If hitting is all about timing, pitching is about disrupting timing. Pitchers do their best to keep hitters off-balance by mixing in off speed and breaking pitches.
One of the best pitchers in the league at keepint hitters off balance is none other than Marco Estrada. Boasting one of the best changeups in the game, Estrada is able to get by with an 88 MPH fastball because he can kill speed on the ball.
The changeup seems to be a forgotten art, but Marco Estrada has not only brought it back, he’s perfected it. To get a true sense of how Estrada is able to work his magic, you have to see his fastball and changeup simultaneously.
Although the delivery and arm slot are basically identical, once the ball is released from Estrada’s hand, that’s where the differences are extremely apparent.
Here’s two back-to-back pitches from Estrada; the one on the left is his fastball, on the right his changeup.
This is Mason Williams of the Yankees swinging at consecutive offerings from Marco Estrada. In the first, Williams fouls off a fastball from Estrada, but on the second, he whiffs on a changeup in the dirt. It’s a fraction of a second difference, but it’s enough to disrupt Williams’ timing and make him look silly on that second swing.
It’s something that Estrada has become accustomed to these past few years in Toronto. He’s made a habit out of making opposing hitters look silly with his fastball/changeup combo.
Estrada’s changeup is highly underrated but it ranks as one of the best out pitches in baseball. According to FanGraphs Pitch Value metric, Marco Estrada ranks only behind Kyle Hendricks and David Price in terms of the best changeup in all of baseball.
The reason why hitters have such a tough time picking up the changeup is the timing. If they’re sitting on fastball and they get a changeup, it often leads to hitters being way out in front of the ball.
The lower ball speed also tends to make the ball dive in the zone, which makes is even harder for hitters to square up. If they’re sitting on a fastball and get the location, odds are that batter is going to make solid contact. But with a changeup, hitters often can’t judge the rate at which the ball drops in the zone.
Bill Ripken probably has the best explanation here of trying to hit a changeup versus a fastball, and why pitchers like Marco Estrada who can command both pitches, are so dangerous.
Again, Marco Estrada is the poster boy for effectiveness with the changeup. His pinpoint fastball control combined with an identical-looking pitch about 10 MPH slower in the changeup makes Estrada unhittable at times.
Just ask the Texas Rangers, who Marco Estrada flat-out dominated in Game 1 of the ALDS. Estrada induced a lot of silly swings from the Rangers hitters, a telltale sign that his changeup was on point that particular afternoon.
Estrada has been nothing but clutch for the Blue Jays in the postseason thus far; if you look back at Game 1 of the 2016 ALDS along with his gutsy performances in Game 3 of the 2015 ALDS and Game 5 of the ALCS, Marco Estrada seems to come alive in the postseason.
To find the source of his success, all you need to look to is Marco Estrada’s changeup.