At the end of April I wrote a post essentially saying explaining why Marco Estrada‘s 2015 season wasn’t a fluke. It boiled down to four main changes.

  1. The emergence of his cutter
  2. The confidence to pitch up in the strikezone
  3. His BABIP skills (good contact management)
  4. Never shaking the catcher off

His fantasy ownership (going by Yahoo!) when I wrote that piece was 67%, now it’s sitting at 79%. That’s still criminally low in my opinion, but a big reason for that 12% bump is that at the time of this writing, he has the same batting average against as Clayton Kershaw. And that average against is .167. Marco Estrada got better, and now he’s just plain excellent.

I watched his almost no-hit masterpiece against the red-hot Red Sox offence the other day, and one thing really stuck out to me. He is incredibly predictable in his pitch locations. And when he missed with a changeup low, many times he would follow it up with the exact same low changeup and catch the bottom of the zone for a strike. Since he apparently never shakes off the catcher, it could be Russell Martin‘s game plan, but the predictability was strange since I’ve been conditioned to think that success is largely dependent on “mixing up” locations. Some heat maps.

He throws his fastball high…

FastballComparison

…His changeup low…

ChangeupComparison

…And his cutter in to lefties and away from righties…

CutterComparison

And nobody can hit any of the pitches when he hits those spots. He executes this game plan with pinpoint command, but you have to think that the batters have seen these heat maps and know what to expect.

Here’s a theory. His whole game plan is modeled around a quick and compact delivery that is a molecule-for-molecule match – arm slot, time between pitches, side of the rubber, everything – every pitch no matter what kind of pitch he’s throwing. Fastball, cutter, changeup – it all looks the exact same coming out of his hand. If Estrada was tipping his pitches in even the tiniest way, batters be able to use his predictability to destroy him. But by having one of the most undecipherable deliveries in the game, he’s able to dangle his predictability as bait and destroy opposing batters who try to guess. Sometimes, information is power, sometimes it’s whatever the opposite of power is.

That’s how he’s able to throw 88 MPH high fastballs and get an super awkward check swing from Jackie Bradley Jr.

animation (5)

And that’s how he’s able to paint the bottom edge with a 76 MPH change and get a very late swing from Christian Vazquez.

animation (6)

After this game, the Sportsnet broadcast showed a graphic comparing what the Jays are paying Marco Estrada (2.41 ERA) + J.A. Happ (3.57 ERA) vs. what the Red Sox are paying David Price (4.88 ERA) and they made some snide remarks about how Jays fans should be happy their team didn’t go after Price. It was framed as a jab at Price’s performance thus far, but it really should’ve been praise for what Marco Estrada has been doing for the Jays since arriving to Toronto.

Advertisements