Doug Fister Heads to Nation’s Capital

A month ago, the Nationals acquired Doug Fister in a bizarre trade that only required the team to give up a decent starting pitcher prospect, a middle reliever and a utility infielder. Aside from making Nationals fans happy that a solid starter has been added to their rotation, fantasy players get to look forward to a starting pitcher making the move to the National League, which is usually beneficial. Fister ranked as just the 57th most valuable starting pitcher this year, but a move to the other league could boost his draft stock.

Let’s begin by comparing the various park factors for both Comerica Park and Nationals Park:

Team Basic 1B 2B 3B HR SO BB GB FB LD IFFB
Tigers 102 101 100 117 99 96 99 101 104 97 105
Nationals 100 102 101 95 99 97 96 101 101 101 100

It might be surprising to some, but Comerica Park has been slightly hitter-friendly over the past couple of years. Nationals Park, on the other hand, is exactly neutral. The biggest boost Comerica gives to hitters is from its triples factor. In 2013, it was the fourth best park for three-baggers. Most of the other factors are fairly similar, though Comerica inflates fly balls and pop-ups, while suppressing line drives. That probably results in a slightly less attractive batted ball mix effect at Nationals Park, but it should be rather insignificant.

More importantly is Fister’s move from the American League to the National League. Here are the average starting pitcher’s relevant skills in each league:

AL 18.8% 7.5% 0.298 11.2% 72.6% 4.15
NL 19.0% 7.4% 0.292 10.4% 72.6% 3.86

Rather than rehash what I said about the league switch back when I discussed Roberto Hernandez‘s move to Philly, I will quote myself:

We have grown accustomed to expecting a strikeout rate surge when a pitcher heads to the National League. But surprisingly, the two leagues shared nearly identical rates this year. Of course, the pitchers in each league are different and so we aren’t exactly comparing apples to apples. Perhaps the National League just doesn’t have the strikeout artists the American League has. So even though the data suggests the league average is the same, you still have to assume that all else being equal, [Fister] should enjoy a strikeout rate jump. Walk rates have always been about the same, so there should be limited movement there from the league switch.

Despite similar skills from each leagues’ pitchers, the National League held a nearly 0.30 run advantage over the American League. The reason could be explained quite easily by looking at two of the three luck metrics. National League pitchers allowed a lower BABIP and HR/FB ratio, both of which are probably due to pitchers batting, a group that is obviously going to reduce the averages of both metrics.

So Fister should enjoy a slightly positive effect from the park switch and an even greater positive effect from the move to the National League. His BABIP, HR/FB rate and strikeout rate should all improve, all else being equal.

And boy will he appreciate a BABIP improvement, as his .332 mark was easily the highest of his career and ranked as the third highest among all qualified starters. Besides the AL to NL BABIP boost, he should also receive better defensive support from his new group of fielders.

While the move to Washington is all candy canes and unicorns, one performance concern involves his walk rate. His F-Strike% hit a career low, his percentage of strikes thrown did so as well, and his xBB% reached a career high. It’s hard enough to sustain walk rates as low as he has, so my money is on a bit of a rise this year if his strike-throwing ability trend isn’t turned around.

In addition, he will most certainly receive less run support than he did in Detroit. Wins are obviously extremely difficult to predict, but his chances of repeating his 14 win total were seemingly better with the Tigers, even if they came with higher ratios.

Coming off his highest ERA in three seasons and the worst WHIP of his career, Fister has a chance to be a bit undervalued. Although most savvy fantasy owners will rightfully give his value a nudge due to the move to the National League, he still may very well be a profitable investment.

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Mike Podhorzer produces player projections using his own forecasting system and is the author of the eBook Projecting X: How to Forecast Baseball Player Performance, which teaches you how to project players yourself. His projections helped him win the inaugural 2013 Tout Wars mixed draft league. He also sells beautiful photos through his online gallery, Pod's Pics. Follow Mike on Twitter @MikePodhorzer and contact him via email.

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