Back in the halcyon days of 2009, the Detroit Tigers — endeavoring to protect their narrow lead in the AL Central — made a deadline deal for one of the Seattle Mariners’ top performing players, and so began the ill-fated Jarrod Washburn era in Motown.
Washburn’s performance after the move was Hobbesian: Nasty, brutish, and short. In his eight starts after the trade, everything went in the wrong direction: his BB/9, H/9, and HR/9 all rose sharply, while his K/9 dropped like a counterweight. While Washburn isn’t solely to blame for the Tigers’ poor finish, he didn’t help matters much.
Snap back to reality.
The Tigers’ lead was a bit larger when they added Doug Fister from Seattle this July, but the impetus was the same, and fortunately for Detroit, the result was the polar opposite. Fister’s work for the Mariners had been solid: 3.33 ERA, 1.17 WHIP, and a 2.78 K/BB ratio, but he has been downright unhittable since the move. His 0.91 WHIP since the All-Star break is the third lowest in baseball (min 50 IP) with the biggest difference coming in his walk rate.
His BB/9 of 2 with the Mariners was hardly bloated, but he’s been exceedingly stingy with the free passes since coming to the Tigers, having allowed just five walks in his 70.1 innings of work. His HR rate did tick upwards, but when he allows so few runners to reach base, they haven’t been particularly damaging. In fact, the four home runs he’s allowed with the Tigers have produced just five runs; of the 11 he’s allowed all year, nine have been solo home runs and the other two were just two-run home runs.
Just like Washburn wasn’t to blame for the ‘09 failure, Fister can’t take too much of the credit for the current team’s success — that credit lies as much with the rest of an atrocious AL Central as it does with the Tigers themselves — but there is certainly a correlation between Fister’s success and the team’s.
Justin Verlander will deservedly take the ball in Game One of the ALDS, matching up against CC Sabathia if current standings hold, which is a tough ask, even for the presumptive AL Cy Young award winner. Fister will get a much more favorable mound opponent, likely Ivan Nova, though it’s possible that Joe Girardi will give the ball to a veteran instead. In reality, it affects Fister very little, since he’ll be a better option than Nova, Bartolo Colon, A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, or anyone else Girardi has at his disposal.
For those in playoff leagues, Fister could be an excellent sleeper option in the middle or late rounds. The NL still boasts the best SP2 options in Cliff Lee and either Yovani Gallardo or Zack Greinke, but if the Phillies and Brewers end up paired in the NLDS, Fister may be a more reliable option to sneak out a win. The biggest weakness in Fister’s game is a relatively low strikeout rate, just 6.1 per nine this season. Objectively, it isn’t terribly low, but when the talent level is as high as it is in these playoffs, fine distinctions must be made.
While I’d still rather have a top starter like Verlander, Sabathia, or Halladay, targeting Fister as a secondary option could set up a great playoff draft.