Regression doesn't punch a time clock. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometimes months, and occasionally it waits years to rear its ugly head. For the past few seasons, Marco Estrada has registered a BABIP well below league average, even accounting for his flyball tendencies. The highest BABIP he sported from 2013-2016 was .262. The party line was Estrada induces weak contact. Perhaps he lost that skill in 2017, or perhaps Lady Luck caught up. Regardless, a .295 BABIP with a walk rate that increased for the fifth straight season resulted in a 1.38 WHIP, his highest since 2010. Sprinkle in a 1.50 HR/9 and Estrada's 4.98 ERA was the highest since that same campaign. His repertoire, both in terms of velocity and pitch mix, didn't change much, he just wasn't as sharp. His strikeout rate dipped precipitously over the second half (to 18.1 percent). Now 34 years old, the righty is likely to rebound, but not to the level displayed his first two seasons in Toronto.
Estrada tossed three scoreless innings in Sunday's 4-2 Grapefruit League loss to the Phillies, surrendering one hit and no walks while striking out three batters. After a rough 2017 campaign in which he posted a 4.98 ERA and 1.38 WHIP -- his highest marks in both categories since he became a full-time starter in 2012 -- Estrada tweaked his repertoire in the offseason. Those adjustments, which have included an altered delivery and tinkering with his changeup and cutter, per Arden Zwelling of Sportsnet.ca, have paid dividends so far this spring, with the right-hander running up four scoreless frames across two appearances. While that sample is too small to draw any sweeping conclusions, it at least provides some optimism that Estrada can bounce back and resurface as a useful back-end rotation piece for the Blue Jays, despite boasting a fastball that typically sits in the upper 80s. The 34-year-old has long shown the ability to compensate for his lack of premium velocity by generating lots of downward movement on his pitches, a trait that Estrada said induced a few "swing and misses" Sunday.
Estrada altered the delivery and approach to his changeup heading into the 2018 season, Ben Nicholson-Smith of Sportsnet.ca reports. Estrada endured a rough 2017 campaign, posting a 4.98 ERA and 1.38 WHIP over 33 starts, which clearly marked his worst season as a starter since he occupied a full-time role dating back to the 2012 season. The right-hander was able to notice that he slowed his arm down whenever he threw a changeup last year. Gregor Chisholm of MLB.com noted that according to Baseball Savant, opponents hit .245 with a .480 slugging percentage against that pitch in 2017 after hitting just .162 with a .304 slugging percentage the year before. A tweak in his delivery may not help Estrada reach the statistical numbers he had in 2015 or 2016, but he should be able to rebound to some extent.
Estrada (10-9) took the loss against the Red Sox on Wednesday, coughing up eight runs (seven earned) on nine hits and a walk over only 2.1 innings while striking out two. After posting a 1.67 ERA through his first four September starts, Estrada crashed back to earth in his final outing of the year. The veteran righty will return to Toronto's rotation next year hoping to improve significantly on the disastrous 4.98 ERA he put together in 2017.
Estrada (10-8) allowed one run on three hits and three walks while striking out four across seven innings to earn the victory Friday against the Yankees. Estrada gave up a solo homer to Aaron Judge in the first inning before settling down while receiving plenty of run support as he cruised to his 10th victory the season. He's been outstanding during his four starts this month, as he's allowed just five earned runs to lower his ERA from 5.23 to 4.70, and fantasy managers who have used him lately in lineups have reaped the rewards. He'll make his next start Wednesday against the Red Sox.
Estrada and the Blue Jays agreed Tuesday on a one-year, $13 million contract extension, keeping him with the team through the end of the 2018 season, Jon Morosi of MLB Network reports. Rather than gauging his value on the open market as a free agent this winter, Estrada opted for the security of rejoining the Blue Jays for an additional year following an up-and-down 2017 campaign. The 34-year-old struggled mightily from early June through the end of August and may have been at risk of being bounced from the rotation, but he's gotten back on track in September with a 3.60 ERA and 1.00 WHIP over four starts. Estrada's solid finish might have been enough to convince the organization that he remains a viable mid- or back-end rotation arm even as he nears the end of his career, though he'll need to do a better job of reining in the long ball to enjoy consistent success in 2018.