Fister’s Unexpected Great Season

With their backs against the wall, the New York Yankees clobbered the baseball around the diamond for a 10-1 victory and tied up the ALDS with the Detroit Tigers at two games apiece.

The two teams will now head back east to New York for a decisive Game 5. New York will trot out young Ivan Nova, while Detroit counters with right-hander Doug Fister. It will be a rematch of Game 1, in which Fister surrendered six earned runs in 4.2 innings and, ultimately, took the loss. Given that Fister’s dominating second half with the Tigers was so surprising, it’s natural to think that perhaps he was exposed by having to face a good line-up, and that the Tigers are in trouble asking him to try and get the Yankees out again.

After all, it’s become fashionable to point out that Fister didn’t exactly have the hardest road after Detroit picked him up from Seattle in July. This criticism is based in fact – his opponents in August and September, chronologically:

Texas, Cleveland, Baltimore, Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Kansas City, Cleveland, Minnesota, Oakland, Kansas City, Cleveland

Murderer’s row, that is not. And, if you’re looking for an explanation of how a good-but-not-great starter pitched like the Roy Halladay for two months, strength of opponents is a pretty good disclaimer. However, it’s not like Fister was chump change before the trade to Detroit, and it’s not like he’s never faced a good line-up before.

In fact, his last start as a Mariner was against these very same Yankees on July 26th. He went 7 innings, allowed 7 hits, 3 runs, walked 1, and struck out 5. He held opposing Yankee hitters to a .259/.286/.370 mark in that start. He also made two starts against the Rangers this year, and they managed to hit just .250/.262/.339 against him this year.

If we expand our search back to 2010, we find that Fister didn’t face the Yankees last year, but he did draw three starts against the Red Sox, who essentially tied NY for the best offense in baseball a year ago. His 4.34 ERA against them might not seem that hot, but in reality, he held a terrific Boston offense to a .253/.282/.360 mark, and it wasn’t just luck – he walked just three batters in those three starts and racked up 12 strikeouts.

It’s no doubt true that Fister dominated some weak line-ups in the second half of the season, but he’s also done good work against good offenses in the past several years, and we can’t ignore the very real improvements he has made this season. Even with a regression in his HR/FB rate, his 3.61 xFIP on the season puts him squarely between Josh Beckett and Jon Lester on the leaderboard, and I don’t think too many people would be suggesting the Tigers were in trouble if they had either of them on the mound for Game 5.

The Yankees have a good offense, but Doug Fister is a good pitcher, and he’ll give the Tigers a legitimate chance at winning tomorrow night. Don’t let preconceived notions about a guy with a 90 MPH fastball and skepticism about his second half opponents distract you from the fact that Fister has been getting good Major League hitters out for years.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

15 Responses to “Fister’s Unexpected Great Season”

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  1. MonteroSmash says:

    You mean tomorrow night?

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  2. Josh says:

    When you say “getting good Major League hitters out for years,” you mean this year and (sort of) last year, right? His xFIP last year was 4.10, and he only pitched 61 innings the year before that. So he was alright last year, and very good this year. So you’re last sentence is a bit hyperbolic.

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    • Shawn Coleman says:

      Still, though, the point should be noted that Fister has a very good idea of how to pitch to weak contact and getting outs without the benefit of dominant pure “stuff”. That trait he has displayed for years.

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      • Pitnick says:

        Well, his BABIP last year was around league average at .302, so he wasn’t displaying any ability to pitch to weak contact then. His low walk rates have more to do with his success.

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  3. Ben says:

    Who knows what he will do tomorrow? Playoffs are completely random and unpredictable anyway. You can’t predict what’s going to happen based on stats or regular season performances. It’s only one game, and anything can happen in one game. That’s the playoffs.

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    • joser says:

      Not exactly. A pair of (fair) dice are completely random, but not entirely unpredictable. On the next roll, you know you have a much better chance of seeing a seven than snake eyes. Of course the more unlikely outcomes are possible, but they’re not entirely unpredictable either. We tend to remember the crazy, unlikely outcomes while the more predictable ones fade into the background. And then, with those distorted memories, we tell ourselves that the results are always completely random and unpredictable.

      So sure, anything can happen; but what often happens is what is in line with past results. But that just doesn’t make for a memorable story.

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    • JDA says:

      yeah, who knows anything about anything?

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    • Joe Buck says:

      Great analysis

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  4. JG says:

    Minnesota and Oakland are the only teams he faced after coming to Detroit that weren’t essentially average (lowest team wRC+ was 96) or better. Fister is no cupcake.

    Meanwhile, Nova isn’t really any better than Rick Porcello according to peripherals.

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  5. fister gently says:

    his 2 seamer has soooo much movement

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  6. Travis says:

    Fister? I barely knew ‘er!

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  7. SOT says:

    Two words: EE Effect

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  8. stjz says:

    Had a huge suspicion that being out of Safeco Field Doug Fister was going to turn into pumpkin just as Jarrod Washburn did (familiar scenario, isn’t it?). Well, who could have known.

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  9. CircleChange11 says:

    Fister represents, IMO, a pitching approach change in the post-steroid era. Walks and homers are down.

    We talk a lot about market inefficiencies, but pitchers like Fister may very well be it. Brandon McCarthy. High control 2-seamer guys that pound the zone and avoid the longball.

    Perhaps even the Jason vargas’s of the world. 2-4 WAR guys that can be had for cheap because they aren’t high K guys.

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