As it happens, we were at Doug Fister‘s major-league debut. By “we” I mean myself, Dave Cameron, and some hundreds of USS Mariner and Lookout Landing readers. We weren’t there specifically for Fister; we were there for a blog event and a game, and Fister just happened to pitch in it. He pitched after Sean White, who pitched after Garrett Olson, who pitched after Chris Jakubauskas, who pitched after Ian Snell. The Mariners did not win that game.
Fister’s debut drew a modest response, because it’s always cool to see a guy play for the first time, and because the Safeco PA system uttered the name “Doug Fister” for the first time. But nobody had attended in the hopes of seeing Doug Fister pitch, because Fister was generally considered a no-stuff non-prospect. He could conceivably fill out the back of a bullpen or serve as rotation depth, sure, maybe, but he wasn’t thought of as someone to get excited over. Fister debuted in August 2009. All these sentences bring us to this:
It’s been a weird ride.
Thursday afternoon, Fister started against the Royals, and through three and two-thirds he had one strikeout. Then he closed the fourth by striking out Salvador Perez. Then he struck out Mike Moustakas, Jeff Francoeur, Brayan Pena, Johnny Giavotella, David Lough, Alcides Escobar, Alex Gordon, and Billy Butler, all in a row. Fister then got to 0-and-2 against Perez, but Perez ultimately took an off-balance swing and bounced a weak grounder to short. The crowd at Comerica groaned before giving another standing ovation.
With eight consecutive strikeouts, Fister broke the Detroit Tigers’ all-time record, and he tied the American League’s all-time record. With nine consecutive strikeouts, Fister grabbed the AL’s all-time record all for himself. The MLB all-time record is ten consecutive strikeouts, done by Tom Seaver in this game in 1970, but the AL and the NL can be very different so it makes some sense to list separate records. No, Doug Fister didn’t match Tom Seaver, but consider that sentence now, and consider how close Fister came.
Coming into today, the Royals as a team had the lowest strikeout rate in baseball. The lineup, of course, was a little different from usual, and I’ve never actually heard of David Lough before in my life, but the point is, if you knew an AL starter was going to set a new consecutive strikeouts record on Thursday, you probably wouldn’t have guessed it would be Doug Fister against Kansas City. Because I know you’re wondering, yes, I have prepared .gifs of the final pitches of all nine strikeouts. Here are those .gifs and please extend my apologies to your hard drives.
You might notice the relative lack of swings and misses. Fister struck out ten batters on the afternoon, and he registered just seven swinging strikes. Over the course of his nine-strikeout streak, Fister registered just four swinging strikes. Fister was doing the job not by making batters miss, but by making batters confused, and this is just a big part of the Doug Fister game plan.
Doug Fister is a location-first starting pitcher, and all nine of those final pitches above were located on or just beyond some edge of the strike zone. Take my word for it, please, because I don’t feel like working up an image to prove it. Just watch the .gifs if that floats your boat. Among American League starting pitchers, Doug Fister actually has a slightly below-average contact rate. He has an above-average strikeout rate because he has an above-average ability to put the baseball where he wants to. Cliff Lee succeeds in a very similar way. In this post we just compared Doug Fister to Cliff Lee, and it made sense. Fister is near that level of effectiveness, not long after he was considered nothing but a number-five starter.
Of course, you don’t necessarily have to be an amazing starting pitcher to record a high number of consecutive strikeouts. It helps, but Aaron Harang recorded nine consecutive strikeouts. Ron Davis and Blake Stein recorded eight consecutive strikeouts. You’ll see Stein’s name in the screenshot near the top of this post and Stein was a Royals pitcher around the turn of the millennium. That says everything about Blake Stein that you need to know. But the story isn’t just about Fister’s new record — it’s about Fister’s incredible development. Thursday afternoon, Doug Fister struck out nine batters in a row. In 2009 and 2010, Fister never struck out more than six batters in a whole game. Doug Fister has blossomed into this borderline ace, and now he has this record to put on his resume. This record, on its own, is just a neat thing, but it’s also evidence of Doug Fister having ingested pure magic. It happened somewhere around the time Fister got traded from the Mariners to the Tigers. That sure was a neat trade for the Mariners.
Just over three years ago, I was watching Doug Fister debut in the majors with Dave Cameron, and neither of us really cared. Nobody really cared, outside of Fister’s assortment of loved ones and liked ones. Since joining the Tigers, Fister’s posted a lower xFIP than Justin Verlander, to go with a sub-3 ERA and a barely-3 FIP. On Thursday, Fister set a new all-time American League record for consecutive strikeouts. There might be somebody out there to whom baseball makes sense, but if there is, that person sure as hell isn’t writing about it.