Fister’s Flummoxing Fastball

Another eight solid innings for Doug Fister last night brings him up to 55 pitched in just eight starts in 2010. With his ERA still under 2, but his xFIP (4.23) essentially matching his xFIP from a year ago (4.50), I wanted to dig into his pitch numbers to see if there is anything substantially different in his process this season.

The reason for the low ERA is easy to souse out. Fister’s BABIP is just .231, his home run per fly ball stands at 1.8% and his LOB% is 79.1%. The first two are obviously unsustainable and the LOB% might be realistic if he struck out a batter per inning, but given that he’s at less than half that rate, I wouldn’t bank on it holding up. Granted, Fister has allowed fewer line drives this season so his lower BABIP is not entirely a result of great defense, but it’s far too early to call that a repeatable skill.

Doug Fister has almost an identical strikeout to walk ratio this year (2.5) as last year (2.4), but only because both strikeouts and walks have declined by a nearly equal percentage. The main change is an 11-point increase in his ground ball rate. That is a significant leap and worth finding out the cause for.

I created a table of all of Doug Fister’s pitches from each of 2009 and 2010 and compared how each pitch has generated swinging strikes (to predict strikeouts), balls (to predict walks) and ground balls (to predict home runs). The conclusion I can draw is that Fister is somehow getting far more ground balls from his primary fastball in 2010 (49%) than he did previously (26%). Doing so has allowed him to throw it much more often and he has thrown his fastball nearly 80% of the time in 2010 from 61% in 2009.

I can only find that as a clear difference. Fister is missing fewer bats, but that is to be expected when he throws fewer breaking pitches and more fastballs. Ditto for issuing fewer walks. Fister appears to have added some deception to his delivery that has increased his ability to get batters to take fastball for strikes and hit more of them on the ground when they do swing.

What change that is and whether it actually exists rather than a statistical sample issue is the purview of scouts. I cannot tell if Doug Fister is a different pitcher this season, but his numbers so far do exhibit some suggestive trends.

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

16 Responses to “Fister’s Flummoxing Fastball”

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  1. OzzieGuillen says:

    Are there any precedents in terms of pitchers sustaining this low a K rate and an ERA below 3.00 for a full season since 2000? Off hand, I can’t think of anyone who stands out.

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  2. Cidron says:

    Yeah. but, not since 2000 that i can recall. Early ’90’s, StLouis pitcher Bob Tewksbury was doing that.

    ’90 – 145.1 innings / 50K
    ’91 – 191.0 / 75
    ’92 – 233.0 / 91 — Allstar – Third in Cy Young
    ’93 – 213.2 / 97
    ’94 – 155.2 / 79

    Can it be done, sure.. Sustained.. Sure.. why not. Odd, also yes.

    ps, Fister needs a nickname.

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  3. I thought that maybe since Fister throws a lot of strikes and the majority of balls put into play are probably when he is ahead in the count, he could induce weak, defensive swings from hitters, which would lead to a lower BABIP. This is something I’ve thought about with Fister, but it would obviously apply to other pitchers with similar skill sets. I looked through some Fangraphs data and didn’t find any sort of correlation between ball% and BABIP, so I don’t know if this has much merit. Also, I figure the lower league average BABIP in pitchers’ counts (.279 average BABIP on 0-2 in 2009) is because of the nastier off-speed pitches that hitters will often see when behind in the count; Fister seems to work mainly with fastballs, so there wouldn’t necessarily be as much difference as with other pitchers that utilize more breaking pitches.

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  4. Chris Miller says:

    Doug Fister gets pretty good movement on his pitches, and with his control, it makes sense he could do what he’s doing. Dave Cameron’s Silva comp is a good one. Both pitchers pound the bottom of the zone with above average movement, occasionally mixing in other pitches to keep the hitters off guard. If the defense does magic and flyballs don’t clear, you look like a super star, if the defense sucks and the flyballs do clear, watch out. Either one can easily go through stretches on both ends of the ERA leaderboards.

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    • joser says:

      But, as you might suspect, he goes through stretches when that control vanishes and he does things like load the bases and then walk in a run through a HBP, as he did with the Jays the other night. So far he’s been able to escape those wild innings without much damage, but he’s going to get tagged badly one of these days.

      He’s also a huge guy with lots of moving parts in his delivery (like Randy Johnson), and I worry that if he sits for an extended period because of an injury it may take him quite a while to get his control back. Heck, if he takes much time off in the off-season he may forget how to pitch.

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  5. radiohix says:

    You wrote “I created a table ……. and ground balls (to predict home runs)”
    I guess you meant fly balls (to predict home runs) or am I getting it wrong?

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  6. Jeff K says:

    Dave Cameron did a post on USS Mariner several weeks ago that reached the same conclusion: Fister is getting more grounballs by throwing more fastsballs. I’m not accusing you of cheating, by I’m watching more closely now.

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  7. Daven says:

    I seem to remember them saying in spring training they were working on having him come over the top more, thus putting a little better downward angle on his pitches; they thought it would really help him as he’s so tall and is capable of getting a much greater angle than most pitchers if he does that.

    If that actually happened (and it wasn’t just spring training media flem), then I could see that accounting for his higher ground ball rate this year.

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