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Blue Jays: Can Marco Estrada be a 200-inning arm?

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The Blue Jays are losing two inning-eaters in Mark Buehrle and David Price, but Marco Estrada‘s 2015 gives every indication that he can go 200.0 this summer

Average length of start is going to be a key talking point for the Blue Jays in 2015. A deep start typically correlates with a strong performance, of course, but like we discussed earlier with regard to J.A. Happ, it can also eliminate the questionable middle-man between starter and back-end relievers.

Mark Buehrle is gone, something that’s been overshadowed by the David Price thing, which leaves Toronto in need of another 200+ inning arm to stabilize the rotation. Perhaps ‘need’ is too strong a word, let’s call it ‘largely preferable’?

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Marcus Stroman has every opportunity to be that man, and don’t forget, it’s ben a half-decade since R.A. Dickey fell short of 200.0 innings pitched. For the sake of framing the accomplishment, 28 MLB pitchers crossed the 200.0 IP mark in 2015. I’ll be eyeing Marco Estrada to meet the benchmark in 2016, however, regardless of the slight regression he may face coming off his career year.

Playoffs included (19.1 IP), Estrada did creep over that mark with 200.1 cumulative innings in 2015. He also showed little sign of late-season wear coming off a total of 150.2 IP in 2014 as he excelled in the playoffs. Estrada was at his regular season best from August onwards, so assuming that health is not an issue, arm endurance shouldn’t be either.

Looking over his velocity charts for the season you will see some mid-season dips, most prominently on his curveball and changeup, but I credit this more to conscious adjustment than fatigue.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (9)
Brooksbaseball-Chart (9) /

After hovering near 80.0 MPH through April, May and June, Estrada’s changeup velocity does dip closer to the ~78.0 MPH range for the remainder of the season. Keep in mind that Estrada did eventually become more exclusive with Dioner Navarro as his personal catcher, and these velocity adjustments do align with his stronger months. Over the second half of the season (15 GS), Estrada posted a 2.78 ERA and 0.915 WHIP.

In terms of Estrada’s mechanics, these velocity adjustments also line up with a consistent change in his vertical release point that we saw throughout the season, leading to Estrada throwing slightly more over-the-top. This is a good thing, if you weren’t sure, as seeing a what without a why in terms of pitch velocity regression would be more worrying.

Brooksbaseball-Chart (10)
Brooksbaseball-Chart (10) /

After averaging just over 6.0 innings per start in 2015 and with four consecutive seasons of 128.0+ MLB innings now, pegging Estrada as a 200-inning arm isn’t groundbreaking by any means. The Steamer Projection system has Estrada going for 174.0 innings in 2016 (at a 4.48 ERA..), but that’s traditionally a conservative estimate. These are the X and Y surface-level factors, which are fine. But the way in which he moved through his 2015 season give me a heightened optimism beyond that.

Related Story: Our most recent update on Blue Jays in Winter Ball

Perhaps more important than any of this is the Gibby Factor. Manager John Gibbons loves himself a reliable, predictable starter. This is why he’d been so fond of Beuhrle, and has been rumored to care little for the nature of Dickey’s repertoire. The 2015 playoffs pushed Estrada even deeper into the good graces of his skipper, so the leash will have a little more slack in early 2016.

It’s been a strange two months for the holdovers of Estrada, Dickey and Stroman. Their names rarely bubble to the surface when discussing rotation construction, which instead focuses on Happ, the fifth job and Mark Shapi—sigh. But to some degree, the Blue Jays could very well have their Buehrle replacement in Estrada.

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