For four months in 2011 Doug Fister was who we thought he was. Then, mysteriously, he was dealt to the Tigers and somehow he channeled his inner Greg Maddux. What pitcher should we be expecting in 2012 – the solid innings eater or the historically elite control artist we saw in Motown?
This 6’8”, lanky right-hander (he weighs 210 lbs) was a moderate option on the hill for his two and a half year run with the Mariners. Sure he posted a solid 3.81 ERA and 1.24 WHIP over his 378 innings, but he also went 12-30, allowed more hits than innings pitched (389) and struck out just 5.2 batters per nine innings (remember, the major league average is about seven per nine). So, how did this league average arm, over 60 games mind you (59 starts), suddenly morph into an elite hurler with the Tigers?
I don’t put much stock in W-L records, you all know that by now, but Fister did go 8-1 in his 11 games with the Tigers. Brushing that aside, what about his performance on the hill? Fister posted a 1.79 ERA and 0.84 WHIP for the Tigers. Uh, yeah, not sustainable, but you already knew that. Even the most optimistic of prognosticators would probably say that a 2.83 ERA and 1.03 WHIP are wildly out of control expectations for Fister, and those numbers are his year long totals from 2011. Hopefully you come to BaseballGuys regularly and I don’t have to say anything more than this – there is no way that Fister remotely approaches those ratios in 2012, it just isn’t going to happen.
So how did Fister have all that success with the Tigers?
First off, the competition wasn’t exactly elite. In his 11 appearances with the Tigers he faced the Orioles once, the Rays once, the Athletics once and the Indians four times. Those teams weren’t exactly offensive powerhouses.
Second, Fister didn’t allow many long balls dropping his already impressive career HR/9 rate of 0.7 down to 0.5. Fister generates a good deal of ground balls, 46.5 percent for his career, but he’s also been aided in keeping the ball in the yard by favorable home pitching environments (don’t forget that the porous infield defense the team figures to run out there this season could also hurt Fister). Last season Comerica Park was completely neutral in terms of the long ball with a Park Indices mark of 100 (the number 100 signifies that the park was exactly neutral not favoring either the hitter or the pitcher) which doesn’t explain why he was so fortunate in the HR/9 column. A regression is coming perhaps?
Third, Fister pushed his poor 5.5 K/9 mark with the Mariners, which was an exact match for his career rate, up to 7.3 with the Tigers. It’s pretty darn rare that any hurler is able to add two batters to his K/9 mark, especially when we have nearly 400 innings at the lower rate. I’m not saying that Fister won’t be able to hold on to some of that in 2012, but the smart money would certainly be on that mark dipping back down into the six’s if not the five’s.
Fourth, and this is the most remarkable part of his 2011 work, he simply didn’t walk anyone with the Tigers. A career 1.9 BB/9 arm with the Mariners – an excellent mark given that the big league average is about 3.1 – Fister dropped that mark to 0.6 per nine as he walked a total of five batters in 70.1 innings. Remember when I mentioned Greg Maddux earlier? Widely regarded as one of the best pitchers of all-time (mostly for his pinpoint control), Maddux had a 1.8 BB/9 mark for his career an only once did he ever post a BB/9 mark under 1.0 (it was 0.8 in 1997). Simply put, Fister has as much chance of repeating that number over a full season as I do of convincing you all that I know exactly how many base hits that Brandon Inge will rack up this year.
Fifth, I’m all about K/BB ratios and how important they are (see my recent work on SWIP), but come on now. Fister’s 11.40 mark was, get this, four times greater than his career mark of 2.76. Speaking of SWIP, even with all of Fister’s success at keeping the free passes completely removed from his game, his SWIP mark of 0.50 was barely better than the league average of 0.45.
The bottom line with Fister is this. He was out of his mind locked in the final two months of 2011. He has no chance to produce at that level over 30 starts in 2012. None. Could he match his season long totals from last season? It’s certainly possible. Still, a 6.07 K/9 mark is nothing to get excited about in the fantasy game (his 2011 season long total). Second, his xFIP says he was a 3.61 ERA arm last season, not the 2.83 mark his raw ERA suggested. Third, his BABIP was down .030 points from 2010 despite the fact that he gave up more line drives than at any point in his three year career (the 20.4 line drive was a bit above the big league average of 19-20 percent while his BABIP was below the big league average of about .300). Those two factors don’t point to him holding batters to a .237 batting average yet again (don’t forget that Fister could also be handicapped by what figures to be a less than average group of defenders in the infield).
Fister is a solid reserve round add but he unlikely to match the overall totals he posted last season with no chance at all of continuing the elite level production he offered as a Tiger in 2011.
By Ray Flowers