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

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Today, it’s the most accurate to say: Welcome back to “Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers”!

We just collectively suffered through the longest break in the countdown to Opening Day on April 1st that we’ve had to endure do this point. Yes, there’s one longer one coming up, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get to it.

This day belongs to the profiling of…

Marco Estrada.

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Last year, Estrada broke camp as a member of the Brewers bullpen before sliding into the rotation when Chris Narveson tore up his pitching shoulder. Narveson would miss the rest of the year and Estrada would start all but one game the rest of the way.

Estrada made his first of 23 starts last year on April 21st against the Colorado Rockies. It was the first start to a season that saw him post a combined line of:

5-7, 3.64 ERA, 29 G, 23 GS, 138.1 IP, 62 R, 56 ER, 18 HR, 129 H, 29 BB, 1.142 WHIP, 143 K, 9.3 K/9, 1.9 BB/9, 4.93 K/BB

Let’s break down how those numbers were produced along the way a bit along with the highlight and lowlights from 2012.

A main thing I wanted to make sure to point out, so I’ll do it right away…

Marco Estrada faced right-handed hitters in 294 plate appearances in 2012. In those he struck out 80 and walked only seven. Yeah, that’s impressive. Whether it repeatable will certainly impact what kind of overall season Estrada can expect in 2013.

For what it’s worth, in my opinion enough to warrant mention, Estrada’s splits overall between left- and right-handed batters were nearly identical in 2012 with the exception of his walk rate. In 268 plate appearances against right-handers, Estrada walked 22.

Here are those splits:

vs. RHH: .247/.264/.419, 294 PA, 279 AB, 33 R, 69 H, 16 2B, 1 3B, 10 HR, 80 K, 7 BB
vs. LHH: .246/.307/.418, 268 PA, 244 AB, 29 R, 60 H, 14 2B, 0 3B, 8 HR, 63 K, 22 BB

Consistency in quality regardless of hitter handedness is a big key for repeatable success as a pitcher. Estrada has that coming out of his ears. Consistency from start to start is another big key and in that, Estrada struggled a bit.

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Estrada posted eight starts of four or more earned runs allowed against five scoreless starts (though one of those was his one-inning start where he injured himself, but more on that in a minute). In a perfect microcosm of that, Estrada posted his worst start and his best start of the year in consecutive starts. They were his final two starts of the season. Against his former team the Washington Nationals, Estrada lasted only 4.0 innings allowed seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and two walks while only striking out three. The next time out was against the Houston Astros, a start in which he went 8.0 scoreless innings, allowing only four hits and one walk while striking out 11. The innings pitched were a season-high and the strikeout total was one off his season-high.

Only once all year did Estrada post consecutive starts with two or fewer runs allowed. That was in a pair of mid-September starts which were both scoreless appearances. Understatement of the year alert: You can’t carry over any kind of momentum in baseball from one season to the next, but Estrada did finish up 2012 with three scoreless starts out of four. It’s the up-and-down rollercoastering that needs to be toned down. Staying more consistent from one start to the next is something which Estrada must get better at doing if he’s going to take the next step as a Major League starting pitcher.

Estrada did only throw 138.1 IP in 2012, but as I referenced earlier that was due to an injury suffered in a start in late May. Estrada was at the plate hitting and batted a ball which he thought would be corralled by a defender so he was slowing down on his way to first. The ball got by the defender and when he started to speed his gait back up he strained his quadriceps muscle in his right leg. Estrada wound up with a two-run double and a month-long stint on the disabled list. Silver lining? That injury is what opened the door for Mike Fiers to join the big league rotation. Fittingly, Estrada would rejoin the rotation after Shaun Marcum fell to injury.

One oddity that merits a note is that Estrada was a charter member in the Cliff Lee “No W’s Club” in that despite pitching well enough to win on many occasions, there was always something that kept him from recording that first official Win of the season. In fact, Estrada didn’t get that first W until August 21st, outlasting the Phillies’ starter by about six weeks. Though to be fair, Lee’s third start of the year was 10.0 scoreless innings of no-decision ball against the Giants, so he had it worse from a severity standpoint.

As for future outlook, 2013 opened on the calendar with questions about the makeup of the forthcoming Brewers rotation. With quotes from general manager Doug Melvin and Ron Roenicke coming out, it became clear that there were mainly six pitchers competing for the five rotation spots. Obviously Yovani Gallardo will lead the rotation, but looking deeper into those quotes it became clear that Marco Estrada had a leg and arm through the door to securing a spot. Then, later on, it was announced the Estrada would likely start the year as the number two starter behind Gallardo.

That’s where we find ourselves today. Estrada is preparing as a starting pitcher with the thought firmly in his mind that he will have that role in Milwaukee when camp breaks.

Estrada is currently preparing to leave Brewers camp to pitch in the World Baseball Classic alongside Gallardo for Team Mexico, but when he returns he’ll get back on track toward making his first start of the new season against the same Colorado Rockies he faced in his first 2012 start. (How’s that for consistency?)

He just won’t have to wait until April 21st to do it.

Miss anyone along the way? Catch up on the Brewers By the (Jersey) Numbers profiles to this point:

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