Mike Fiers or Marco Estrada for the Future?

The Brewers current rotation might be the most fascinating group in baseball at the moment. With Chris Narveson and Shaun Marcum on the DL and Zack Greinke in Anaheim, the team has had to turn to three unproven big league starters to fill out their rotation – Mike Fiers, Marco Estrada, and Mark Rogers. Generally, when you move a guy from the bullpen to the rotation and call up two kids from the minors, the results aren’t great, but Fiers, Estrada, and Rogers have been fantastic, and the team hasn’t seen a real drop-off by going with the kids.

Fiers has gotten the most attention, as he’s run off nine straight starts with at least six innings pitched while allowing two runs or fewer, posting a 1.03 ERA over that 61 inning stretch. And, certainly, Fiers story deserves to be told, especially considering his 88 mph fastball and general lack of pedigree as any kind of top prospect. His eye-popping 5/1 K/BB ratio without big time stuff has made him a central topic of discussion, and rightfully so. However, when I was looking at the list of guys who have posted similar statistical seasons to Fiers, I couldn’t help but notice that Estrada was on that list too.

To filter out Fiers-like pitchers, I looked at starting pitchers over the last 11 years who have posted a walk rate below 6%, a strikeout rate above 20%, and a ground ball rate below 35%. Essentially, this skill set is strike-throwing fly ball guy who misses more bats than you might expect due to location and deception, and the other names who have had similar types of seasons are all pretty good pitchers — Ted Lilly, Scott Baker, Colby Lewis, and Phil Hughes. But, those four are joined not just by Fiers, but also by Estrada, who is having a very similar season to Fiers in some ways.

If we look at them side by side as just starting pitchers this year, the comparison looks like this:

Fiers 79 IP 5.1% BB% 24.8% K% 30.7% GB% .286 BABIP
Estrada 72 IP 4.1% BB% 24.9% K% 32.8% GB% .290 BABIP

In four of the five main variables that drive run prevention, Fiers and Estrada are nearly equal. However, Fiers has a 1.82 ERA as a starter, while Estrada checks in at 4.40. The difference? The long ball.

Fiers’ HR/FB rate is just 3.6%, while Estrada checks in at 15.8%, which translates to an extra 12 home runs allowed for Estrada despite facing 22 fewer batters. The average home run generates about 1.4 runs of offense, so we’d have expected those 12 home runs to lead to an extra 17 runs allowed for Estrada, while the actual gap is 20 runs allowed. In other words, nearly all of the difference in run prevention between the two is home run prevention.

We can be pretty sure that neither of these guys are going to keep giving up home runs at their current paces. Even if Fiers was the second coming of Matt Cain (career 6.8% HR/FB) or Jered Weaver (7.5%), we’d still expect him to be north of 8% simply because of the ballpark he’s playing in. And, of course, 70 innings isn’t near enough of a sample to conclude that Fiers’ home run prevention skills make him another exception to the rule.

With Estrada, we have a little more data that points to a home run problem not being a complete fluke, as 12.5% of his fly balls had gone for home runs even before this season began, so this isn’t entirely new for him. Of course, we’re still dealing with a career total of just over 200 innings, so we don’t want to say that Estrada is definitely the new Brett Myers just yet. Most likely, Estrada’s home run rate is going to come down while Fiers is going to go up, but you know all of this already.

But, the question remains: if the Brewers have to just pick one for their 2013 rotation — this is a hypothetical, as they can of course have both if they want — which one would you rather go with? The 2012 performance results obviously point to Fiers, but the stuff points to Estrada, as his fastball is two full ticks higher, and he’s generated more swings and more swinging strikes than Fiers as a starter. Estrada also has a longer Major League track record of missing bats, while Fiers is running a higher strikeout rate in the Majors than he did in Triple-A, which is fairly unusual.

You can make arguments for preferring the long term future for either one. I’m honestly not sure what side I’d come down on, so let’s put this to a poll. Pick one – Michael Fiers or Marco Estrada. Who you got?




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


34 Responses to “Mike Fiers or Marco Estrada for the Future?”

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  1. JMag says:

    Fiers has never really struggled in the minors, which is why the projections are high on him ROS. He always seems to find a way to make his stuff work.

    Miller Park is a terrible place to pitch. I think a guy like Estrada could be great if he went to a more favorable home park.

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    • placidity says:

      This year’s park factors are crazy high for some reason, but before this year, Miller Park was actually pretty neutral, favoring the hitters just a bit.

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  2. acklyoung says:

    I own both on my fantasy team (along with Gallardo). I’m worried that I may be susceptible to a Braun or Hart injury, but that rotation is fascinating to watch right now.

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  3. Matty Brown says:

    Fiers because he’s helping me maintain first in my Ottoneu league.

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  4. Fiesta says:

    Is it possible Doug Melvin has found and exploited some inefficiency with pitching prospects? Milwaukee has had a number of non-prospect pitchers do quite well (Axford, Fiers, Estrada, Henderson, Loe, Braddock before his non-baseball issues, etc). Their farm system was supposed to be quite bad, but they’ve developed a number of decent pitchers seemingly out of thin air.

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    • AJ says:

      Wasn’t Kameron Loe a sort of prospect when he was in Texas?

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    • Bob says:

      The Brewers farm system was poorly rated because of a lack of high ceiling prospects, especially hitters. Guys like Fiers, Jungman, Thornberg, etc were considered 3rd starter types. The Brewers have a decent number of MLB ready pitching prospects though.

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    • FieryFurnaces says:

      I’ve been thinking the same thing lately. These guys come up and pitch their game and it works. Somebody is doing something right in the system.

      Yes, yes, Loe even pitched in Japan.

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    • Dustin says:

      Fiers Estrada and Narveson all have similar stuff also.

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    • Brad Johnson says:

      I played against Braddock quite a bit, he was heavily scouted as an amateur so I suspect he was a “prospect.”

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  5. The Brewers current rotation might be the most fascinating group in baseball at the moment.

    You could consult their NERD scores to prove (“prove”) or disprove that.

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  6. Gman says:

    I’ve watched Fiers 3 times and that curve is brutal. And unlike many he throws a lot of quality strikes with it. I imagine he had a hard time getting that kind of bite in the PCL. A lot of those parks have similar characteristics as Coors Field which make it tough on any kind of breaking ball pitcher. So the lower K/9 in the PCL makes some sense to me. His minor league K/9 rates everywhere else are in line what he’s doing now.

    He’s really showing great command for a rookie. Could be he’s just in a zone, but his minor league walk rates are really solid. I had to make a choice between he and Estrada a couple weeks ago and hung onto Fiers. So far so good (fingers crossed). I’m confident he’s going to be great! (knock on wood).

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  7. Luke says:

    Although I have not checked maps of any kind, it seems to me, from watching nearly every Brewers game, that Fiers is much better at locating his pitches. Where as Estrada just throws it down the middle way too often. But, barring Mark Rogers becoming a shut down starter, or the Brewers acquiring at least two of the many mid tier FA starters this offseason, I’m guessing they’ll both be in the rotation next season.

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    • Am I even serious? says:

      Estrada has always been homer-prone and is more prone to flat fastballs w/o good plane or life. Fiers maintains better plane on fastball and stays on top of the ball better with more life.

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  8. Doug B says:

    are you kidding me?

    Mike Fiers is going to take the rookie of the year award away from the golden boy Bryce Harper. And we’re wondering if he’s better than Estrada?

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    • Ruggiano's Pizza says:

      If Fiers wins ROY, he would be the worst NL ROY since Chris Sabo. And one of the leading causes of the upcoming Mayan apocalypse …

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      • Am I even serious? says:

        I didn’t realize a 2.20 FIP and 2.8 WAR in 80 IP was that bad. He should get at least 7 more starts and around 40-50 more innings if healthy. Feliz AL ROY ’10: 1.8 WAR Andrew Bailey ROY’09: 2.4 WAR Even among starts: Verlander ’06: 3.1 WAR Dontrelle Willis ’03: 3.3 WAR Won’t mention Hellickson because the FIP and ERA differences are so dramatic.

        Fiers doesn’t have to do much more to be a good candidate. But I’m glad you have the ability to tell bad players from good ones. Let me guess… Pujols was a terrible ROY because he was a 13th round pick. Or maybe Andrew Bailey or Coghlan weren’t good picks because they weren’t top prospects heading into the year. Troll somewhere else where you have some amount of evidence to back up your point.

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      • Common Knowledge says:

        you mean the worst NL ROY since Chris Coghlan.

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  9. Dale says:

    Fiers, because he doesn’t give up 3 home runs a game. He gives up 0. Fiers leads EVERY starter in the game in ERA (for your average fan) and FIP. He is too good for TV.

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  10. Flharfh says:

    I guess I don’t really understand the point of this poll – it seems likely the 2013 Brewers will have plenty of room for both of them given that Randy Wolf will certainly be gone, Marcum will likely be gone, and Narveson will be returning from injury. The Brewers will have Gallardo / Fiers / Estrada / and then two more spots to fill either internally or through free agency, not counting on Narveson b/c he will be coming back from a torn rotator cuff.

    If by some strange occurrence one is squeezed out of the rotation it would likely be Estrada, given his bullpen experience.

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  11. jpg says:

    If I remember correctly, we were having this same conversation about Vance Worley – light on pedigree, lacks overpowering stuff, striking out guys at a much higher rate than in the minors. In 2011 his results were out of line with his MiLB track record. We all chalked it up to SSS. Then this year came and he actually started dominating. It’s too bad he got because he would have a nice comp for Fiers and Estrada.

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  12. JSV says:

    I think Estrada is very interesting pitcher. His whiff rate is actually good. The rate of fastball, curveball, changeup is all above 10percent according to http://brooksbaseball.net/player_cards/player_card.php?player=462136
    But his pitch value of three pitches is minus according to fangraphs.

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  13. Ruki Motomiya says:

    Fiers. Estrada has stronger stuff but Fiers has better control, so if I had to choose one for the majors, I’d take the dude with more control and let Estrada wait out a season. IIRC Fiers also had a lower minor league walk rate.

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  14. Nice piece says:

    As an Estrada owner looking at his 0 Wins and 13 more HRs than Fiers in the same amount of innings 80.0 (80.2 for Estrada), I am wishing I had Fiers instead. On a more positive note, I love BOTH of their WHIPS.

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  15. SecondHandStore says:

    I’d go with Fiers. The Brewers are going to need a revamped bullpen to assuage fans’ fears after this year’s implosion there and Estrada has been good there before. Fiers has only infrequently pitched out of the pen so there’s no telling how he’d acclimate. Besides, barring a huge implosion of his own, Fiers has pitched too well for them to not give him a chance at a full season next year. The way I see it, he and Gallardo are probably the only 2 safe bets to start and that’s assuming Fiers pitches well to end out the season. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Marcum back, unless he’s offered a mult-year deal surpassing 2 years somewhere else and I have to wonder with his injury history if many clubs will be willing to do that. Still, there would be 2 open spots and Estrada may win one. Narveson may not be back right away so I could see them going with someone like Rogers or Peralta or Thornburg until Narveson is fully ready. I’d also not be surprised to see the Brewers acquire a SP from the free agent market. Should be a fun off season in Milwaukee.

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  16. oh Hal says:

    FIers has actually been pretty consistent throughout his career in the minors. He had a slow start in AAA and that is being read into an average leading to incorrect conclusions. Fiers also has had good command of all his pitches. Marco depends on a good curve and an excellent change which he sometimes loses the feel for. When he is forced to throw a lot of fastballs and without the command that Fiers have, hitters sit on them and they end up being launched.

    What’s the HR/flyball rate for fastballs in the middle of the plate with hitters looking fastball? Pretty high I’d guess.

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  17. MLB Rainmaker says:

    It doesn’t look like much needs to be said here, because the consensus seems to be Fiers, but to bring a few more points to light:

    – While Fiers is old by prospect standards he’s only in his 4th pro season to Estrada’s 8th. Fiers is pitching in line with his minors line 2.80 ERA, 1.018 WHIP, 9.6 K/9, 2.4 BB/9. Estrada is outperforming his minors line of 3.80, 1.324, 7.7, 3.0.

    – Fiers may not be on Keith Law’s list, but he was the Brewers minor league pitcher of the year last year. He was definitely on the organizations radar, if not prospect hounds

    – Before we go nuts over an 88 mph fastball, swing by Jared Weaver’s page and check his avg. velocity for a heater. Yup, 88.
    Watch Fiers delivery: http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=23711189&c_id=mlb&topic_id=vtp_jiffy_lube
    Now watch Weaver: http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=23687975&c_id=mlb&topic_id=vtp_jiffy_lube

    Both keep their front shoulder closed late into their delivery, hiding the ball behind their body, making it seem like its jumping out of their handing because the hitter picks it up so late.

    Yes, I’m saying Fiers can be Weaver good.

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  18. LionoftheSenate says:

    LOL, Cameron can’t make up his mind yet the evidence is overwhelming Fiers is the superior pick. Scouts and analysts alike systematically underrate command and control. Yes, all things being equal, you’d take the guy with more arm strength…..but that’s not the case here. Fiers has remarkable command and control, elite levels of both.

    Keep underrating this skill stat geeks and scouts alike.

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  19. kyle jones says:

    ok fiers all the way used to strike me out as kids with his nasty change up and he has a delivery out of this world that hides the ball right to release for right handed batters, and with the dead on curve, Hes sure win more games efficiently. I think if he keeps it up he can get the cy. dont underestimate his talent . hes still a rook with a big game! striking out the best!!

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  20. Danny says:

    I’d definitely take Fiers. I love the way he pitches.

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  21. jirish says:

    I like Fiers best because he isn’t just a thrower.

    I like Estrada too. I think the Brewers should be able to find room for both of them.

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