Is Marco Estrada tiring out?
For the record, I said nope before he rambled out to the mound in Atlanta and shut down the Atlanta Braves for 8 strong innings.
There are three big things one looks for when someone is supposedly tiring out. The first is Mechanical. That is to say, is there some mechanical sign in Estrada’s delivery that indicates he is tired? Is his arm dropping? Has his release point changed? Have his mechanics broken down rendering him ineffective or prone to injury? Is he falling off the mound? Does he look noisy or sloppy while pitching?
The answer to all those questions is no.
Estrada is still very much in control of his mechanics. His release point is the same today as it was when he made his no hit bid against the Rays earlier in the season. He is still the owner of a quiet, simple, compact delivery. He’s still balanced and direct down the mound, and, his pitches are still coming out of the same arm slot.
The next thing we look at then is velocity. A pitcher’s mechanics can stay the same, but his arm can slow down over the course of season, resulting in slower pitch velocity. That base also not been the case with Estrada. Well, at least not alarmingly so.
Estrada’s fastball has dropped, on average, 1 mph since joining the rotation in May through today. To put that in perspective, Mark Buehrle has seen velocity differentials of 3-4 mph, from one game to the next. Estrada throws 89-90 now, he threw 90-91 in May, when he joined the rotation. He actually threw harder out of the pen in April, around 92-93, but it’s common for pitchers in the pen to throw harder since don’t have to pace themselves.
Just so we’re clear, there is nothing magical about that extra 1 mph. Velocity has never been the way Estrada has gotten outs. It’s always been command, location, and execution. The bigger worry would be if his fastball and change up—two items that feed off one another—losing their differential. That is, if his change up got harder, or his fastball got slower and his change up was still the same. This makes one less deceptive, which makes the other easier to spot.
To that same point, if Estrada’s breaking ball slowed down, it would be more visible—easier to recognize means easier to track. Easier to track means easier to hit. That’s not been the case either. In fact, Estrada’s breaking ball has hovered around the same +/- 3 mph distribution all year.
Finally, Estrada’s results have been stable and predictable. Even before last night’s gem against the Braves, Estrada had been pitching very much the same way, to the same result. He gave up 5 runs against the Yankees, and, yes, I realize that he gave up a lot of homers during that game, but, the Yankee’s are a good hitting club in a very offense friendly ball park. Even so, as bad as the outing was, Estrada’s rough outings have still been far less rough that all his other Jays starter colleagues who’ve been in the rotation since before the break. Hutchison, Dickey, and Buehrle have all had games wherein they’ve been tagged for over 5 runs, multiple times. Estrada’s bad outing run cap has been 5. He’s never given up more than that.
Estrada may not be the flashiest, most dominating pitcher in the Jays arsenal, but he has been the most consistent this season. Unfortunately, when it comes time to pick who will be in the post season rotation, his past as a reliever coupled with Dickey and Buehrle’s inability to pitch from the pen may mean he gets bumped from the rotation simply because he’s versatile while they are not.
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