May 23, 2014; Miami, FL, USA; Milwaukee Brewers starting pitcher Marco Estrada (R) rects on the pitching mound as Miami Marlins first baseman Garrett Jones (L) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run during the fifth inning at Marlins Ballpark. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

The Curious Case of Marco Estrada

For the past two seasons, Marco Estrada has been considered a sleeper by many analysts and people who claim they know a lot about the game — myself included.

Prior to the start of the 2013 season, I called Estrada a sleeper, and while he had a respectable season, especially in the second half, he didn’t live up to my expectations. So this year, I tried again. Based on his dominance on the road and his performance after the All-Star Break last year, I had no trouble calling him a sleeper for the second year in a row.

But through 10 starts in 2014, he has disappointed me. Again. For a back-of-the-rotation starter, Estrada has a decent ERA of 3.98, but his FIP, which measures what a player’s ERA should have looked like over a period of time, assuming that performance on balls in play and timing were league average, is an awful 5.43.

And that’s because of his inability to keep the ball in the yard, something that has always troubled the 30 year old.

Of pitchers who qualify, Estrada has the highest HR/9 (2.36) in Major League Baseball. In 61 innings pitched, he has given up a whopping 16 home runs — 11 at Miller Park and 5 on the road, despite giving up only 19 total homers last season. Estrada’s fly ball percentage has also gone up by over four percent.

A big reason for his increase in home runs allowed is because of his changeup. The changeup is Estrada’s most important pitch, and when it’s working it’s electric, but when it finds the middle of the zone, it looks like a beach ball. In 2013, Estrada’s wCH (or changeup runs above average) was 12.3. To put this in context, a score of zero is average, with negative scores being below average and positive scores being above average, according to FanGraphs.com. Of pitchers who threw at least 120 innings in 2013, Estrada’s changeup was rated as the sixth best in baseball. Batters hit only .185, slugged .274 and had an isolated power of .089 against his change. It’s pretty fair to say his changeup was pretty damn good last season.

Enter 2014. Estrada is throwing his changeup on a more consistent basis than he ever has and even though hitters are still hitting a low .195 against it, the power numbers have soared.

Estrada has already doubled the amount of  home runs he has given up via the change from last season. This year, hitters are slugging .494 with an isolated power of .299. His wCH sits at 0.6 — it has dropped nearly 12 points from 2013.

Marco Estrada 2014

Marco Estrada 2014

After his start on May 18, Estrada told Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that he had no feeling for his changeup during his outing. He gave up four runs on seven hits including two home run balls that game.

Not only has his changeup been ineffective, his road stats are nothing like they were a year ago, but regression in this area was expected. In his career, he has a road ERA of 4.35. In 2013, his road ERA was an eye-opening .209.

That fall off, along with his struggles with the changeup, are the two main factors as to why he still isn’t living up to my sleeper status.

 

A special thanks to Alec Dopp of Gammons Daily for providing the heat map.

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