Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers: #41 Marco Estrada

What a 48 hour period it has been for the Brewers!

Without rehashing stuff which you can read by scrolling down (or perhaps going out to the root of the blog and then scrolling down), Ryan Braun will be in the Opening Day lineup this season!

As this series is all about counting down to Opening Day, it’s quite a bit of a boost to my mood as we tick ever closer to eight days away from it before finally previewing Corey Hart on April 5.

Today, though, is not one or eight days away. Today, Saturday, February 25th is 41 days away from Opening Day and we take a look at the only man to start a game on the mound for Milwaukee in 2011 who wasn’t in the projected starting rotation coming into Spring Training:

Marco Estrada.

After spending parts of two seasons with the Washington Nationals, Marco Rene Estrada was placed on waivers and, after a recommendation from a Brewers coach, was subsequently claimed by the Brewers on February 3, 2010.

The portion of his 2010 season at the big league level began when he was called up on May 17th. He replaced an injured Jim Edmonds on the roster. He made seven appearances over the next two weeks and finished with an ERA of 9.53 after allowing seven earned runs over his final three appearances before going on the 15-day DL with shoulder fatigue, ending his season. In other words, 2010 was nothing to write home about.

Estrada was outrighted off Milwaukee’s 40-man roster after the season (October 8, 2010 to be precise) and went into Spring Training last year with a bit of uncertainty.

Spring Training 2011 saw him perform well enough that when a starting pitcher was needed to cover for Zack Greinke to begin the season, it was Estrada’s number 41 that was called. In fact, the handful of times that a starter was needed throughout 2011, it was Estrada who filled in each time.

It allowed the Brewers to be the only team in the Major Leagues to use as few as six starting pitchers during the 2011 regular season. A fact which absolutely contributed to Milwaukee’s franchise-best 96 wins.

It also suggests that Estrada will begin the 2012 season as the swingman in the bullpen, and hopefully that’s where he’ll stay. I know it’s naive to hope for it, but a full season of starts from the five projected starters would be that much more helpful in replicating or surpassing the success of the six-man group.

The real problem to Estrada being in the bullpen the entire season is that his contributions as a starting pitcher far outweighed those he brought as a relief pitcher.

Estrada’s line as a starter was 3-2 in seven starts. In those starts, he pitched 41.1 innings allowing 17 earned runs (3.70 ERA), 35 hits, 10 walks (1.09 WHIP), while striking out 33 batters. He worked down in the zone and was able to put together a 1.78 ratio of outs on the ground to outs in the air.

But out of the ‘pen? A 1-6 record, and 4.38 ERA in 51.1 innings spread across 36 appearances. He gave up 48 hits, 28 runs (25 earned), 6 home runs, and 19 walks. His WHIP was 1.31 and his out-type ratio flipped to 0.93 which is to say there were more outs made through the air. His strikeout rate was better as a reliever (he struck out 55 in those 51.1), but that was about the only thing he did better.

Estrada makes the most sense to be held as a swingman in the majors based on his production when filling in, but he isn’t very useful in short relief situations. Fortunately for the Brewers, they’ve got plenty of talented arms that do specialize in those jobs.

Then again, Estrada doesn’t have to head north with the team. If I recall correctly, Estrada still has one minor-league option remaining. The team tried to send him down in 2010 but the option was voided when Estrada went on the DL instead. He was then outrighted as I said, and added back to the 40-man in 2011 when he came up to start, but never went back down after that. Therefore, should the team choose to, Estrada would be eligible for a depth-saving demotion to begin the year (or at any other time during 2012).

To bottom line it for you, if the team would rather disregard Estrada’s contributions to their 2011 success and force him to stay stretched out in Nashville as their first option to cover any missed starts, it would be within their power to do so. The other thing to consider is that if they view Manny Parra as a long-reliever as well, you don’t really have the space for two of those in most bullpens. Parra, of course, is out of options.

Personally, I see Estrada staying on the 25-man roster when camp breaks and filling the aforementioned long-relief role.

As with only a couple of other jobs up for grabs this spring, time will be the ultimate judge and we’ll know more once the team gets a few exhibition games under its belt.

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