Doug Fister is already very good, currently improving

By Editorial Staff

While watching Doug Fister from right field yesterday afternoon, I couldn’t help but notice that his fastball velocity was reading consistently in the low-90s, as opposed to Fister’s normal high-80s fastball. At first I thought it might just be Safeco’s gun being glitchy, but sure enough, MLB’s Pitch F/X confirmed that Fister averaged 91.3 MPH on his fastball today with a high speed of 93.6 MPH.

Consider that Fister’s average fastball in 2009 was 88.2 MPH, and 88.4 MPH in 2010. Realize now, that before today’s game, Fister’s average fastball has shown a jump in velocity, at 89.5 MPH. Surely this kind of thing does not happen often; even Felix Hernandez’s average fastball speed has gone down as he’s gotten older. Here’s a chart of Fister’s pitch speeds from yesterday’s game.

Perhaps equally as encouraging is the fact that the uptick in velocity has not hindered his ability to throw strikes. His BB/9 is 1.99 against a career rate of 1.88, so he’s managed to add velocity while losing relatively little command. His added velocity while retaining command has led to an increased strikeout rate, jumping from 4.89 last year to 6.23 this year.

While the added velocity has helped increase his strikeout totals, it’s important to note that his recent strikeout binge could be at least partially due to a changed pitch selection. Coming into yesterday’s game, Fister was throwing his fastball only 56.7% of the time. His slider usage has raised 6% to 15.9%, and gone up 2 miles in velocity. His curveball usage has jumped from 8.8% of the time to 17.2% of the time. Fister is keeping hitters off balance by changing speeds effectively, and being able to throw his breaking pitches for strikes. It would’ve stood to reason that Fister would’ve improved regardless from varying his pitch types, but when paired with dramatically increased fastball velocity, it makes his fastball a truly legitimate weapon.

What does all this mean? It appears Fister’s 2.9 WAR season last year may not be his ceiling, as many have thought, myself included. Maybe he’s not a #2 or #3 type starter. But for the first time in his career, it’s something that sounds believable. It’s somehow not insane to say Doug Fister could be a #2 or #3 starter. If these trends continue, it’s possible that Fister could be the Mariners’ third best starting pitcher. When one and two are Felix Hernandez and Michael Pineda, that’s not a bad title to hold.