Coming into the season, it was no secret that I was extremely high on right-hander Marco Estrada and his chances to be a solid mid-rotation starter for the Brewers. I wrote this article for FanGraphs in late January, and I utilized this space numerous times to discuss how underrated Estrada has been across the league.
He showed flashes of effectiveness through the first two months of the season, but like most of the Brewers’ rotation, he failed to keep his earned run average below 5.00. His strikeout-to-walk ratio remained above average at 62-to-18. However, Estrada’s downfall was the long ball, as he surrendered 14 home runs in just 69.1 innings before landing on the disabled list in early June.
The Brewers desperately needed Marco Estrada to take a step forward this season to compete in the NL Central. That didn’t happen, but it ultimately hasn’t mattered too much. A healthy and effective Estrada wouldn’t have saved the season. Considering the organization appears committed to competing in 2014, though, the 30-year-old hurler will once again become one of the key storylines this offseason. The Brewers need better starting pitching if they want to make a sincere run at the postseason, and if his performance since returning from the disabled list serves as any indication of future performance, he may be able to deliver quality innings and be that number-three starter the team needed this season.
Since returning from the disabled list this month, Estrada has compiled a 1.88 ERA in four starts. He has struck out 21 batters in 24 innings, while only walking three, and he’s coming off a tremendous outing against the Cincinnati Reds. He handcuffed the Reds’ potent lineup through seven one-hit innings and fanned nine batters. The home runs are still an issue — especially at home — but that will always be the case for the right-hander. He must keep guys off the bases and limit those inevitable home runs to the solo variety.
He’s been tremendous in the last 30 days, ranking inside the top 20 for his swinging-strike rate.
|14||John Lackey||Red Sox||11.4%|
Perhaps it’s simplistic to note that missing bats is key to finding success on the mound, but consider this: the 15 pitchers listed above have combined for a 2.93 ERA over the last 30 days. The pitchers missing the highest percentage of bats are performing well-above the league average — which has been a 4.01 ERA over the same time frame. Pitching to contact gets a lot of lip service, but missing bats is the key to dominance.
While Marco Estrada has pitched well over the last month, he was particularly stellar in his last start against Cincinnati, as was mentioned earlier. He generated 20 swings-and-misses in his 100 pitches over seven innings. Again, that’s 20 whiffs! And 13 of those came on his changeup, which was particularly devastating against the Reds’ hitters.
His changeup has always been his best offering, a legitimate plus-pitch at the big-league level. It occasionally feels as if he doesn’t use it often enough. On Sunday, though, he essentially went fastball-changeup for seven innings and nobody could touch him.
It’s probably just a blip on the radar, however, and not indicative of future pitch selection. After all, Estrada threw eight changeups and 28 curveballs in his previous start against St. Louis, but his changeup is a special pitch and is key to his success on the mound. Of those 28 curveballs Estrada threw against the Cardinals, he only induced two swings-and-misses. He generated three whiffs on three of his eight changeups.
With roughly a month left in the season, the Brewers will be evaluating current performance through the lens of 2014. The organization needs someone to step up and become a legitimate mid-rotation starter. It looks like Wily Peralta could be making strides in that direction, but once again, it feels like Marco Estrada is the guy who should become a key cog in the Brewers’ rotation next year.