The Fielder Effect On Fister & Porcello

Last week’s Prince Fielder signing changed the fantasy landscape in many ways, most notably by making Miguel Cabrera the favorite to go first overall in drafts giving his impending third base eligibility. No one expects the Cabrera-at-third experiment to work — he was a -11 defender (by DRS) at the hot corner the last time he played the position regularly, which was five years and about 50 lbs. ago — but all he has to do is get those five starts in to gain eligibility and make fantasy owners happy. Some of his pitchers can’t be all that enthused, on the other hand.

Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer will have less of a problem with the shaky infield defense as strikeout/fly ball pitchers, but Doug Fister and Rick Porcello aren’t so lucky. Those two are old school pitch-to-contact types who rely on ground balls, particularly Porcello…

2011 Career
K% BB% GB% K% BB% GB%
Fister 16.7% 4.2% 47.5% 14.9% 4.5% 46.5%
Porcello 13.3% 5.9% 51.4% 12.6% 6.2% 51.9%

Fister’s reputation as a ground ball guy is greater than the reality (the Jon Garland special!), but he still relies on his infield defense more than most. The info at Baseball Heat Maps suggests that neither pitcher has an extreme directional split on ground balls, meaning they’re no more likely to give up a ground ball to the left side than they are the right. Grounders towards the middle of the diamond are far more common for both pitchers, actually.

Fister’s career BABIP on ground balls is .215, which was certainly helped out by the Mariners’ stellar defense during his 2+ years there. Porcello’s career BABIP is ground balls is .243, which is a much more reasonable approximation of what we can expect going forward for these two. That’s still a little light though, since they’re replacing a strong defender in Brandon Inge with a crummy one in Cabrera. Going from a .215 BABIP to just say a .245 BABIP on ground balls will result in additional 10-15 hits allowed by Fister next year, assuming a similar workload and ground ball rate to 2011. Maybe he’ll get lucky with the timing, but those extra hits will inevitably contribute to runs crossing the plate.

Remember, it’s not just Miggy at third that’s the problem, it’s the entire infield defense in general, regardless of who’s playing second. Fielder is a below-average defender, as is Jhonny Peralta (his 9.9 UZR in 2011 was based on his ability to avoid errors, an outlier compared to the rest of his career), so right away they’re using subpar glovemen at three of the four infield spots. Perhaps the Tigers will employ a third base platoon, with Cabrera at the hot corner when Verlander and Scherzer are on the mound (fewer ground balls) and Inge at third for Fister and Porcello. Jim Leyland’s a smart guy, but it would surprise me.

I think Fister is destined to be overvalued on draft/auction day anyway given his stellar finish after the trade, but I think most FanGraphers realize that his 1.79 ERA and 1.8% walk rate with the Tigers is pretty unsustainable. Six of his ten starts with Detroit came against the Athletics, Twins, and fading Indians, which is as favorable as schedules get. There will be many more ground balls sneaking through the infield in Detroit this summer compared to the last few years, particularly if they run Cabrera out to third for more than a few weeks. Fister and Porcello will take the biggest hit, so expect to see a higher WHIP and ERA out of both guys in 2011. As far as ottoneu leagues go, every extra hit that gets through the infield will cost you 2.3 points, which in Fister’s case could mean as much as 35+ points.




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Mike writes about the Yankees at River Ave. Blues and baseball in general at CBS Sports.

18 Responses to “The Fielder Effect On Fister & Porcello”

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  1. Matt says:

    Last year Tigers’ 3B were -8 in terms of defensive runs saved. So let’s say Cabrera is historically bad and is -35 runs that’s still “only” 27 runs over the course of the entire season. While that is certainly alot, when you divide it among starters it isn’t that much. So even if you want to say Cabrera is historically bad, and even if you want to pretend that he starts every game those two are on the mound it should only work out to about 6 runs per pitcher over the course of the entire season. Hardly enough to effect their value fantasy wise. I think the offensive output that they will get by having Cabrera and Fielder playing which should make them win more games will more than offset that.

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    • Detroit Michael says:

      Matt,
      I made a similar point in today’s Valverde thread.

      On the other hand, defense does matter substantially to pitchers, and this article is (correctly) criticizing the Tigers’ entire infield defense. I have less to quibble with in this article.

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    • The A Team says:

      For fantasy purposes, and especially for these two pitchers, those ~6 runs could be the difference between a useful innings sponge/W’s guy and a borderline unusable pitcher.

      In a standard, 12 team deep league, I already had to hold my nose to swallow starting Porcello – and that was when he had very favorable match ups. Now he isn’t worth considering and Fister moves from easy to roster to bitter pill territory.

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  2. davisnc says:

    [Peralta's] 9.9 UZR in 2011 was based on his ability to avoid errors, an outlier compared to the rest of his career.”

    Can you explain this? My understanding of UZR is that simple error-avoidance shouldn’t substantially impact the data one way or the other, which is exactly why it’s preferable to fielding percentage in the first place, despite its shortcomings. Am I missing something here? Not saying it’s not an outlier (it is), but I don’t think I understand the rationale you give for it here.

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    • davisnc says:

      For instance, maybe Peralta was really well positioned (either by himself of the coaching staff) before plays last year and thus got to some balls that his speed/athleticism “shouldn’t” allow. I don’t know. Just spitballing.

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      • davisnc says:

        Gah. Sorry to triple up. I’m not sure I made my point/confusion clear. Of course avoiding errors on the plays you’re “supposed” to make will keep your UZR from tanking, but isn’t it that expectation piece that drives the stat? So to have an above-average UZR, you have to be making plays on balls that many of your peers are not, based on hit type and location?

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      • Mike Axisa says:

        So to have an above-average UZR, you have to be making plays on balls that many of your peers are not, based on hit type and location?

        Yep, exactly. UZR assumes an error 95% of the time on balls in play (the league average), and if you make an error with less frequency, you get credit for making more plays than the average defender.

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    • Mike Axisa says:

      UZR for infielders is based on three components: range, double plays, and errors. Peralta didn’t make many errors last year, so he was credited with avoiding them. His range and double play components were poor, but he saved +7 runs by not making errors, which is where most of his UZR comes from.

      UZR assumes that errors are made on a relatively easy ball to field, since that’s the rulebook definition of error.

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      • AA says:

        UZR can have the unwanted effect of penalizing high range fielders, who are often relatively unfairly tagged with errors on balls other players can’t get to.

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  3. wily mo says:

    so what exactly is the position on what’s going to happen here. you start out by saying nobody expects miggy at 3B to work but all he has to do is get 5 games in for the eligibility, then the rest of the article seems to be written with the assumption that he’ll be over there all season, then oh maybe leyland will play inge at third for the groundball guys but it would surprise you. which is it

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  4. hernandez17 says:

    Detroit’s infield defense was a mess last year. It will be bad this year but I’m just not seeing a steep dropoff here that would cause me to avoid Fister in drafts. Dude is a stud regardless of who is manning the corners.

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  5. Ender says:

    Taking this a step further, Fielder, Mcgehee and Betancourt leaving the Brewers and Braun possibly missing 50 games and being replaced by Gomez and Aoki could be the most improved defense in baseball and could make what was a really solid rotation become even better this year. Obviously those changes mean the rotation NEEDS to be better to offset a ton of offense.

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    • AA says:

      UZR hates Braun, but DRS is fairly neutral on him.

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      • Ender says:

        Braun has turned into an adequate defensive LF but if Gomez is out there you get an elite one. It is a pretty big upgrade defensively.

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    • jerbear1985 says:

      Aramis Ramiriez isn’t an upgrade over McGehee, but your point is otherwise valid. Greinke and Narveson both had FIP’s well under their ERA and stand to show the most improvement of the group.

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  6. wilsonm24 says:

    Detroit had Wilson Betemit starting the majority of the games at 3B after acquiring Fister. I understand that Cabrera at 3B should be worse than Betemit (as hard as it is to imagine someone worse than Betemit at 3B…), but considering Fisters numbers improved after moving to Detroit I think you are grossly overestimating the affect that Cabrera will have on Fisters numbers.

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  7. Jimmy Dahmer says:

    So when Fister and Porcello are starting Cabrera plays 1st , Inge plays 3rd and Fielder is the DH. Problem solved!

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  8. bbboston says:

    I suspect Fister may be a conundrum that defies general regression theories, because at some core level his placement, movement, pitch mix and selective heat have been tuned up to play more sweetly than before. In other words, he’s mastered the art at the right time. At some level, he reminds me of Tiki Barber, who late in his career suddenly became a much better RB. When asked what was different, he clearly stated that he finally realized he didn’t need to be the quickest, fastest or most powerful RB to be successful, he just needed to learn the true art of using his blockers and when to apply what quickness, speed and power was at his disposal. As a fan, in those last days of his career, you could absolutely see what he was talking about…he made yards out of pure savvy.

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