Targeting Doug Fister On The Trade Market

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.

Player Team GB%
Doug Fister Tigers 56.7%
Trevor Cahill Diamondbacks 56.4%
Jason Marquis Padres 56.0%
A.J. Burnett Pirates 55.8%
Jon Niese Mets 55.1%

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.

Year SL% CH%
2011 17.2% 10.7%
2012 14.0% 13.1%
2013 8.7% 18.2%

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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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).

31 Responses to “Targeting Doug Fister On The Trade Market”

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  1. SerMonty says:

    Good post. It’s worth pointing out that ground balls might not start turning into outs at an improved rate going forward – the Tigers infield is completely sucky at catching baseballs.

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    • Ben says:

      Agreed, I can’t believe this wasn’t brought up at all in the article. Ground balls are only good if the people you can field them (which the Tigers infield isn’t very good at)

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  2. Kip says:

    Happy Friday. Was offered Verlander for my D. Wright in a 12 team redraft 5×5. My everyday 3B would then be Matt Carpenter. I am currently doing well but could def use an ace. Am I crazy for being so split? Thoughts anyone? Much appreciated.

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    • Fedee_ says:

      You asked this question already in another article. Keep Wright

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      • Kip says:

        I know, and I apologized on other article for asking twice. Thank you for your input – while it sure is tempting, I am going to stick with what I have.

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    • Pdiddy31 says:

      So the point of even asking is what exactly? But we all appreciate the trade question that has nothing to do with the article.

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    • Joe says:

      Yeah! Conflicting articles have me conflicted. (I’m a Fister owner.)

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      • Sgt Hulka says:

        Yes, me too. I was going to try and shop him around. Could the shift away from sliders be an injury concern?

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      • dude says:

        A lot of this depends on what you have, and what you are giving up.

        In dynasty leagues, you should consider selling. He isn’t that young, so we can’t assume his peak will last all that much longer. Plus you have to worry about him losing trade value with injury/decline in performance.

        In any limited keeper/re-draft league, I think Fister is safe to hang on to or trade for this season.

        He shouldn’t cost you that much, considering his numbers don’t jump off the page, and depending on the league, he should be a valued as number 3 fantasy starter, which basically puts him in the top 30-40. That’s off the top of my head, however.

        It feels like some people see Fister as a 4, or maybe even a 5 fantasy starter, but he has been better than that when healthy…which means you may have the chance to buy him at a nice price…though selling may be tougher.

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    • dude says:

      My mistake. I mean his peak probably won’t last much longer, considering his age. I believe he is turning 30 next season. It is usually better to sell a year early, than to be a year too late.

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    • IDrago says:

      This *really* should have been addressed in the article.

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  3. l1ay says:

    It’s gonna take a miracle for a pitcher with GB rates like that to have a sub-.300 BABIP with that fat infield.

    See: Rick Porcello

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    • KalinesGhost says:

      LOL, Porcello? Are you kidding? He could have Brooks Robinson, Ozzie Smith, Robbie Alomar and Keith Hernandez behind him and he’d still be a terrible pitcher.

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    • Big Daddy V says:

      Strange that you say that, considering Fister just did it last year.

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      • l1ay says:

        I guess a 10% increase in GB% and 20% decrease in FB% will have no effect on a BABIP that just barely made it under .300 in the first place, will it?

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  4. der says:

    guy in my league is shopping him, trying to decide if I’d rather have Fister or Beachy. Any thoughts?

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  5. JoshO says:

    Dynasty league question:

    14 team points league. Was offered his Hamels ($13, 2 years) for my Segura ($1, 5 years). Along with the offer, he said he would be willing to continue paying Hamels’ contract and I will Segura’s. So neither of our budgets will change. And I have Jimmy Rollins as a backup. I should accept right?

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  6. kellemonster says:

    I’m not so certain. Look at his plate discipline stats. His F-Stk% is down from last year and so is his Zone%. I don’t really buy the walk rate decline because of those two. So even if his BABIP goes down, his BB% will go up.

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  7. CozySlik says:

    I traded him and Kevin Gregg for Starling Marte in a 12 team league about a week ago. I like Fister a lot, but already had Verlander, Hamels, and Cain (and a conversely horrendous offense), so Fister was expendable at the same time as I was dying for a semi-exciting bat. Hoping Marte keeps up some of his early momentum

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  8. Mel says:

    I traded him and Yadi Molina for Posey and V Mart (standard yahoo roto, 1C). we’ll see how it shakes out but he looks weird this year.

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  9. Clint says:

    I am a Fister owner. No one is going to pay anything for this guy. Though I thank you for this article.

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  10. Mister says:

    What do you think about trading R.A. Dickey for Fister? AL-only league, and I’m in first in strikeouts right now but looking for improvement in the rate stats.

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    • Goldust says:

      Personally, I’d hold onto Dickey. I think that knuckle ball will start moving a lot more once it gets hotter.

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  11. Brian says:

    I just bought Fister in my league. Good ERA/FIP and on a good team so should rack up wins. I was first in saves so I traded Romo.

    What do you guys think? I think Romo is a hair better but it’s mostly fair.

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