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Marco Estrada: Pocket Ace?

Doug Melvin saved Marco Estrada from the major league trash compactor in 2010. Since then he's quietly become a very effective starting pitcher. When healthy...

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

I’m not going to lie to you guys, I love Marco Estrada. Last year he was the Brewers number 3 starter and I was happy with that. This year he’ll be the number 4 starter, not because he wasn’t good but because the rotation is deeper this year. That’s got me excited about the rotation’s potential. Unfortunately there are a few things that have gotten in the way of Estrada realizing his full potential.

Let’s look at the good news first, though. Marco Estrada is really good at two things: Striking guys out and not walking them. From 2011 to 2013 Marco Estrada’s 24% strikeout percentage ranked 10th among pitchers with a minimum of 350 innings pitched. Among those ten pitchers his 6% walk rate was the second lowest. Overall that walk rate was tied for 21st lowest. He also had the highest strikeout percentage and second lowest walk rate among Brewers regular starters. Anyway you look at it, that’s a special talent.

The biggest problem Estrada has is staying on the field. In 2012 with 21 games started and 6 games in relief he threw 138 innings and last year he only threw 138 innings in 21 starts. The further back in the rotation he is, the less important it is that he throws 200 innings in a year, but you still want a guy to go more than 2/3rds of a season.

The other big issue with Estrada is the longball. Here is his HR/9 for the last three years starting in 2011: 1.07; 1.17; 1.34. Because of his excellent strike out and walk rates Estrada doesn’t allow a lot of base runners, but those home run numbers are entering dangerous territory nonetheless. If that trend continues he might have to head back to the bullpen.

The last red flag I see is Estrada’s velocity. He’s never had a big fastball and it’s never mattered that much because he has great command of his pitches. However he’s lost a mile per hour on the pitch in 2 consecutive years now. Take a look at the average fastball velocity starting in 2011: 91.0; 90.2; 89.2. I noticed in his last spring training start that Estrada’s 4-seam fastball was hitting between 88-89 mph and occasionally hitting 90 mph. It was only spring training and it often takes guys a couple of starts into the regular season to start hitting their regular velocity so I’m not too concerned right now. It’s something I’ll be keeping an eye on though because even with pinpoint command an 87 mph fastball in the majors probably doesn’t cut it. That’s where Estrada’s fastball could be next year if this trend continues.

I’m not sure what to expect from Estrada this season. He really needs to figure out a way to stay off the disabled list. If he can do that, even with a fastball around 88-89, I think we’ll be pleased with the results. It’s next year that I’m worried about.

Statistical information courtesy of FanGraphs