Photo Credit: Keith Allison

Toronto Blue Jays Extension Candidate: Marco Estrada

After a vintage Marco Estrada performance on Monday night, JFtC wonders if the Toronto Blue Jays Estrada Era continues into 2018 and beyond.

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The 2017 Trade Deadline has passed for the Toronto Blue Jays and with the team selling off major-league assets for prospects and a (somewhat) salary dump, it’s a good time to start looking forward towards the 2018 Blue Jays roster. With Francisco Lirano traded away and Marco Estrada due to hit free agency, there will be at least two rotation spots that will need to be filled, as well as minor-league depth and a cadre of potential swing men. So where do the Blue Jays go? Let me propose something bold: a Marco Estrada extension.

 

Okay, so maybe not bold. While Estrada’s 2017 season has been full of peaks and valleys (but also some pleateaus), he has been, overall, a serviceable major-league pitcher and the Blue Jays management could consider signing Estrada to an extension before the offseason.

 

 

Over at SportsNet, Shi Davidi wrote about the possibility of Toronto extending Estrada, with quotes directly from fearless leader Ross Atkins:

“We’re in the business of making this organization better and if a deal doesn’t present itself to do so, then we’re happy to keep Marco Estrada a Toronto Blue Jay,” Atkins said on a conference call Monday evening, “and we’ll start thinking about not only how he impacts us now, but how he can potentially impact us beyond 2017.”

 

The lack of urgency in trading Estrada certainly didn’t seem to upset jays fans, who overall seemed pleased with Monday’s trade deadline deals. Keeping Estrada in the rotation until the end of the season (though he’s sure to be exposed to waivers at some point) will make the final two months that much more tolerable, if not fun to watch should the Jays go on a strong run and spoil some rivals hopes for the playoffs in September. Estrada’s quote after the game further strengthened the bond between team and player:

“I’m sure they want me back. I hope they do,” Estrada said. “I’ve expressed a lot that I’m really happy here and I’d like to stay, and I guess today is a sign of that if I wasn’t traded. Or maybe nobody really wanted me – I haven’t been pitching all that great and it’s hard to get what you want for me. I don’t know. That stuff, I really don’t want to worry about it. I’m here, I’m pitching for these guys, at the end of the season we’ll try and work something out, I hope. That’s all I can ask for.”

 

So in regards to an extension, or a short-term (1-2 season) deal in the offseason, there’s definitely some mutual interest there. And as for “no one wanting (him),” I”m sure the Kansas City Royals would have been happy to give something up to improve upon the back end of their rotation which is about as intimidating as their middle infield.

 

Marco Estrada, the Pitcher

 

We’ve established that Estrada is a fan favourite, hopes to stay in Toronto, and would be welcomed back to the team by management given the right deal (drink). But do the stats back it up?

 

Standard Pitching
Year Tm W L ERA G IP H R ER HR BB SO HBP WP ERA+ FIP WHIP H9 HR9 BB9 SO9 SO/W
2008 WSN 0 0 7.82 11 12.2 17 13 11 4 5 10 2 0 57 7.32 1.737 12.1 2.8 3.6 7.1 2.00
2009 WSN 0 1 6.14 4 7.1 6 6 5 1 4 9 0 1 72 4.05 1.364 7.4 1.2 4.9 11.0 2.25
2010 MIL 0 0 9.53 7 11.1 14 13 12 3 6 13 1 2 44 6.08 1.765 11.1 2.4 4.8 10.3 2.17
2011 MIL 4 8 4.08 43 92.2 83 45 42 11 29 88 2 4 97 3.67 1.209 8.1 1.1 2.8 8.5 3.03
2012 MIL 5 7 3.64 29 138.1 129 62 56 18 29 143 0 4 113 3.35 1.142 8.4 1.2 1.9 9.3 4.93
2013 MIL 7 4 3.87 21 128.0 109 56 55 19 29 118 2 3 100 3.86 1.078 7.7 1.3 2.0 8.3 4.07
2014 MIL 7 6 4.36 39 150.2 137 77 73 29 44 127 3 2 87 4.88 1.201 8.2 1.7 2.6 7.6 2.89
2015 TOR 13 8 3.13 34 181.0 134 67 63 24 55 131 5 2 131 4.40 1.044 6.7 1.2 2.7 6.5 2.38
2016 TOR 9 9 3.48 29 176.0 132 73 68 23 65 165 4 5 122 4.15 1.119 6.8 1.2 3.3 8.4 2.54
2017 TOR 4 7 5.19 22 121.1 124 70 70 19 51 127 1 1 89 4.38 1.442 9.2 1.4 3.8 9.4 2.49
10 Y 10 Y 49 50 4.02 239 1019.1 885 482 455 151 317 931 20 24 102 4.20 1.179 7.8 1.3 2.8 8.2 2.94
162 162 9 9 4.02 42 178 155 84 80 26 55 163 3 4 102 4.20 1.179 7.8 1.3 2.8 8.2 2.94
MIL MIL 23 25 4.11 139 521.0 472 253 238 80 137 489 8 15 96 4.04 1.169 8.2 1.4 2.4 8.4 3.57
TOR TOR 26 24 3.78 85 478.1 390 210 201 66 171 423 10 8 113 4.30 1.173 7.3 1.2 3.2 8.0 2.47
WSN WSN 0 1 7.20 15 20.0 23 19 16 5 9 19 2 1 62 6.12 1.600 10.4 2.3 4.1 8.6 2.11
NL ( NL ( 23 26 4.23 154 541.0 495 272 254 85 146 508 10 16 93 4.11 1.185 8.2 1.4 2.4 8.5 3.48
AL ( AL ( 26 24 3.78 85 478.1 390 210 201 66 171 423 10 8 113 4.30 1.173 7.3 1.2 3.2 8.0 2.47
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 8/3/2017.

 

Over parts of 10 seasons, Estrada has compiled a 4.04 ERA with a 49-50 record, playing for bad teams until arriving in Toronto. As a Blue Jay, he’s posted a 3.78 ERA and a 26-24 record, while striking out 8.0 batters per nine innings and walking 3.2. Despite some back injuries in 2015 and 2016 which don’t seem to be an issue this season, he’s been free of serious injury. He’s 34 years old now, which certainly isn’t young by today’s standards, but you have to assume there’s plenty of life left in his arm. But why has he struggled in 2017?

 

SeasonIPK/9BB/9HR/9BABIPGB%HR/FB
20151816.512.731.19.21632.28.7
20161768.443.321.18.23433.59.9
20171219.423.781.41.31431.311.1

 

Marco’s strength lies within in change-up, and everyone watching the Blue Jays over the last few years knows this. Over his two-plus seasons in Toronto, Estrada has worked that change-up to increases in K/9 every season – but also has seen his BB/9 and HR/9 do the same. Then came 2017 and a spike in BABIP (batting average on balls in play) .080 – a rather sizeable increase. Couple that with a lower ground ball rate and an increase in HR/FB, and it’s easy to see why the flyball/strikeout pitcher has struggled. How can this be fixed? I’m not a pitching coach, so I don’t have a simple answer. It could be as simple as using the curveball more often to keep another pitch beside the change-up in the minds of the hitters.

 

 

 

Of course, when it comes to a change-up master, you need to play off fastball velocity and release point. The first step is disguising arm angle and arm speed. For what I can see, Estrada doesn’t have a problem here. The good news is he’s seen an uptick in four-seam fastball velocity, adding ~.7 MPH to the pitch this season. However, with the drop in cutter velocity in 2017, down to 86.95 from 87.91 in 2016 – that might be something worth looking into. These might seem like small difference, but when hitting a baseball is rooted so strongly in timing, small changes can lead to big differences.

 

Extension Still Seems Unlikely

Despite Marco’s seeming comfort in Toronto, it would still be a longshot for the team to sign him during the season. After three year in Toronto and compiling a 6.7 fWAR in that time, Estrada has earned a shot at seeing what he can do on the free agent market this offseason. With other names available such as Jake Arrieta, Yu Darvish, Lance Lynn, Michael Pineda and Alex Cobb – Estrada probably won’t be one of the most sought-after starters in the 2018 free agent class. In theory, Marco, his agent and the Blue Jays are well aware of this, and an extension – though unlikely – might work out best for both sides.

 

 

 

*Featured Image Credit: Keith Allison UNDER CC BY-SA 2.0

 

 

 

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Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.

Roy-Z

Roy’s earliest memories all involve baseball from the early 90’s and the Blue Jays dream teams. He became a Blue Jays fan while watching Carlos Delgado and Shawn Green evolve in Syracuse, NY at the run-down confines of MacArthur Stadium, nestled between highway and swamp. A lifelong baseball player, Roy still plays (P, C, 2B, 3B) in the 25+ Syracuse MSBL for the Liverpool Mets. He watches almost all games with his best buddy Sebastian, a five year old Pug, who could care less.