Toronto Blue Jays 2016 season previews: Marco Estrada


Blue Jays starting pitcher Marco Estrada has a rich new two-year deal in hand and is tasked with proving his doubters wrong with another strong year in 2016

As the Blue Jays 2016 season nears, we’re changing gears here at Jays Journal. Our list of the top-30 Blue Jays prospects wrapped up yesterday with stud outfielder Anthony Alford claiming the top spot, so now, the focus will be shifting to previewing the major league club.

Player by player, we will be going through the projected roster (and slightly beyond) to project what could go wrong, what could go right, and how the coming year might play out.

The first name drawn for this new daily feature is right-handed starter Marco Estrada, who enters 2016 with a heightened sense of responsibility after signing a two-year, $26 million contract.

2015 Performance Recap

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After beginning the season as Toronto’s long man, Estrada quickly shifted into the rotation where he made 28 starts for a total of 181.0 regular season innings. The changeup guru earned a 3.13 ERA over that span, and with 19.1 dominant playoff innings, established himself as a true middle-of-the-rotation starting option. Estrada’s FanGraphs WAR did finish at a curiously low 1.8, however. More on that in a moment.

2016 Role and Steamer Projection

Behind staff ace Marcus Stroman, the order of Toronto’s pitching staff won’t be all that telling, and could even be determined by the early season matchup schedule. Estrada should slot in as the Blue Jays number three starter at minimum, however, and is in no danger of losing his starting role. Expect him to be given every opportunity to approach 200.0 innings if healthy.

Steamer projections aren’t as optimistic. Though, are they ever?

The system is forecasting a serious regression for Estrada, expecting 165.0 innings with a 4.44 ERA brought on by his BABIP ballooning back to normal levels.

What could go wrong?

What if the pundits are on to something? Now, I’m standing with my opinion that the talks of Estrada regressing are vastly overblown as he’s an easy target, but some small step backwards can absolutely be expected.

His .216 BABIP in 2015, while not just luck by any means, isn’t likely sustainable. Being forced to work without Dioner Navarro will be another factor, but if a pitcher can’t find chemistry with Russell Martin, then there’s a real issue.

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What could go right?

Perhaps 2015 wasn’t all BABIP luck and pixie dust? My apologies for presenting such a bold possibility, but I find it unfair that Estrada and the adjustments he made have been removed from the performance entirely.

The combination of his elite changeup and quality fastball location keeps hitters extremely off-balance, leading to his hard-hit contact percentage being comfortably below his career average last year. Estrada may be able to use this offseason to finally develop that cutter he’s had on the back burner, too, which could help him a great deal against left-handed bats.

The bottom line

Marco Estrada needs to be what any Blue Jays starter needs to be in 2016: just good enough. The 2015 campaign proved that he is wholly capable of turning around rough outings and adjusting in the middle of starts, so his ability to work deep into ball games could surprise as the season rolls on.

Expecting a similar ERA and home-stretch performance from Estrada may be unfair, but the regression level many are projecting is equally irrational. If Estrada can fly under the radar and paddle the boat more than he rocks it, the Blue Jays will be receiving some very nice value for their early offseason investment.