One might scoff at the notion that the return of Marco Estrada to the Brewers rotation is crucial to the club’s closing stretch. A basic idea surrounding the Brewers throughout their 2013 campaign is that the pitching was terrible, showing that GM Doug Melvin‘s gamble with young or “undependable” starters did not pay off. However, injuries also hurt the 2013 Brewers’ starters, as only 75% of the club’s starts have come from pitchers in the opening day rotation. Even if Estrada was not as solid as last year’s breakout performance, his near-average campaign from 2011 would rank second, behind only Kyle Lohse, on the 2013 Brew Crew. Estrada’s return gives the organization nearly two full months to analyze their rotation and make decisions about the 2014 squad.
Earlier this season, Estrada used his change up more frequently than his curve, while working with his secondary offerings. J.P. Breen featured Estrada’s change earlier in the season, calling the offering Estrada’s best pitch. Last night, Estrada swapped his change for his curveball, selecting the upper-70s offering as his primary off-speed pitch.
|August 8 2013||60.5%||23.7%||15.8%|
Estrada’s prominent curveball recalls his extremely successful close to 2012, when he used the pitch in more than 23% of his offerings. Specifically, Estrada used eight of his 18 curveballs on the first pitch last night, resulting in five strikes, two balls, and one out.
Notably, Estrada also received a large strike zone from Home Plate Umpire Bill Welke, as six of his 29 pitches taken outside the zone were called for strikes.
Depending on how the Brewers run the rotation, Estrada has a chance to work at least nine starts to close the season. However, the Brewers have five off days before the middle of September, which could allow the club to run with their best four starters (working a modified four man rotation, with a fifth starter serving as a swingman). Estrada will have the opportunity to work on his pitch selection and execution, which leads to several potential areas of improvement:
(1) Fastball Velocity and Execution. Estrada’s fastball is currently one of his least valuable pitches, after serving as one of his most important pitches over the last two seasons (according to Pitch F/X Pitch Values). Furthermore, Estrada’s fastball velocity was relatively low last night, although this could have been a park factor or one-start anomaly.
(2) Balance Between Change and Curve. Although his change up is his best secondary offering, Estrada has had the most success during stretches with his curve as his main off-speed pitch. Not only will consistently mixing these pitches help him improve his fastball against batters, but a solid mix of off-speed pitches will help him to potentially even out the value discrepancy between his change and curve.
While Estrada has consistently released his fastball closer to his body during prolonged stretches of pitching, one potential area for improvement is finding a solid release point to group each of his pitches. One might argue that if Estrada’s release points are separated for his pitches, batters may have an easier time picking up pitches out of Estrada’s hands.
One of the reasons Estrada’s final set of starts is important is that his performance can potentially solidify the Brewers’ rotation for 2014. Whether the club is rebuilding or competing, they need to know whether they have solid options in the middle of their rotation. This is especially true — for obvious reasons — should the Brewers organization decide to compete in 2014, but also in the case of rebuilding: Estrada’s cost is relatively low compared to other pitchers, and if the Brewers can pencil him into their 2014 rotation, that’s one less resource that they need to seek outside of the organization.
Baseball-Reference. Sports Reference, LLC, 2000-2013.
TexasLeaguers. Trip Somers, 2009-2013.
Strike zone, release points: TexasLeaguers, Trip Somers, 2009-2013.
ESTRADA (Reuters): http://www.jsonline.com/sports/brewers/marco-estrada-brilliant-in-return-from-stay-on-dl-b9970719z1-218793081.html