Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Doug Fister Pulls The String

That looks bad.
Winner of perhaps the dirtiest and/or most suggestive title in Mariner Log history aside, let's talk briefly about Doug Fister and his change-up.

Now, I've been thinking way too much about Doug Fister.  I usually say something mean like "not good" or something of similar ilk.  But it started occurring to me that this team actually needs Doug Fister (I just threw up in my mouth a little).  We really do - we need him to be good.  We need Doug Fister to be a good #4 starter or so, worth about 2 wins (2.9 last year!) in order for this team to be at all competitive (with much luck in other areas, yes).

So with that in mind - I present to you, my cursory glance at Doug Fister.  

First of all, understand Fister's profile of pitches.  He throws an unspectacular 88 MPH fastball, he has a slider, a curve, and a change.  Here's the distribution of how frequently he throws each pitch (2010):

Yes, if you add up the percentages, you don't get 100%.  Gold star for you.  Pitch F/X data always misses a few. 

So Fister relies heavily on his fastball, and his secondary pitch is very much his change.  His K/9 in 2010 actually dropped to a pretty miserable 4.89, but the strikeout really isn't his game.  A lot of his success was in his ability to control the longball as his HR/9 went from 1.62 in 2009 to a stingy .68 in 2010.  For reference, Felix Herndandez had a HR/9 of .61.  So Fister did well last year.

Now, I'm going to get a little geeky on you, so bear with me - but Fister's HR/9 rate versus left handed batters went from 2.29 to .79.  That's from oh-my-God-you're-terrible to wow-you're-pretty-good.  But is it sustainable?  If you're stat-nerdy you'll know what xFIP is - but here's a quick description from the handy hardball times glossary:

FIP stands for Fielding Independent Pitching.  It's a measure of all those things for which a pitcher is specifically responsible. It uses an algorithm plus a league-specific factor to round out the number to an equivalent ERA number. FIP helps you understand how well a pitcher pitched, regardless of how well his fielders fielded. Emphasis added by me.

xFIP is Expected Fielding Independent Pitching. xFIP "normalizes" the home run component. Research has shown that home runs allowed are pretty much a function of flyballs allowed and home park, so xFIP is based on the average number of home runs allowed per outfield fly. Theoretically, this should be a better predictor of a pitcher's future ERA.

Okay, now that that's established - Fister's xFIP vs. lefties is pretty out of whack with his ERA at 4.52.  Basically, the math just doesn't buy that he can sustain this level of performance.  Part of it is also, and this is actually pretty significant, that his batting average on balls in play (BABiP) specifically on fly balls (which is the only kind of ball that's going to leave the park) was .094.  The AL League average BABiP on fly balls was .138.  So just by virtue of dumb luck, he's going to regress on how many hits he gives up on fly balls and sure as hell a few of those will leave the yard. 

So, what do you do if you're Doug Fister?

Throw more change ups.

So a little more geekery:  Fister throws his change about 14% of the time.  His change, however, is his best pitch.  His change is 1.69 runs above average (wCH/C).  That puts him in top-15 best changeups in baseball in terms of its value.  Like, more valuable than Sabathia or Halladay or Hamels.  His change is really good.  His curve, by comparison, is horrible at -2.28.

He is frequently going to his slider and his fastball in 2-strike counts, and I'm here to ask Doug Fister to just try going to the change in two strike counts.  Yes, yes, I know you set up your change with your other pitches, but that's for the coaches to figure out - what I'm saying is, Doug Fister, know thyself.

Use your change.  We need you.

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