In the grand scheme of things, in which the past is more or less warped away into a black hole with the future, starting Marco Estrada in Game 1 of the ALCS is an odd decision. Estrada is not the young, hot ace; he's 32 years old and has not eclipsed 200 innings in a season yet. In fact, he's spent only one season making starts in all of his appearances, and that was in 2013.
Naturally, since we live in a world where time is not a wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey mess, other considerations are there. David Price inexplicably threw three bad innings in Game 4 of the other ALDS, so he is starting Game 2 instead. R.A. Dickey and Marcus Stroman will be the other starters later on.
Estrada, a right hander, has not been particularly awesome in his career. A 3.95 ERA / 4.19 FIP / 4.08 xFIP career slash line isn't much. This year though Estrada has a 3.13 ERA compared to a 4.40 FIP. That's Chris Young-esque. Estrada also owns a ground-ball rate of 32.2 percent this year. That's Chris Young-esque. Estrada's not 8'4", so that's not Chris Young-esque. His fastball velocity just below 90 MPH, so he throws a little harder than Chris Young. Estrada's basically a shorter version of Chris Young in some ways.
Estrada comes at hitters with a four-seam fastball, changeup, curveball, and cutter. He relies mostly on his four seam, throwing it 52.3 percent of the time this year. His changeup is next at 28 percent, followed by the curveball at 11.2 percent and the cutter at 8.3 percent. He does not show a ton of variation in when he uses those pitches in terms of being ahead in the count or behind in the count - he uses his fastball/changeup combo the most with the breaking pitches as the "show me" pitches.
This is borne out in his whiff rates. Estrada's changeup gets a whiff 20.8 percent of the time, which is pretty darn good. His other pitches don't get so many whiffs; his curveball, in fact, is far more useful at getting a grounder than a whiff.
As you would expect, it's pretty tough to make solid contact against Estrada. His line drive rate allowed is well below league average, especially this year. He gets a fair number of popups (or a massive number of popups) and limits the amount of fly balls that turn into home runs (at least this year).
Estrada, as a righty who relies on a changeup as his main secondary pitch, has no platoon split whatsoever. His career wOBA allowed against righties is .305 and against lefties is .306. Surprisingly, Estrada has a better wOBA allowed at home than on the road over his career. He's pitched the most for the Brewers and the Blue Jays, both of whom have hitter-favorable home parks. Those parks are not good fits for a fly ball guy like Estrada, but he has managed. He really just stuffs production on fly balls.
How does he do it? Well, his fastball is one of those rising fastballs, like Danny Duffy's. He'll keep it away against both RHH and LHH with a preference for up instead of down. He'll put the changeup low and away against all hitters as a contrast with his up and away fastball. In addition to the location difference, there's a 10-MPH difference between his fastball and changeup. Estrada has a pretty high release point, so I would guess there is a pretty good amount of deception when combining all the factors about his fastball and changeup.
For his other pitches, he'll keep the curveball low and away to RHH, but he scatters the pitch a bit to lefties. It is usually found under the strike zone, but he's not afraid to leave it up and away to lefties. The cutter is the only pitch he'll throw inside to lefties. He keeps it low and away to righties. For those keeping score at home, that means Estrada almost never throws inside to righties.
The Royals faced Estrada twice in the regular season, and they were pretty similar starts. 5.2 innings in one, 6.2 innings in the other. Two runs allowed in each. Not many strikeouts or walks in either.
So there you go. Estrada is a fly ball pitcher who has done a pretty good job of limiting production allowed on fly balls, so starting him at Kauffman Stadium makes all the sense in the world. We didn't even need to twist physics or plot points in order to come to this conclusion.