The Fister File

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The Red Sox signed right-handed pitcher Doug Fister off waivers on June 23, after the 33-year old was released from his contract with the Angels. Fister was among the best pitchers in baseball as recently as 2014, when he put up a 2.41 ERA (155 ERA+), but he fell off a steep cliff, putting up a 4.19 ERA in 2015 and 4.64 in 2016. As such, he was meant to be reserve depth for the Red Sox, but injuries to Eduardo Rodriguez and David Price have given Fister plenty of exposure in the big leagues. So far, Fister has pitched 39 1/3 innings — 6 1/3 in relief and 33 as a starter — and put up mediocre to bad numbers in both roles (4.64 ERA as a starter; 7.11 in relief). However, his last two starts have been better, giving up two runs in 7 ⅓ innings against the Cleveland Indians and three in 6 ⅓ against the White Sox.

What he throws. Fister throws a two-seam fastball (“FT”)’ change (“CH”), curve (“CU”), slider (“SL”), and, very rarely, a cutter (“FC”).  He has never had overwhelming velocity; in 2014, the best year in his career, his two-seam fastball averaged 88.3 mph, while so far in 2017 it has been slightly faster at around 89.2 mph. His curve is particularly slow (72.9 mph), but has excellent vertical movement and average horizontal movement.

Pitch usage and trends.  Fister’s overall pitch usage hasn’t changed much since his 2014 season; his primary pitch is the two-seam fastball, making up 63.4% of pitches in 2017 (59.4% in 2014). His cutter was rarely used in either season, but was more common in 2014 (4.8%, compared to 1.0% this season). However, Fister has significantly changed the way he uses pitches in various situations.  Whereas in 2014 he didn’t change his pitch usage much to right- and left-handed batters, in 2017 he has shown different sides of the plate very different looks.  Left-handed batters are seeing more curves and changeups, and fewer sliders, than right-handed batters this season.

Over the nine games Fister has appeared in, his pitch usage has been reasonably consistent, with the exception of his cutter, which only appeared in the first three games he pitched for the Red Sox.  His velocity ticked up slightly in some of his relief appearances (boxed in the charts below), but otherwise it’s hard to tell his starts from his bullpen appearances.

Pitch value.  In 2014, none of Fister’s pitches were extraordinarily effective, based on total bases yielded per 100 pitches. His most common pitch, the two-seam fastball, was moderately better than average, and his curve and changeup were very good against right-handed and left-handed batters, respectively, but he achieved his excellent results by throwing strikes: His BB9 of 1.3 was fourth-best in baseball that year.

  So far in 2017, Fister’s pitches have if anything been slightly better at avoiding hard contact than in 2014.  His two-seam fastball, slider, and changeup have all been better than average by TB/100.  However, he has been much worse at preventing walks; his BB9 this season (4.3) is by far the worst of his career.  

Pitch location. Although Fister’s pitch locations in 2017 are generally similar to their locations in 2014, there are changes that suggest that he has lost some of the control that made him so effective in previous years. Where his two-seam fastball hugged the edge of the strike zone in 2014, in 2017 it shows a broad smear across the zone. His curve and changeup in 2014 tended to be just inside the edge of the strike zone; in 2017, they tend to be just outside the zone.     

Overall, Fister is a pitcher who has never had overpowering stuff, who for most of his career has relied on control and deception to achieve better than average results.  As his control has slipped away over the past couple of years, his results have become worse. However, his emergency relief outings in 2017 — being called on to pitch multiple innings in long extra-inning games — have probably made his 2017 numbers look somewhat worse than they could. Going forward, it is probably reasonable to expect a low- to mid-4 ERA from him, rather than the 5-plus he presently has.  That isn’t great, but for a sixth starter filling in for injuries, it’s about as much as you can realistically hope for.

Featured image courtesy of WBZW

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Ian is an immunologist and virologist who lives in Atlanta with his wife and two sons. Most of his time is spent driving his kids to baseball and soccer games, during which he indoctrinates his children on the glories of Pedro Martinez, the many virtues of the Montreal Expos, and other important information.

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