The Royals have been slumping, losing seven of their last eight games to drop to 45-47. But they are still just three games out of first place and seem to be stubbornly holding off any talks that they should be sellers.
With the rotation missing Nate Karns and Matt Strahm for the year, the club has been linked to several starting pitchers. SB Nation reporter Chris Cotillo adds another name that they may be looking to acquire.
Still count the Royals as buyers. Expect them to be in on rental SPs. Two names I've heard linked to them: Jaime Garcia and Marco Estrada.— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) July 19, 2017
Ken Rosenthal confirms they are looking to add pitching.
Royals are three games out of 1st in the AL Central, and they are asking around about 2 cost-effective starting pitchers and a reliever.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) July 19, 2017
We looked at Jaime Garcia earlier this week, but Estrada is a new name reportedly on the Royals’ radar. Royals fans should be familiar with Estrada when he faced them in the 2015 American League Championship Series, where he gave up just four runs in 13 innings for the losing Jays. Estrada was solid that year with a 3.13 ERA and 1.8 WAR, according to Fangraphs, and built off that to improve his strikeout rate the next year and become a 3 WAR pitcher in 2016.
However he has had a setback in 2017, posting a 5.33 ERA and 4.31 FIP. His strikeout rate is the highest it has ever been at 9.9 per-nine innings. He has seen his velocity jump this year, averaging 90 mph with his fastball. But his walk rate has taken a huge spike as well (3.7 per-nine ininings), and he has had trouble with home runs. His struggles have not been a product of Rogers Centre either, his home rate has been the same on the road, and his overall numbers are worse on the road.
The 34-year old right-hander is an extreme fly-ball pitcher - only Hector Santiago has given up a higher rate of flyballs over the past three seasons. He has an above-average home run rate the last few seasons, but nothing to be alarmed about. Estrada loves throwing the changeup, throwing more changeups over the last three seasons than anyone other than Jorge de la Rosa. From 2015-2016, it was one of the most effective changeups in baseball. However this year, it has been one of the worst.
The Royals have had a lot of success with the changeup from Jason Vargas and Danny Duffy, so perhaps working with pitching coach Dave Eiland can improve Estrada’s numbers. He has been a bit BABIP-unlucky as well, at .330. David Lesky at Baseball Prospectus Kansas City recently wrote:
He’s having a terrible season...but he’d been so good the last two years that you trade for him hoping it’s just a weird blip. He’s struck out a ton of batters and has exhibited his typically fantastic control, but he’s gone from allowing less than seven hits per nine to allowing more than nine. His opponent’s TAv is consistent with the past three seasons (all .261 before this year’s .265), so it does seem that he’s dealing with some bad luck.
He is owed a bit over $5 million the rest of this season and will be a free agent this winter. Because of his struggles, it is not likely that Estrada would require a high-value package of prospects, and the Royals would be counting on their ability to turn his season around and serve as an upgrade over Travis Wood.