In late-May, I picked up Milwaukee Brewer starter Marco Estrada in a desperate attempt to bolster my struggling fantasy rotation. Estrada had a less-than-awe-inspiring major league resume, bouncing around with the Nationals and not making many waves in several cups of coffee in the bigs. I was looking for anything that could help, and I told myself that if he looked like waiver wire dreck, walked liked waiver wire dreck, and quacked like waiver wire dreck, then yes, he was probably waiver wire dreck. Still, his early-season K:BB ratio was surprisingly good, he'd been decent in some spot starts in 2011, and as I had mentioned, I was relying on the broken remains of Randy Wolf, for goodness sakes.
So I plugged Estrada in to my rotation for a start against the Giants and what happened? In his first start on my team, he was staked to a five-run first inning lead, then wrecked his knee running the bases that same inning and had to leave the game. The next day, he was on the disabled list, and back on the free agent dreck line in my league. So much for my dreams of nabbing a super-sleeper.
If I had shown any patience, though, and stuck with Estrada through his DL stint, I would have been rewarded with a surprisingly solid fantasy starter. Through Tuesday, Estrada is the owner of a terrific 4.75 K:BB ratio in 107.2 innings. As a starter, that improves to 5.20. He has struck out 114 batters this year and has had three starts where he has struck out at least ten. That's pretty danged good for a guy who was a complete no-name just barely hanging on to a major league roster spot coming into 2012.
So for the price of a quick waiver claim, you have the opportunity to snatch a pitcher who should help you in strikeouts and WHIP, at the very least. He's been getting stronger as the year has gone on, as well, so it's not like his numbers are just some small sample, first half fluke or something. His win-loss record is unspectacular, but won-loss record is inherently unpredictable and pretty much totally out of a pitcher's control. Estrada could easily rip out four straight wins down the stretch, especially since he has Ryan Braun hitting in support of him.
Ah, but with the exceptional peripherals come some caveats. Despite the superb K:BB ratio, Estrada's ERA has hovered around the 4.00 mark all season. You can blame this on two culprits in particular: home runs and crappy defense. Estrada has surrendered a brutal seventeen homers in 107.2 innings, and he's also been the victim of some truly crummy defense behind him (Milwaukee has the second-worst team defensive efficiency rating in the majors, according to Baseball Prospectus). His xFIP, naturally, is about 40 points lower than his actual ERA. Since xFIP isn't a fantasy stat (er, yet?), those who own Estrada are just going to have to live with the range-less Aramis Ramirez and Ryan Braun for the foreseeable future. There's also a fear that, as a fastball/changeup type, it's only a matter of time before he's exposed as a Dave Bush-like fluke.
Still, if you're in a heated battle for the fantasy title, and you find yourself in need of pitching, don't be afraid to snap up Estrada. He'll get you those strikeouts, and he has some favorable matchups against teams like the Pirates and Mets on the horizon. I'm not sure he has a whole lot of upside, since he's already 28, but he's a sneaky stretch drive pick up for managers who need a lift in their starting rotation.