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.

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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.

Detroit Michael
Detroit Michael

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.

The A Team

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.