Thirty-one year-old right-handed starting pitcher Doug Fister made $11.4 million in 2015 in the last year of a contract with the Washington Nationals. He’s now a free agent for the first time in his career and is looking for a multi-year contract. Fister has a career 65-63 record with a 3.42 ERA to go with 55.1 innings of playoff experience. Sounds good, right? Definitely a guy who could command and be granted a multi-year deal worth a lot of money. He could help a team make the playoffs and could pitch in important games in the postseason. But career stats lie. The important thing to look at is Fister’s 2015 season, it tells a much uglier story.
Fister’s 2015 ERA was the highest of his career, an uninspiring 4.19 after a sparkling 2.41 the previous year. In terms of value, he accumulated only 0.2 fWAR in 2015, after seasons of 5.1, 3.4, and 4.2 in his past. FIP wasn’t kind to him either, showing up at 4.55 for 2015 after a previous career-high of 3.93 in 2014. A deeper look into the numbers shows that Fister is going to be a phenomenal disappointment to teams signing him in hopes that 2015 was just a down year.
Athletes have down years, especially in a sport like baseball where luck is a huge part of the process. However, Fister’s lack of success in 2015 was not a mere case of bad luck. Instead, the issue with the 6’8″ righty was simply poor pitching. Never a flame-thrower, Fister saw a fairly significant drop in velocity in 2015. While he has averaged 88.7 mph on his fastball in his career, topping out at 94.3, 2015 saw him average 86.4 with a max of 89.9. While 2.3 mph may not seem like a huge difference, any advantage for the batter is a disadvantage for the pitcher, especially a guy like Fister who relies on control much more than on “stuff”.
The most telling issue on Fister’s rapid decline is the fact that none of his pitches graded out positively in 2015. In 2014, his two-seam fastball (19.3) and changeup (3.9) were graded as plus pitches. That changed drastically in 2015, as shown in the table below:
|Pitch Type||2015 Value|
As shown, Fister had no “plus” pitches in 2015. His career-high strikeout rate was 7.63 K/9 in 2012 with the Detroit Tigers, but he has been below 5.5 the last two seasons. He’s a finesse pitcher who is losing movement on his pitches and losing the pinpoint control that formerly made him effective (his 2.10 BB/9 in 2015 was a career-high). Despite these readily available statistics, many teams are interested in Fister, including the Blue Jays and Marlins, who both likely think of him as a number two starter. Playing off of this, Fister will command the contract of a number two starter, but he’ll pitch more like a number five if the team is lucky, probably ending up in the bullpen as a middle reliever as he did with the Nationals in 2015.