Estrada fine-tuning changeup delivery

Right-hander quickening pace after struggling with pitch in 2017

February 17th, 2018

DUNEDIN, Fla. -- Blue Jays right-hander believes he has figured out why hitters were having so much success off his changeup last season.

Estrada admitted that after watching video of last year's starts, he discovered an issue with his mechanics. Whenever Estrada threw the changeup, his delivery was a little bit slower compared to the rest of his pitches.

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Most people would not be able to notice the slight variation, but opposing hitters seemed to pick up on it. They had more success off the pitch than ever before, and it was one of the reasons Estrada finished the year with a disappointing 4.98 ERA.

"I just telegraphed it a little more," said Estrada, who is entering his fourth season with the Blue Jays. "I don't really look at video too often, but that was one of the things I did look at. I could just see my arm wasn't really getting through the zone, because I was trying to baby it."

The changeup is far and away Estrada's best pitch, but last year it let him down. According to Baseball Savant, Estrada threw the changeup 1,035 times and opponents hit .245 with 35 extra-base hits and a .480 slugging percentage against it. Compare to that the previous year, when Estrada threw the changeup 841 times and limited hitters to a .162 average with just 16 extra-base hits and a .304 slugging percentage.

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The dropoff was significant and for a long time, Estrada struggled to figure out why. He was healthy and no longer feeling the effects of a chronic back issue that has plagued him throughout his career. That led to a slight increase in velocity, but it didn't improve his performance.

"At one point, I thought it was a little hard, harder than it normally was," Estrada said of the changeup. "My velo was up a little bit more, so obviously the chanegup is going to increase in velo also. I noticed that I kind of slowed my arm down, and once I went back to getting my arm through the zone, things got much better."

Estrada noticed the issue midway through the season, and that provides at least a partial explanation behind his turnaround in the second half. Estrada went 0-5 with a 9.52 ERA from June 1-July 21, but over his final 13 starts, Estrada posted a much more reasonable 4.23 ERA. That's still below Estrada's standards, but it was at least closer to the guy who posted a 3.48 and 3.13 ERA the previous two years.

The natural question to ask is why Estrada and the Blue Jays did not discover the problem a bit sooner. There had been plenty of speculation that Estrada was tipping his pitches, and the Rays were used as a primary example. Tampa Bay, in particular, appeared to be teeing off on his changeup, and Estrada struggled with a 10.61 ERA over four starts. This was an organization that Estrada once owned by taking a pair of no-hitters into the seventh inning of the 2015 season.

It turns out Estrada knew what he was doing wrong -- it just took some time to actually have his work in the bullpen translate into games.

"I threw more bullpen [sessions] than I have, because I was trying to get out of that funk," Estrada said. "Unfortunately it took me awhile, but once I got everything figured out, things got much better. Once I feel good, I go off of that. It's all feeling."