By this point in his career, it’s been pretty well-established that Doug Fister is an above-average starting pitcher in Major League Baseball. He’s compiled a 3.16 ERA (129 ERA+) over 432.2 innings the past three seasons, and since his trade to Detroit, he has proven his sudden transformation in early 2011 was not just a outgrowth of pitching in cavernous Safeco Field.
Fister is valuable in all fantasy formats because he provides above-average rate statistics (ERA and WHIP) and pitches for one of the best offenses in all of baseball, which should allow him to accumulate plenty of wins. And although his strikeout rate is below-average, it’s not so far below-average that owners are sacrificing one category for the benefit elsewhere.
With that said, owners seeking to upgrade a beleaguered fantasy rotation would be wise to target the 29-year-old right-hander in coming weeks. He already has solid numbers this season, as evidenced by his 3.62 ERA and 4.78 strikeout-to-walk ratio. His fantasy numbers, however, are lagging behind his actual performance. Fantasy owners can realistically expect improved performance from Fister throughout the rest of the season, which means he could be a legitimate value-buy right now.
This is not just about highlighting the discrepancy between his 3.62 ERA and 2.74 FIP (3.25 SIERA). That gap certainly serves as an indication that he’s pitched better than his results may otherwise suggest, but more importantly, it appears Doug Fister has altered his approach on the mound. The change could continue to drive his FIP and SIERA (and eventually his ERA) lower than ever before in his professional career.
Removing Jaime Garcia from the mix because he recently landed on the DL with a season-ending shoulder injury, Fister owns the highest ground-ball percentage in baseball among qualified starters.
It’s the highest ground-ball percentage of Fister’s career by almost six percent. Something has obviously changed in his arsenal. It’s not that he’s throwing more two-seam fastballs than four-seam fastballs. He did that last year, too, which is why he generated more ground balls in 2012 than in previous years. The increased ground-ball percentage seems to be tied to a heavier reliance on his changeup in lieu of his slider.
Focusing on the last three seasons, there’s a stark difference in his approach this year.
With so many more changeups, the increase in ground balls should be expected. We already know changeups induce more ground balls than sliders, so Fister should continue to force opposing hitters to beat the baseball into the ground more than ever before if he maintains his current pitch mix.
The best part of Fister’s increased ground-ball percentage is the fact that he’s not sacrificing much in terms of his strikeout rate. He’s seen his strikeout rate drop slightly from 7.63 K/9 in 2012 to 7.08 K/9 in 2013, but that’s not a dramatic drop-off. Furthermore, his swinging-strike rate has remained relatively consistent (8.0% to 7.4%, respectively) and his contact rate has only increased 0.8% this year.
In many ways, Fister is the same pitcher. His strikeout and walk rates closely mirror his numbers from a year ago, except he’s mixed in a greater number of ground balls due to throwing more changeups and foregoing the slider. If his BABIP regresses a bit from it’s current .335 to somewhere around his career-average of .291, his already better-than-average ERA and WHIP will improve.
Fantasy owners who are looking for improved starting pitching would be wise to test the waters on Doug Fister. He won’t be in the clearance section, but he should see his value appreciate throughout the remainder of the season. Owners may want to get in on the ground floor.
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