Name: Douglas Wildes Fister
Nickname(s): I haven’t heard any…
DOB: February 4, 1984
From: Merced, CA
Position: Starting Pitcher Rotation: Likely Fourth Pitcher
Hand: Righty (but bats left handed.)
With the Nats Since: Acquired via trade in 2013 from the Detroit Tigers
Who Is This Guy?: Doug Fister is the kind of guy that remodels his own bathroom even though he can pay someone handsomely to do it. That right there was enough to make me very happy he was becoming a Washington National. Throw in the fact that, oh I don’t know, his 2013 campaign with the Tigers was arguably better than anything the Nats pitchers did in 2013, and the Nats got him for basically a Shake Shack burger and some Curly W Headphones…optimism abounds at Nats101 for Mr. Fister.
What Happened in 2013: Fister didn’t play for the Nats in 2013, he played for the Detroit Tigers. For the best review of just what Doug Fister did in 2013, I refer you to Court’s excellent piece about Doug Fister not being a “fourth starter” even if he pitches fourth. That article generated traffic more for its subplot regarding whether Stephen Strasburg has pitched like an ace or not. There isn’t any real disagreement that Fister can probably have a season as good as any other Nats pitcher can put together.
Even better, Doug Fister’s 2013 season wasn’t wildly different from his other years. One would suspect that what you saw is what you’ll get with him. Fister is not an overpowering pitcher like the other Nats starters.
He averages only between 3-4 Edit: not sure what I was looking at but he is more of a 6/7 strikeouts per nine innings pitcher. Sorry about that. . What he does do is get folks to swing at bad pitches because he’s really good at locating the baseball . Putting it where he wants it to go. His ERA is in the middle 3’s, and his FIP tends towards the lower threes. This is pretty damn good.
Fister throws the Fastball (Two Seam and Cutter), Curveball, Slider and Change. He’s 65/45ish Fastball vs. Not-Fastball. He’s not a hurler. His heater averages in the 88-89 MPH range. It’s the change of speed and location that gets batters out-and outs are outs once you get them. Style points not awarded.
Another reason for optimism? Fister relies on defenses to be good for him to succeed. He was very successful with the rather bad Detroit infield playing behind him. The Nats are a massive defensive upgrade. One might expect Fister to pitch even a little better on the Nats than he did on the Tigers.
If this all sounds too good to believe for the Nats, you’re not the only one to think that. David Cameron (of Fangraphs) similarly can’t fathom how a bench player, a lefty reliever and a pitching prospect was all it took to get someone who might be a top 10 pitcher-but he tends to believe this is the real deal, and so do I.
If It All Goes Right: The Nats fourth Starter pitches like the All-Star he is and puts pressure on everyone else to pitch as well as he does. Momentum doesn’t die every fourth day the way it did in the “Pre-Dan Haren Renaissance” days. In many three day series, Fister may prove to be an excellent change of pace from the hard-throwing curve and fastball pitchers that surround him in the rotation. After two years of a “Big 3” rotation, The Nats could be looking at a “Big Four” with Fister being the fourth of four 20 game winners in the rotation.
If It All Goes Wrong: If you’re sitting at a poker table and you can’t figure out who the mark is, it’s you. The Tigers aren’t stupid, and it may be that this was more than a salary clearing move for Detroit. There could be some very good reason that they wanted to dump Fister that the Nats haven’t sussed out. I tend not to think that is the case, but it’s certainly nagging at the back of my brain.
I think the more likely scenario to be the source of a problem comes from two places: bad defense or loss of control. Fister relies on ground-ball and fly outs, and he’s done well so far. His success depends, however, on a team that had more than its fair share of hiccups last year. Ryan Zimmerman’s early defensive play last year was atrocious and he was far from the only one. Desmond had more than enough yips, Anthony Rendon basically learned second base on the fly, and Harper and Werth also have their issues defensively. By all accounts these things shouldn’t happen again this year-injuries are repaired, everyone is a little more experienced at what they do-but for a guy like Fister this could spell trouble if the Nats stumble behind him.
The other issue is the Dan Haren issue: loss of pinpoint control. Although Haren’s control was most likely caused by a lower back injury, the difference of a few MPH and a few inches left or right was the difference between some of his stellar performances later in the year and some of the ugliest games pitched in a Nats uniform. And that’s saying something. I don’t think it is nearly as likely to happen to Doug Fister (no reason to think he’s injured), but the line between success and failure for a precision pitcher is razor thin.
Let’s all just hope he wore a back-brace while redoing his bathroom, right?