How Is Marco Estrada Still Underrated?

Marco Estrada has come into 2017 healthy and with the same elite stuff he has showcased since arriving in Toronto

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The Blue Jays season has been all but predictable thus far. However, one stable force has been as advertised and more. Marco Estrada has been one of the most under-appreciated starting pitchers in baseball since joining Toronto in 2015, and set to potentially hit the open market for the first time in his career teams may finally show recognition of his true value.

Marco Estrada’s Changeup Placement (PitchFx FanGraphs)

The underserved criticism of Estrada often stems from around baseball’s inability to concede that a pitcher with a fastball that fails to touch 90 MPH can not only survive, but flourish. Yet Estrada’s fastball has, in fact, been one of the most valuable pitches in baseball, ranking as the 9th most valuable heater since 2015. This value stems from Estrada’s ability to pair his fastball with the 6th most valuable changeup in baseball. Estrada’s ability to locate his changeup and induce swings below the strike zone is so elite that Buck Showalter would leave him unused in a Wildcard game if given the chance. Estrada plays to the strengths of both of his primary pitches, enabling him to induce one of the highest swinging strike rates in baseball, from ‘stuff’ that is perceived to be far from overpowering.

Marco Estrada Since Joining Blue Jays (Statistics from FanGraphs)

Many would like to credit an elite defensive catcher, such as Russell Martin, for Estrada’s success, but they too would be wrong. Estrada has been caught by four catchers since joining the Jays, mostly by the far from defensively elite Dioner Navarro. Navarro’s 2015 Catcher-ERA, while catching Estrada almost exclusively, sat at a pristine 3.15, significantly lower than his career mark of 4.19. Estrada not only makes his catchers better, but is widely regarded as one of the easiest pitchers in the league to catch due to his limited, but effective, pitch selection.

Marco Estrada fans Jonathan Schoop with his signature Changeup (PitcherList)

To be fair, Estrada’s peripherals do raise some serious points of worry for many glancing at his stats. Owning a unfathomably low .BABIP and a FIP significantly higher than that of his primary numbers, many have suggested that Estrada is eventually due for regression. These individuals fail to recognize that Estrada’s high FB% and mundane strikeout numbers simply lead secondary stats to misread Estrada’s effectiveness. After years of succeeding with, and sustaining, a low .BABIP and high predictive statistics, it is time to acknowledge Estrada’s unique circumstance.

With Estrada potentially hitting the open market for the first time in his career, the baseball market may finally recognize what Estrada has been showcasing for over two seasons. Estrada’s elite playoff reputation, including a mere 2.64 ERA in 6 postseason starts, combined with early signs of improvements in 2017 could result in a handsome payday for the changeup specialist. Skeptics of Estrada will continue to be skeptical, but you have no reason to be.