Coming into the season, Doug Fister was seen by Mariners fans as nothing more than a placeholder for Erik Bedard. In fact, if not for Cliff Lee’s early season injury, it’s possible that Fister may not have gotten a crack at the rotation at all. You’ll recall that most people thought that the rotation would look something like Felix-Lee-Bedard-Snell-Rowland-Smith. The best laid plans…
Lee’s abdominal injury ended up being a great opportunity for Fister, who seized it and outside of a minor injury that sidelined him early, he ran with his rotation slot and never looked back, putting up a 3.65 FIP and 4.27 xFIP. Batted ball data backs these numbers up as well, as FanGraphs’ tERA gave Fister a 3.65 mark. In 28 starts and 171 innings, this added up to a 2.9 WAR (better than Jason Vargas!) season for Fister. Whoever had Fister down for a 3-win season in 2010, well, congratulations to all six of you, you crazy bastards. Luckily baseball is a crazy sport, so crazy things like this sometimes happen. It could even be argued that Fister got unlucky, as he only stranded 67.7% of all of his baserunners.
Fister’s success came mostly from his sinking fastball (11.9 runs above average, 24th in MLB) and his changeup, which was worth 6.4 runs. His 47.1% groundball rate also helped him avoid big innings, allowing him to get a double play when he needed to. Believe it or not, his Fastball was better than established MLB stars such as Matt Garza, Cole Hamels, Chris Carpenter, Zack Greinke, and even Tim Lincecum. His changeup? Rated 20th in the MLB, ahead of noted changeup pitcher and all-around studly god of pitching Cliff Lee.
So what does all this mean for Fister’s future? Well, we can’t be sure, but the one thing that can be said is that Fister has spent two years making very sizeable leaps at the big league level. From being a Class AA reliever at the start of 2009 to a 3-win MLB starting pitcher in 2010 is astounding. Will he climb up from 49th place in starting pitcher WAR in 2010? I would honestly say that’s a stretch, as he is already 26-years-old, but to think he could be a 2-3 WAR player going forward is not out of the question at all.
Given his contract status, skills, and age, he’s exactly the kind of mid-to-back-of-the-rotation starter that a rebuilding team like the M’s need. The M’s have a lot of problems, but Doug Fister has proven that he is not going to be one of them.