Doug Fister Showing His Worth for Tigers

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Detroit Tigers’ hurler Doug Fister is making a habit out of perfection. In his previous start, Fister retired the first 13 Rays batters before eventually settling for seven innings of shutout ball. Last night, Fister took his quest for perfection a step further. Well, actually five steps further.

Fister retired the first 18 Royals in order last night before Alex Gordon connected for a lead-off double in the seventh. While Gordon eventually scored, Fister wound up holding Kansas City to that lone run over 7.2 innings of work. Once again, he didn’t walk anyone (he has issued just two walks in his six starts with the Tigers) and he struck out seven.

Fister’s outing looked like it might be wasted until Magglio Ordonez (?!?) delivered a clutch, two-out RBI single to tie the score in the home half of the eighth. From there, Joaquin Benoit worked a pair of scoreless innings and Ramon Santiago sent everyone home happy with a walk-off home run in the tenth.

The Tigers had dropped two straight before Fister took the mound against Kansas City, and with the White Sox catching fire (they won again last night), Tiger fans were more than a little worried. Fister’s outing kept the division lead at five full games over Chicago and 5.5 over Cleveland. What’s more, Fister appears to be stepping into the number two spot in the Detroit rotation. When the Tigers acquired him from Seattle, it was with an eye on stabilizing the back-end of the rotation, but the way he has pitched, coupled with the consistently inconsistent outings from Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello has made Fister all that much more important for his new club.

Fister came to Detroit with a reputation as a control artist who didn’t get much run support, as evidenced by his 3-12 record with Seattle despite a 3.33 ERA. He’s already matched his win total with the Tigers, now standing at 3-1 in six starts in Detroit. His ERA with the Tigers is 2.98.

But ERA isn’t the only place we find improvement in Foster’s game. His strikeout rate is up from 5.5/9 to 5.7/9 while his walk rate has dropped from 2.0/9 to a mere 0.5/9. Limiting his walks has made up fro an slightly increased hit rate. He was yielding 8.6 hits/9 in Seattle, but that number has risen to 9.7/9 with the Tigers. Because he has cut down on walks, which weren’t ever a problem to begin with, Fister has actually seen his WHIP drop from 1.171 to 1.128, and his strikeout to walk ratio with Detroit is an amazing 11.5-to-1.

As far as batted balls, Fister’s increased hit rate can be attributed to rise in his BABiP, which stands at .306 since the trade and was .286 with Seattle. The remarkable thing is that even with a greater ratio of hits falling in safely, Fister’s opponents’ OPS is exactly the same (.662) as it was with the Mariners this year. While his line drive rate has risen from 20% to 23%, explaining the higher BABiP, he’s also been getting a slightly higher ratio of ground balls.

Tigers manager Jim Leyland talked about Fister’s “pitchability” after the game last night, but cautioned that we shouldn’t be overlooking his stuff, either. Fister has been able to compensate for the increased rate in which batters are squaring him up by limiting the free base runners. The results have been outstanding so far. If he can continue to give his club solid outings, Fister will be able to take some pressure off the bullpen on days he starts and will also take a bit of pressure off guys like Scherzer and Porcello.

It’s still far too early to judge this trade and the pieces the Tigers gave up are not insignificant, but I think it’s safe to say that this deal to acquire a pitcher from Seattle has worked out a lot better than the last time Dave Dombrowski turned to the Mariners for pitching help. And Fister is under team control for four more years.

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