Doug Fister and an old man
It has recently come to my attention that the integrity of the usual "Today's Fun Fact" headline has been compromised. So even though I made that shit famous, now I'm going to try out other things. Today, I'm trying out this headline. It's awful and I hate it and I hate what I'm about to type. You're going to hate it too! Spoiler alert!
Just earlier today Dave wrote about Doug Fister. You remember Doug Fister for pitching for the Seattle Mariners. Then the Mariners traded him away, and maybe you kept following his progress, or maybe you didn't. I don't know about you guys but it's pretty easy for me to have the Tigers slip off my radar, and I'm supposed to write about the entire league as part of my day job. Here's a fun fact: when you're supposed to cover everything, you can't know that much about anything. Keep that in mind always. It's all about the specialists.
Anyhow, if you've kind of lost track of Doug Fister, he's amazing. He's amazing and he's 28 and he's under team control through 2015. This year he's costing the Tigers $0.51 million, or less than Munenori Kawasaki is costing the Mariners. Fister has twice been on the disabled list this season, but not because anything was wrong with his elbow or shoulder or brain; because he strained a muscle in his trunk. Those injuries are annoying, but they're not career-threatening, unless you can't stop straining trunk muscles.
How about when Fister's been healthy? I'm going back to that past-one-calendar-year split available at FanGraphs because I like it. It doesn't make sense to only go back a year, but it also doesn't make sense to only go back to this April. Going back a full year increases the sample size. Following is a table of statistics, and you should recognize it as such. They are statistics belonging to three different pitchers, all of whom you know pretty well. This technique has been a blogger staple for years, but sometimes things are routine because they ought to be routine. Other times things are routine because you've developed bad habits. Maybe this is that? I don't think this is that.
Perhaps you've already guessed, but, Pitcher A is Cliff Lee, Pitcher B is Doug Fister, and Pitcher C is Felix Hernandez. They all look very similar. Now, they can't be compared quite so simply. Lee has been in the National League, and Fister has been in the AL Central. Felix has been healthy the whole time, and indeed Felix's durability and stamina are big parts of his value. Felix has averaged nearly 29 batters faced per start. Lee's at 28, and Fister's at 26. Felix is a workhorse, and there's value in those extra batters and innings.
But the difference isn't huge, and on a per-batter or per-inning basis, Doug Fister seems to have turned into Cliff Lee. He's been as effective as Felix. He owns a higher ERA than Felix right now, but he hasn't pitched in Safeco, and he has pitched in front of a miserable defensive infield. Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder have been parts of the Tigers' defensive infield.
Something that can't be ignored is that Lee and Felix have longer track records of this. We still need to see more of Fister to be sure that Fister is this new Fister, because he only really took off after joining the Tigers and that wasn't all that long ago. Fister's looking to sustain his level of performance, but his level of performance so far has been up with the very best in the entire world.
It's tough to stomach. According to Baseball Prospectus, Fister hasn't faced worse hitters than Felix has this year. It's not a perfect measurement but it's the best I can do. The Mariners traded Fister for a decent corner outfielder, a good lefty reliever, a mediocre reliever in triple-A, and a toolsy but statistically terrible minor-league infielder. The Tigers control Fister for three years of arbitration. As great as it is that Charlie Furbush has found a role in which he can be amazing, it's impossible to separate Furbush from the price the Mariners paid to get him, and Fister seems to have quietly turned into one of the best starters in baseball.
Remember that Fister wasn't quite like this at the time of the trade. It's critical to remember this. Fister struck out just under 15 percent of batters last year with Seattle. Overall with Seattle, he checked in just under 14 percent. He finished at 25 percent with the Tigers last year, and he's at about 21 percent with the Tigers this year. Something clicked and Fister took a leap forward that the Mariners and honestly the Tigers presumably didn't see coming. We can't say that the Mariners traded away a cost-controlled ace, because that's not what Doug Fister was.
But that's what Doug Fister looks like now. Under no pressure to deal him, the Mariners dealt him, not for nothing, but for too little, it turns out, assuming Francisco Martinez never figures out how to even tie his own shoes. The Brandon Morrow trade was the Jack Zduriencik trade people wanted back first. The Doug Fister trade might end up being the Jack Zduriencik trade people want back the most. It wasn't as bad as it looks right now, but I don't know if this could've gone much worse. Nothing against Furbush or Casper Wells, but that deal looks like a complete disaster.