Sunday, November 16, 2014

Doug Fisters' 2014

Doug Fister came over to the Nationals last offseason in a trade with the Tigers that looks like more of a steal every day. Working his way up to the #3 starter on the Tigers, Fister made the switch to the NL and put up ace type numbers in 2014 for the Nationals, even gaining some Cy Young votes. 

Taking a look at Fister’s peripheral stats paints an interesting picture. Fister has always been a pitch to contact guy, relying on the movement of his 88 MPH fastball to induce weak contact and the numbers bear that out. He put up only a 6.1% swinging strike rate compared to the MLB average 9.4%. That means his contact rate of nearly 87% is much higher than the league average of 79.4%. The pitch to contact approach was effective, though, as he allowed a career low 16.9% line drive rate, meaning hitters were having a hard time squaring up the ball off of Fister. He’s another fastball slider combo pitcher as he dropped his curveball usage down to only 8.8% in 2014, having thrown the deuce around 20% of the time the last few years. Unlike Zimmermann, this pitch combo doesn’t worry me as much as Fister has the ability to cut his fastball in seemingly any direction which should limit the platoon splits that might plague Zimmermann down the road.

Fister’s pitch to contact approach does have its downside, though. He had a strike out per nine innings average of only 5.38 versus the league average 7.73, although he countered that with a miniscule 1.32 BB per nine innings. Interestingly, Fister gave up a career high HR/9 rate of .99 (excluding his cup of coffee with the Mariners in 2009), which is close to league average but much higher than he’s allowed in the past. Fister’s ERA was aided by a career low BABIP of .262, way off the pace of his career average, which is closer to .300. Probably the most disturbing number for Fister in 2014 was this LOB% (Left On Base) of 83.1%. This means that when runners got on against Fister, they were stranded 83.1% of the time. While that is obviously good, this is something that is nearly impossible for pitchers to control. LOB% doesn’t correlate well year to year, and intuitively it makes sense that pitchers can’t all of a sudden up their game when someone reaches base. If they could, why would they have let that batter on base in the first place? The average LOB% hangs around 70% and in 2014 the league put up a 73% LOB rate, so it’s safe to predict Fister to regress back to that average. 

So, to recap what Fister’s 2014 can tell us for 2015: We would expect Fister to give up a few more hits as his BABIP luck regresses back to average. More of the runners will score as it is unlikely he can keep stranding runners on base at the same impressive rate he put up in 2014. On the other hand, Fister will probably allow fewer homeruns. The final positive note for Fister is he hasn’t lost anything on his fastball going into his age 31 season. So while there will be some negative regression for Fister (strand rate, BABIP), that seems to be almost equally offset by the positive regression (HR/9). I would predict a bump in Fister’s ERA, but nothing drastic enough to knock him out of the upper tier of starting pitchers.

The Nationals’ Decision

Fister is another player that is going to require a decision on the part of Mike Rizzo and the Nationals’ front office. Fister is a cheap commodity for 2014 as he is still in his arbitration years, but he becomes a free agent after the 2015 season. One positive for the Nats is that Fister doesn’t possess the qualities that are highly valued by the current baseball market. He doesn’t put up huge strike out numbers and he doesn’t have a blazing fastball or wipe out off speed pitch. If the Nationals are really looking to cut payroll, trading Zimmermann to help restock the minor leagues and using that savings to lock up Fister long term makes a ton of sense. You can probably get away with giving Fister fewer years than Zimmermann is demanding, and it doesn’t look like Fister is headed for a drop off anytime soon.

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