After his stellar start on Tuesday, I talked about the fact that Doug Fister has been throwing way more curveballs in 2011 than he had in the past. I wanted to take this opportunity to expand a little more on the point.
Through the end of the 2010 season, curveballs made up about 9% of Fister's repertoire, as he leaned heavily on his fastball and changeup. Though he allowed a lot of contact, it was hard to argue with the results - despite everything, Fister survived as a reasonable #4.
So far in 2011, through four starts and 25 innings, Fister's curveball rate has more than doubled, jumping to 19%. His strikeout rate, in turn, has also increased, along with his groundballs. One can imagine there's probably a relationship here, and as crazy as it sounds, Fister's sitting on the same xFIP as Justin Verlander. He's throwing more curves, and his numbers have gotten better.
Why the sudden increase in curveball usage? I don't know the answer to that, but I suspect it probably has something to do with Fister just getting a better feel for it. Here are Fister's strike rates with the pitch:
Before, Fister barely got a strike with his curve half the time. Now he's almost up to three-quarters. While we're only dealing with a sample size around 80 so far this year, that's nevertheless a huge, huge jump.
His curve isn't a swing-and-miss pitch. Nobody's slow, loopy 75mph curve is a swing-and-miss pitch. But Fister's used it to get ahead and stay ahead, and it's gone for a ton of called strikes, as hitters have been left frozen where they stood. The thing about slow, loopy curveballs is that they're almost the ultimate timing messer-upper when they work, and Fister's has worked.
Is it going to continue to work? I don't have any idea. But even if hitters adjust and start looking for Fister's curve, that'll only make his fastball look faster, so this could go in any number of directions. All I know for now is that Doug Fister's been doing something different, and it's probably made him better, which is awesome, because Doug Fister has found a way to make himself interesting.
A month ago, I couldn't help but think Fister was on the verge of disaster. Now I'm feeling more confident than I ever have. Keep doing what you're doing, giant stringbean.