The Houston Astros made a low-risk signing on Thursday when they inked pitcher Doug Fister to a one-year deal. This move gives the young roster a player who could be a stabilizing force in their rotation. Ian York breaks down the righty using PITCHf/x and his unique graphics.
Doug Fister signed a one-year, $7M deal with the Houston Astros on January 28, taking a significant pay cut from the $11.4M he earned with the Washington Nationals in 2015. In 2013, and especially in 2014 when he had an ERA+ of 155, Fister was among the better pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately for Fister, injuries in the 2015 season reduced his innings and effectiveness. He ended the season as a middle reliever, with an ERA+ of 96.
The deal with the Astros is interesting, because it suggests that Fister believes he can regain his effectiveness as a 32-year-old, and that showcasing his ability on a one-year deal will let him land a longer and better contract next offseason.
Fister throws five pitches: sinker (“SI” in the chart below), cutter (“FC”), changeup (“CH”), four-seam fastball (“FF”), and curve (“CU”). Although none of his pitches are particularly fast (his fastball in 2015 never topped 90 MPH) and none have spectacular movement, they are quite distinct based on movement and velocity:
Fister is a sinkerball pitcher, relying more on location and pitch movement than velocity, which is good because he has lost significant velocity in the past few years. All of his pitches have shown a steady decline in speed since 2011, with the biggest drop coming between 2014 and 2015.
For most pitchers, and probably for Fister too, this sort of velocity loss is a very bad sign. However, since Fister has never been an overpowering pitcher the possibility exists that he can overcome the decrease in speed with the movement on his pitches.
Unfortunately, the signs that Fister can overcome that decrease in speed are not positive. Although his breaking pitches (cutter, curve, and slider) have maintained their movement, his fastball has lost vertical break while his sinker has gained it, which is exactly what you do not want with a sinker. Four-seam fastballs and sinkers both have backspin, and therefore rise from the path they would follow under the influence of gravity alone. Sinkers, simplistically, ideally have minimal backspin, and therefore minimal rise, so that they follow a different path from the fastball. In Fister’s case, with his fastball losing rise and his sinker gaining it, the two pitches were less distinct in 2015 than they have been since 2010 – a year in which he also had an ERA+ of 96.
With a sharp loss of velocity, and signs that his sinker might be losing effectiveness, Fister may not be able to have the comeback year he clearly hopes to have. While he still has the excellent control of his pitches that helped him perform so well in 2013 and 2014, Fister probably needs to bump his velocity up by one or even two MPH to take full advantage of that control.
Ian York uses the PITCHf/x to monitor the strike zone, highlights great performances, monitors league-wide trends and tracks the performances of some interesting young hitters.
Follow Ian on Twitter @iayork.
All data compiled from PITCHfx and Baseball-Reference.com.