Thursday, October 6, 2011

Doug Fister.....Ace?

When Doug Fister first came over from the Tigers for a package of Casper Wells, Charlie Furbush, Chance Ruffin and Francisco Martinez, it seemed at first glance that the Tigers may have paid a lot for a ground ball pitcher who could not strike anybody out and relied heavily on his home ball park for success. That recipe seemed dicey at best for the success of Doug Fister going forward as a member of the Tigers.

During the first couple of games that Doug Fister pitched for the Tigers, I was both surprised and encouraged by how effective Fister’s arsenal seemed to be. Fister features a both four seam fastball and a two seam fastball which he throws nearly as often and at virtually the same average velocity of 90 mph. The two seamer features a few additional inches of down and in run to right handers as opposed to his normal four seam fastball. The identical speed but different trajectories make things very difficult on opposing hitters. Furthermore, Fister features a range of off speed pitches including a very nice slow curve ball with 12-6 break at around 75 mph, a harder slider at around 86 mph with only moderate break, and a change up at around 83 mph with similar but slightly more downward movement as compared with his two seamer.

This vast arsenal is actually slightly different from years past. First, Fister’s fastball velocity has improved by over 1 mph from last year on average and his two seamer velocity has improved by almost 2 mph from last year. Further his change-up, slider and curve have also seen noticeable upticks in velocity as well. Second, Fister throws his four seam fastball only 1/3 of the time as compared with almost 2/3 the year before. Fister uses his curve ball and slider upwards of 5% more often and he features his two seam fastball 25% of the time.

These changes have resulted in tangible improvements in Fister’s game from the 2010 season. While Fister’s ground ball rate remained a robust 47%, he did manage to lower his HR/FB from an already low 6.4% to 5.1%. Meanwhile his K% has risen to 16.7% (SO/TBF) up from 12.9% last year while his BB% has gone down to 4.2% (BB/TBF) from 4.4%. Fister proved himself a decent pitcher last year but his numbers this season have propelled his FIP into the top 5 in the AL.

Of particular note, as a member of the Tigers, Fister has racked up a 20.6% K% in 301 total batters faced. His BB% over the same period was 1.9%. While the 301 TBF is really not enough batters to make any conclusions about his BB%, it is enough to conclude that his new mixture of pitches and enhanced pitching arsenal may be resulting in significantly more strike outs! To be clear, 301 TBF is a point for strike outs where it becomes more likely that Fister had a change in his skills rather than a period of luck. The same cannot be said of BB% but the K% itself is very encouraging.

A 20% K% would put Fister in the same company as pitchers like Dan Haren, Max Scherzer and Colby Lewis. While I do not necessarily think he will keep up a pace THAT high, the stats suggest it is at least more likely than not. Further, it is worth noting that his Tigers K% of 20% and his long run BB% of 4.2% is extremely similar to Dan Haren, one of the best pitchers in the game (not to mention Fister has a superior GB rate and HR/FB rate).

While I am not prepared to say that Fister has elevated himself to the level of Dan Haren, I do think I can comfortably say that Fister is a much better pitcher than the casual fan, Tigers fans, and even the Tigers themselves thought they were getting when they made that trade.

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