic 3.15 ERA. He also managed to scale back the home run balls, and while there remains room for more improvement in that area, the drop in his HR/9 rate is extremely impressive when you consider that Estrada moved from the National League to the American League East.
He’s benefitted from a cozy BABIP of .219, but he has done a much better job at limiting hard-hit balls. According to FanGraphs, his Hard% dropped from levels of 36.4% in 2013 and 33.8% in 2014 to 27.2% this season. His success has been rather counterintuitive to pitching at the Rogers Centre, too, as his fly ball percentage actually grew from years past.
Manager John Gibbons has heaped praise onto Estrada whenever given the opportunity, and rightfully so. His presence in this rotation has allowed the Jays to stay afloat without Marcus Stroman, survive a slow start from R.A. Dickey and weather a handful of dice rolls including Matt Boyd and Felix Doubront. His teammates have noticed, and now, Estrada is set to play a leading role in the postseason.