A tease in baseball is someone who wows you for periods of time, but never delivers consistently on those seductive skills or abilities. Whether it’s because of an injury, mental issues or other factors, teases excite the organization and fans, only to rip their hearts out in the end. The Milwaukee Brewers have had their fair share of teases over the years (e.g. Rickie Weeks, Manny Parra) and you can add starting pitcher Marco Estrada to the list.
Estrada has multiple positive and negative characteristics that make him a tease. On the plus side, Estrada exhibits terrific command to throw strikes and avoid walks. Additionally, despite below-average velocity, he has an uncanny knack for getting batters to swing and miss.
In the last two seasons, the Brewers’ right-hander has the fourth-best strikeout-to-walk ratio (K/BB) in all of baseball (minimum 220 innings). Estrada’s 4.50 K/BB trails only Adam Wainwright, Matt Harvey and Cliff Lee — amazing talent to be grouped with. During that same time frame, Estrada is in the top 20 in swings and misses per pitch. Especially with pitches in the strike zone, Estrada has shown a knack for getting batters to whiff. He has been the eighth-best pitcher in this category behind pitchers like Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish.
Estrada’s ability to miss bats in the zone leads to his strong WHIP as he has the confidence to stay around the plate and avoid offering free passes to the opposition. Though his fastball won’t intimidate anyone, Estrada has a terrific changeup he throws effectively to both lefties and righties. Coupled with command that allows him to direct his best pitch to either side of the plate, Estrada has been able to consistently keep hitters off-balance.
Since 2012, Estrada has posted a 3.75 ERA and an adjusted ERA of 108 (average is 100). During the final two months last season, after returning from the disabled list, Estrada was a lights out stud. In 58.2 innings, the 30-year-old hurler went 3-0 with a minuscule 2.15 ERA, held opponents to a .165 average, .207 on-base percentage and a nearly-invisible .260 slugging percentage. Sixty-six percent of his pitches went for strikes to go with a 5.09 K/BB rate, all phenomenal numbers that add to Estrada’s allure and hope for his success.
Some of these statistics would indicate an ERA in the low threes, but Estrada has never been able to bring it down that low. The biggest road block on the path to stardom is his propensity to give up the home run ball. The lower velocity and consistent residence in the strike zone gives batters more opportunity to put good swings on the ball. Though many miss the changeup, hitters are seeing enough fastballs on a tee to go deep on Estrada.
The long ball has been a constant nemesis, having given up 19 homers in just 108 frames in 2014. He’s actually watched his home run rate go up in each of the past three years, which creates a touch more concern moving forward. The frequency of his home runs allowed negates a large portion of the strikeouts and command he offers. At the same time, if he walked more batters, the home runs would be more costly. It’s give and take.
The other negative trait is a tendency to get hurt. Whether it’s his slightly smaller frame (5-foot-11, 200 pounds), adjustment to more innings or a combination of factors, Estrada has spent numerous stints on the disabled list in his career. Last season it was due to a strained hamstring, but he’s also experienced some arm discomfort in the past. There are plenty of concerns over his durability through an entire season and how it will impact his effectiveness. The Brewers would be happy to get 28-30 starts out of Estrada if he can keep his strikeout and walk numbers in the same neighborhood.
Estrada will continue to be a tease, shutting out a team with eight strikeouts and zero walks through six innings, only to give up a pair of two-run bombs in the seventh. Otherwise, he’ll pitch to a 3.25 ERA for the season’s first few months, but have to miss 12 starts with a trip to the DL. If he can avoid the two biggest pratfalls that have held him back, and it may just be some good luck, Estrada is capable of a truly magical season.