What To Do With Marco Estrada? | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

The Milwaukee Brewers got a much needed solid bounce-back start from Wily Peralta in their 3-1 win Wednesday night. After allowing four runs in five innings last time out against the Twins, Peralta shut down the Mets for 6 1/3 innings, throwing 57 of his 92 pitches for strikes. He only struck out three batters, but walked just one and induced eight groundouts against five flyouts.

Peralta’s ERA dropped to a tidy 2.90. While his FIP (4.02) and xFIP (3.52) suggest some regression may be on the way, it’s important to remember we’re still talking about a pitcher improving his understanding of how to pitch at the major league level at this point.

Still, all is not well with the Brewers rotation. As our own Jonathan Judge wrote on Wednesday:

In April, Brewers starters shut down the league with a sparkling 3.01 ERA.  In May, though, they regressed significantly, posting a 4.08 ERA, which was good for only 19th in the league.  Over the first 10 days of June, they’ve been even worse, providing a 4.56 ERA.

That last number obviously dropped on Wednesday night, but the overall issue remains. The Brewers starters haven’t been nearly as good since April as they were then. On one hand, this really should have been expected. The Brewers starters aren’t a collection of “aces” like the 2011 Phillies or the Braves of the 1990′s. They’re a solid group that can rack up quality starts (their 43 is second in MLB this year, behind only the Braves), but hardly built to dominate.

Understanding their basic nature as inning eaters (they lead MLB in starters innings with 410 1/3) doesn’t mean we have to just accept it, though. If there is a way to potentially upgrade, it should definitely be explored. A couple weeks ago I looked at Jimmy Nelson‘s run of success for Nashville and suggested it might be time to give him a look at the big league level. Since then, he did make his first big league start and then promptly returned to AAA, where he’s continued to dominate the competition.

That’s all well and good, but there currently isn’t a place for him to start in the Brewers rotation. Yovani Gallardo, Kyle Lohse and Matt Garza all have track records, big contracts and obviously aren’t going anywhere. As Steve Garczynski pointed out on the latest episode of the Disciples of Uecker Podcast, the Brewers have invested too much in Wily Peralta to pull him from the rotation, and he’s been one of the better starters this year anyway.

That leaves us with Marco Estrada, who currently leads MLB in home runs allowed with 20. The next closest has only 15, and Juan Nicasio pitches in Coors Field. That’s a big number, and it’s hard to imagine him sustaining the round-tripper pace that he’s on. He’s always been homer-prone, though, and this is the sort of thing that sometimes happens when a player gives up a lot of long, hard contact.

Early on this year, he “got away” with a lot of the homer problems. Of his first 17 homers allowed, 13 of them were solo shots. The other four were one-run homers. That seemed pretty lucky, but after looking at it more closely, the frequency of the home runs actually matched up pretty well with the frequency he faced a given number of runners:

PA % of overall HR % of overall
Overall 272 17
Bases Empty 189 69% 13 76%
1-Runner 63 23% 4 24%
2-Runners 18 7% 0 0%
3-Runners 2 1% 0 0%

Since then, Estrada has allowed three home runs with runners on, giving up a total of nine runs, including a grand slam on Tuesday. Just a momentary run of bad luck, or is something deeper going on here?

The answer at least partly lies in Estrada’s splits. Namely, how batters do against him each time through the lineup:

1st time through: .180/.222/.396

2nd time through: .262/.319/.524

3rd time through: .286/.396/.584

The first time through the order, Estrada dominates while allowing the occasional homer to push up his slugging percent. The second time through, batting average jumps 80 points, on-base percent jumps almost 10o points and hitters hit for even more power. Third time through, Estrada is basically getting crushed.

This actually presents problems on a couple of different levels. Besides the obvious issues it leads to in successfully finishing off starts, it also means that he’s going to be more likely to give up multiple run homers later in games. The deeper he goes, the more likely he is to put runners on and then give up the big fly. Given this, the fact that he was avoiding the multiple-run homer for so long once again looks somewhat fluky.

The other concerning issue with Estrada is how his strikeout rates has fallen from 23.5% in April to 16.7% in June while his walk rate has risen from 5.0% to 13.0% in the same time. Giving up homers when you’re not walking anyone is one thing, but it gets quite a bit more damaging when there are baserunners on.

Add all of this up and it’s at least got to raise some eyebrows as to what the future might hold for Estrada. If he can cut down on the homers and walks, he can be a reasonably above-average, back-end starter again. If not, then the Brewers probably will have to try and find a replacement for him. Whether or not that might be Jimmy Nelson will depend on whether anyone else gets hurt and also on how he’s doing at the time the decision needs to be made.

The Brewers have a five game lead over the Cardinals right now, but the odds are better than not that this race will tighten up again before the year is over. Every game matters, so getting the best possible roster assembled, and quickly, can make all the difference in the world in terms of winning the playoff race. Right now, there are quite a few indicators suggesting that might well be Marco Estrada in the bullpen and Jimmy Nelson in his place in the rotation.

If things keep on like they are, chances are good they’ll have to make the switch eventually. The best case scenario is that Marco Estrada starts a run of success the next time he’s on the mound. The worst case, though, isn’t just that Estrada continues to struggle, but that the Brewers wait too long to do anything about it. The time may not be now to make this move, but it’s been getting closer and closer. If something doesn’t change soon, it may be impossible to put off any longer.

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Comments

Tell us what do you think.

  1. dbug says: June 12, 2014

    I’d like to see someone other than Estrada get a chance. Why not Brad Mills? The team is about to lose him if they don’t call him up, so why not give him a chance? His stats have been about equal to Nelson’s this year, and he is a lefty.

    • Doug says: June 12, 2014

      You would have to think there are some pitching moves in the near future. They have to make a decision on Mills and Gorzellany within the next few days here.

      In my world – they sell high on Zack Duke to a team looking for a lefty reliever (ATL?) – for a minor leaguer. Move Estrada into the long role and slot Mills into his rotation spot for a look.

      Of course it doesnt exactly open a spot for Gorzellany – but there are indications he isn’t healthy enough to activate right now anyway.

      • Josh says: June 12, 2014

        They are already a man down in the bullpen right now with Thornburg on the DL, I see them moving Estrada to the bullpen and then DL Wang and bring in Gorzellany when healthy which they think is a couple weeks away. Wang only needs 90 days of service to keep him and he is at 73 days as of today. Perfect timing to swap Wang for Gorzellany

        • Josh says: June 12, 2014

          Also, I find it very likely that Mills finds his way to the rotation. He has been good enough to trade to someone needing back end rotation help. I’d much rather see Nelson. It is time for him to show what kind of starter he is.

    • Nicholas Zettel says: June 12, 2014

      Why do the Brewers lose Mills if they don’t call him up? Isn’t he on a minor league deal?

      I love the Nelson-for-Estrada move, with Estrada to the pen. He could help the pen through a tough span with those first-time-through-the-order performances.

      • dbug says: June 12, 2014

        It’s being reported that he has an opt out that allows him to become a free agent if not on the major league roster by Sunday. Presumably he would use it, right?

        • Josh says: June 12, 2014

          Does the clause say Mills needs to stay on the majors roster the rest of the season?

          • dbug says: June 12, 2014

            One would hope he has an agent smart enough to put some sort of language in the contract that protects him from simply being added for a short time and then sent down again.

      • Nicholas Zettel says: June 12, 2014

        Thanks for the info — you know, this is baffling. Why would a pitcher that has made approx. 1 MLB start in 2 seasons get an MLB-call-up provision?

        Also, look at Mills’s MLB performance — are we really missing anything if the Brewers don’t call him up?

        • dbug says: June 12, 2014

          We might never know. It’s all speculation, but why bring him in if you will never give him a shot no matter how well he performs? I suppose if injuries had take a toll maybe he would have had a chance. A post on another site mentioned that it would be possible to trade him to another team for international bonus pool money. That would allow the Brewers to avoid paying a penalty for signing Gilbert Lara to an over-allotment bonus. Seems like a win to me.

          • Josh says: June 12, 2014

            Agreed. Clearly Mills contract was for injury insurance, period. I think trading him is the best course, international pool money I think would be a great deal with the other arms we have in the farm that we can call up

        • Nicholas Zettel says: June 12, 2014

          I see the basic idea, but if you’re another team, why would you trade anything for Mills? If the Brewers don’t exercise any option, then you can just sign him to a minor league deal. If the Brewers do pick him up, you can grab him the next time he comes around waivers.

          As for the issue of no promotion regardless of promotion, aren’t some guys just there for minor league depth? Melvin needs to staff an AAA roster, and guys like Mills are perfect for that.

          • dbug says: June 13, 2014

            That may be the way it turns out, but then again, maybe Mills finally figured things out. What if he becomes one of those late-career-surge guys? The timing is aligned well to give him another shot in the majors and move Estrada back to the bullpen. Seems like a waste to not even give it a shot. It seems like we are really quick to label guys as busts, non-prospects, or AAA-filler.

          • Ryan Topp says: June 13, 2014

            Mills age and stuff don’t suggest that he’s likely to be anything other than filler in MLB if called up, while Nelson is a prospect with a growing respect around the industry.

            I guess I don’t see why they would choose to give Mills valuable MLB innings when he’s a long shot (at best) to ever be a successful MLB pitcher, while Nelson has a pretty good chance of being one.

            If Mills want’s to move on elsewhere, I have absolutely zero issue with that.

          • dbug says: June 13, 2014

            NO doubt Mills wouldn’t be a long-term fix. I’m more in the “all-hands-on-deck” mindset. He’s throwing well, Estrada isn’t, maybe you catch lightening in a bottle for a few weeks. It’s not going to happen anyway, so the my point is moot. Where’s that bottle of Scotch?

        • Jason says: June 16, 2014

          Mills played in Japan last year. He pitches in the 85-90mph range. Unless they can put someone on the 60DL, their 40 man roster is full. Basically the need to make room for him or lose him, and you really don’t want to lose someone who currently has the second lowest ERA in the PCL.

  2. Barnaby says: June 13, 2014

    You can talk about Yovani’s track record, but over 2012-2013, Estrada had a better ERA. Also, Estrada’s career ERA for July, August, and September is 3.28. And there is no guarantee that Jimmy Nelson wouldn’t struggle.

    • Evan (Maryland) says: June 15, 2014

      I’m more inclined to call Estrada “The Chef” because he’s great serving up some juicy meatballs. I understand your inclination of sticking with Marco but 20 HRs at this point is a little obscene. I don’t know if I’d even trust him in the bullpen. Also, I don’t think Jimmy Nelson could do any worse than Chef Boyardee is currently pitching.

  3. Squashman says: June 17, 2014

    Three more home runs against the Reds. Something has to be done sooner than later.

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