If the Pittsburgh Pirates are looking for starting pitching before the trade deadline, they might be able to find a trade partner north of the board. But would Marco Estrada be that much of an upgrade over the current pitchers in the rotation?

The 2017 Major League Baseball season is barreling towards the July 31st trade deadline. In the next few days teams will have to make a decision of they are going to buy or sell. With the NL Central still being up in the air, the Pittsburgh Pirates could definitely benefit from upgrading their roster. The back end of the rotation has had it’s struggles and could be an area where Neal Huntington looks to improve the roster. With the Toronto Blue Jays well behind the pack in the AL East and in need of leapfrogging a number of teams for the Wild Card positions in the junior circuit, they could very well decide to start selling this weekend. One starting pitcher on their team that might be in Pittsburgh’s price range is Marco Estrada.

Profile and Performance

Estrada was drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2005 and made his debut with the club in 2008 as a bullpen arm. He was claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2010 but did not become a full time starter until 2012, when he started 23 games. While he went 5-7 that year, he put up an ERA of 3.64, slightly above his FIP of 3.35. He followed that up with a solid year in 2013, but did see a decrease in strikeouts and a rise in walks. In his last season with Milwaukee in 2014, he accumulated a -0.1 WAR and while almost all of his numbers went in the wrong direction.

After being traded to the Blue Jays following the 2014 season, Estrada had very respectable numbers across the board. Not only did he keep his ERA under four in both of those years, but he also kept his home run to flyball ratio to under ten percent. While Estrada may not have been a headline pitcher at this point, he was more than serviceable in the Toronto rotation.

However, things have some somewhat south for the right hander in 2016. He is walking more hitters (3.94 per nine innings) than he has at any point in his career since 2010. While his ERA sits at an unsightly 5.43, his FIP of 4.52 is still the highest it has been since 2014. It is somewhat remarkable that Estrada has been worth 1.6 WAR according to Fangraphs.

Career-to-date

table courtesy of Baseball Reference

The case for Estrada

  • Estrada could benefit from spending a few months under the tutelage of Ray Searage. Searage’s revamping of a number of pitchers is well known, and Estrada certainly seems to fit the mold of what the Pirates typically look for at the deadline.
  • Among a lot of ugly numbers this year, one that does stand out is that Estrada has improved his K/9 this year to 9.60, up from 8.44 last year and 6.51 the year before that. This has brought his strikeout percentage up to 24.2, a fairly impressive number for a pitcher not exactly known as a strikeout artist.

The case against Estrada

  • Hitters have a BABIP of .323 against Estrada this year, by far the highest mark in his career. BABIP can be a finicky stat attributed to luck more often than not, but Estrada’s hard hit rate of 29.9 percent and ground ball rate of just 19.4 percent backup that figure. While some of this can be attributed to the poor play of the Blue Jays, it is still alarming to see hitters having that much success against him. His home run to flyball ratio sits at 12.1 percent, the highest it has been since he joined the Blue Jays.
  • Estrada is only under contract for the remainder of 2017 and is owed $5.4 million (according to MLB Trade Rumors) the rest of the season so he is the definition of a rental, and not a very good one at that. If the Blue Jays are looking to shed salary, any team is going to almost assuredly have to assume the rest of the contract. He seems like to much of a gamble, especially for a team in a situation like the Pirates find themselves in a few days before the deadline.

What it might take

Even if the Blue Jays are looking to shed Estrada’s salary, his performance in recent months probably means that he is not going to command much of a return. Unless a lot of the rental pitchers are moved and a team gets desperate and overpays, the Blue Jays can probably only hope to get a marginal minor leaguer in return for him. His performance in the last few weeks does not indicate that he is going to turn his season around. Moving back to the National League probably is not going to solve his problems, either.

Conclusions

To be blunt, the Pittsburgh Pirates do not need him. He would not be an upgrade over Chad Kuhl or Trevor Williams, and there are options at Indianapolis that should be given an opportunity before acquiring someone like Estrada. With his performance recently, the Blue Jays may have a tough time moving him no matter what. If anything, Estrada seems like the kind of player who might be an August acquisition since it is doubtful many teams would put a claim in on him.

Photo credit – Keith Allison – Flickr Creative Commons

Ethan Obstarczyk

Ethan is a lifelong Pirates fan who resides in the east end of Pittsburgh. When not talking about, writing about or watching baseball, he also enjoys watching football and hockey along with movies and listening to some of his favorite bands. He can also be found on Instagram (ethanobstarczyk) and Untappd (Ethan_O).