The (maybe) ‘new’ Marco Estrada

Friday night, Toronto’s Marco Estrada gave up just one hit in seven-plus innings against the Orioles.

Wednesday afternoon, Estrada carried a perfect game into the eighth inning against the Rays.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Estrada’s the first pitcher to take a no-hitter into the eighth inning in consecutive starts since Dave Stieb, in 1988.

Pretty heady stuff for the 31-year-old who entered this season with 23 career victories in the major leagues!

Of course, most of that career came with the Brewers; last winter they traded Estrada to the Blue Jays for Adam Lind. Maybe the Jays saw something in Estrada? Maybe he picked up something from Mark Buehrle? Or Bobby Dickey?

Okay, probably not Dickey. But baseball players do change, do make adjustments, even in their 30s.

So has Estrada become a different, significantly better pitcher this season?

Qualitatively, he doesn’t seem to have changed much. He’s still throwing his fastball right around 90, and he’s throwing his curveball and his change-up — that’s been his best pitch for a few seasons now, by the way — almost exactly as often as he’s thrown them in recent seasons. If you believe the pitch categorizations, he has replaced some fastballs with cutters this season. But not exceptionally so.

Quantitatively, there’s really been no difference. Aside from these last couple of starts, of course. In fact, his ERA this season is just slightly lower than his career mark, his xFIP slightly higher.

The biggest difference this season for Estrada? Last season he led the National League by allowing 29 home runs, in 151 innings. This season he’s surrendered only eight home runs in about 72 innings. Estrada’s ERA last season wasn’t a fair representation of his actual skills; his ERA’s this season and in 2011 and ’12 and ’13 have been fair.

Marco Estrada is a decent major-league starter, with some real value when he’s healthy enough to chew up some innings.

Two straight excellent outings don’t mean he’s a different pitcher. Let alone Dave Stieb.