If you had said that a year ago, most people would have laughed in your face.
Not many players in the major leagues have a history like Estrada, who went from being a nobody with no upside when he was with the Washington Nationals, all the way to being a top-of-the-rotation starter with the Milwaukee Brewers.
What happened? It could be anyone’s guess. For as long as he’s been in the majors, even during those two forgettable years in Washington, Estrada has always been able to strike batters out, so it’s not like he lacked talent.
Estrada has always had good stuff. His four-seam fastball is usually thrown around 91-93 MPH, he has a good hard curveball in the upper-70s, and he has a great change-up with excellent movement in the low-80s. The change-up is probably his best pitch, but he’s more than capable of throwing all with great control and command.
Estrada has become a control freak the past two years. In 2011 he pitched to a respectable 3.03 K/BB ratio, but in 2012 he managed a ridiculous 4.93 K/BB. His strikeout ratio was 9.3 K/9, and he had a minuscule 1.9 BB/9.
That’s where the question of how he got here arises… he went from having virtually no control (2008-2010 BB/9 of 4.3) to being one of the best command/control pitchers in baseball.
It could be the coaching staff in Milwaukee and its minor league affiliates, or it could just be Estrada coming into a state of maturation a little later than the normal pitcher.
He’s capable of a ton of strikeouts without surrendering too many walks. Usually you have to pick one or the other—a guy who isn’t afraid to walk someone by pitching off the plate for the strikeout, or a guy who hammers the strike zone and pitches to contact without surrendering too many walks.
Even the club ace, Yovani Gallardo, falls into the former category. His 3.6 BB/9 and 9.0 K/9 give him a respectable 2.52 K/BB, but Gallardo definitely has to walk a few to get his high strikeout numbers.
The shocking thing about Estrada? His 2012 9.3 K/9 is higher than Gallardo’s 9.0.
Granted, there are flaws here, chief among them being that Estrada pitched over 60 innings fewer than Gallardo last season.
In fact, last season was Estrada’s first real chance to be a full-time starter. It didn’t happen immediately, and he had to take some time on the DL due to an injury, whereas Gallardo has been a solid workhorse every season since 2009.
This article isn’t about who’s better than who, though. I don’t think there’s a person on the planet who would argue that Estrada is better than Gallardo. Gallardo, if he could just stop having three or four bad outings every season, could be a Cy Young Award candidate. Estrada is just now emerging as a legitimate starting threat.
Estrada will be on the opening day starting rotation for the first time in his career this season, and he’s probably going to be pretty high up in that rotation. Ron Roenicke recently opined that the only two “certainties” to make the rotation are Gallardo and Estrada, leading me to believe that Estrada will be the Brewers’ No. 2 starter unless the Brewers decide to sign Kyle Lohse (which they shouldn’t).
Is he good enough for that high-billing though?
To put it succinctly, yes. He is.
Estrada was downright dominant in most of his starts last season. It seems as if, at the age of 28, Estrada has finally figured out how to pitch in the majors.
The past two seasons have been his coming out party, and it seems like every time we see him he just keeps getting better and better. Don’t be surprised if Estrada rivals Gallardo as the best starter in this rotation this season.
He is a true diamond in the rough. He’s come from being a no-name reliever/minor league cellar dweller with Washington all the way through the ranks to high-rotation starter. Not many pitchers make that ascent and get better as they go. There’s usually a period of necessary adjustment to transition from reliever to starter.
Not for Estrada, though. He took the starting job in stride and hasn’t stopped getting better.
It’s interesting to look at the Brewers’ roster and see all of the players that have been transformed from nothings to integral parts of a pretty good team. Estrada, along with rotation partner Mike Fiers, relievers Jim Henderson and John Axford, as well as several position players have all climbed from anonymity to relative stardom.
Now we just have to see if Estrada can really hold onto the job for a full season. My guess is a resounding yes.