The Success of Marco Estrada

The air is dense, the weather is colder by the day, and Toronto is still captivated by their baseball team. It’s a different kind of excitement.

86-64 reads the record in the standings, a 3.5-game lead on a team they are usually looking up at. The stakes haven’t been this high in decades, and yet, there is almost a feeling of relaxation circling the Rogers Centre. As the postseason pushes closer towards “uncharted territory,” there is one player who has been a consistent component in the team’s success.

Nobody knew what the Blue Jays were getting when they first traded Adam Lind for Marco Estrada. After nine seasons in Toronto, there was a good chance that the first baseman would spend his remaining years in a blue and white jersey. He finished 15th in American League MVP voting in 2009  after hitting .305 with 35 HR and 114 RBI. He was a player that the city of Toronto relied on and in 2014 slashed a line of .321/.381/.479 in 96 games. The trade may have come as a surprise to most — the Blue Jays had just given up one of their most dependable hitters for a pitcher who led the league in home runs allowed the previous year. General Manager Alex Anthopoulos may not be as shocked to see Estrada doing so well.

The 2015 campaign would sing a different kind of tune for the pitcher from Sonora, Mexico.

If you read down the list of ERA leaders in the American League, you will see Marco Estrada’s name next to David Price, Dallas Keuchel, Chris Archer, and Sonny Gray, which isn’t bad company for a pitcher who began the season in the bullpen. Estrada’s 3.14 ERA is good for sixth-best in the AL, ahead of Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, and Chris Sale. In the second-half of the season his ERA sits at 2.70, and is second in the AL … behind his teammate David Price. It is hard to believe that a pitcher who mainly utilizes two pitches can be this effective. The fastball/changeup combination has been Estrada’s calling card, and it has been deadly all season long.

A lot of success in a changeup comes from its deception. What I mean by that is the ability to throw the pitch with the same arm action and arm slot that he would with a fastball. If you slow your arm down, the hitter can pick up on which pitch is coming. If you change your arm slot/angle, it’s the same story. There are a ton of mechanical differences that a professional hitter will try to find when watching the release point of the pitcher. Estrada not only has a devastating pitch that encourages batters to swing over top of his dipping changeup, but he hides it incredibly well, and locates it down and away.

Here’s an example of his fastball.

EstradaFastball19July2015

Now the changeup.

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With his over-the-top release point, same arm speed and slot, Estrada does not need to worry about tipping his pitches. The severe backspin and the 10 MPH drop creates harsh downward movement and makes the pitch one of the most deceptive in the league. Baseball America affirmed that his changeup is third best in MLB, behind Felix Hernandez and Chris Sale.

Number 25 has already come out and said that MLB players shouldn’t be swinging through his fastball that only tops out at 90-92 MPH, but his changeup does enough in between the ears of the hitters to keep them uncomfortable, and it shows. Estrada has flirted with a no-hitter, and he leads his rotation in soft-contact rate this season. He also leads the staff in fewest hits allowed with 121. Next closest would be Drew Hutchison with 170 hits against. 

Estrada now has a chance to start in the most pivotal series of the Blue Jays’ campaign and can increase their lead in the AL East. He has yet to lose in September, posting a 2-0 record in four starts (all of which Toronto has won), and is a shoo-in as a postseason starter. The 32-year-old does have some post-season experience, pitching in the NLDS with the Brewers in 2011.

“I’d hate to think where we’d be without him,” Manager John Gibbons said recently in a press conference.

The weather may be getting colder, but for the first time in a long time, Estrada and the rest of Toronto seem just fine with that.

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