July 30, 2011
The Fister-Furbush Exchange
Somewhere in Detroit, an angry columnist is slamming away at his keyboard because Dave Dombrowski’s big addition to the Tigers is a pitcher with a 3-12 record. Don’t be fooled like that fellow, however, as Fister has pitched well this season. Pitching in front of the Mariners is a double-edged sword: they aren’t going to score many runs for you, but they're like one enormous glove defensively and can help produce shiny earned run averages. Fister is a good example of this relationship in play. His 3-12 record is in large part because the Mariners averaged just 2.4 runs of support in his starts, but some of his 3.33 earned run average can be attributed to a Mariners defense that turned more than 70 percent of his balls in play into outs.
Moving from Safeco to Comerica should be no sweat for Fister, but moving away from that Mariners defense is likely to have a negative effect on his performance. Whereas Seattle’s defensive efficiency (.721) and Park-Adjusted Defensive Efficiency (1.43) ranked them near the top of the league, Detroit’s DE (.703) and PADE (-1.22) placed them in the bottom-third. That PADE figure, -1.22, means that Detroit’s defense converted 1.22 percent fewer balls in play into outs than a league-average defense would within the same park—a problem because Fister’s pitch-to-contact tendency relies on defensive support.
Fister still figures to be an upgrade, though, as his peripherals (3.71 FIP) have matched up with his results (a 3.81 ERA) over his 60 major league appearances. Fister isn’t James Shields or Hiroki Kuroda—two of the names associated with Detroit through rumors—but with PECOTA projecting a 3.54 ERA over the rest of the season, he is better than Duane Below, Phil Coke, Andy Oliver, and probably even Jacob Turner, who will make his major league debut on Saturday night. With the Tigers holding a 2 1/2 game lead over the Indians in the American League Central, shoring up the rotation was the easiest way possible to improve their playoff odds, and adding Fister accomplishes that goal.
As an added bonus, Fister will not make as much money as most of the other starters on the market as he is still in the pre-arbitration phase of his career and will not become a free agent until after the 2015 season. That gives Detroit four-and-a-half seasons worth of Fister, who should be able to produce two-to-three wins on an annual basis. With Justin Verlander and Max Scherzer in tow, the Tigers are as good a spot as any for a pitcher with middle of the rotation stuff and performance.
As for Pauley, he features many of the same skill set components as Fister, relying on defense and groundballs. The difference is that Pauley is in the bullpen and has shown reverse splits over the last two seasons. Expecting him to keep a 2.15 earned run average for the rest of the season is asking too much, but he could come in handy in situations generally reserved for left-handed specialists.
This is a deal that can produce now and later for Detroit and one that should push them along in the hunt for October. —R.J. Anderson
Acquired LHP Charlie Furbrush, OF-R Casper Wells, 3B-R Francisco Martinez, and a player to be named later from the Tigers for RHP Doug Fister and RHP David Pauley. [7/30]
Included in the Fister/Furbush swap was 20-year-old third-baseman Francisco Martinez, who is a good but not great prospect. Martinez has quality tools, but questions linger about his ultimate projection. From a physical standpoint, Martinez has a good body with strength and some athleticism. He’s not a burner, but his speed grades out as a tick above-average at present and will likely produce average speed at best when his body reaches maturity. On base, his speed plays up with good instincts and a quick first-step.
At the plate, the right-hander has a nice stroke and plus bat-speed, showing good contact ability and some gap-to-gap power. As a 20-year-old in Double-A, Martinez has been subjected to quality breaking stuff (especially from right-handers), and as a result of his aggressive approach and fastball eyes, opposing pitchers have been able to open up avenues of exploitation. The projections are there for an above-average bat with batting average ability and at least average power potential. The approach needs to improve in order to turn those tools into skills, however, as he climbs the ladder. In the field, Martinez can handle third-base with a very strong arm and good reactions for the position. His footwork can be a little clumsy and the hands a little hard, but I think he could hang at the position in the short-term with a possible move to left-field if the bat can sustain the value.
In the end, I think Martinez could be a 55 player, meaning his ceiling would be that of a first-division starter. The power will need to develop, and the approach will need refinement, but you have to like the promise the package offers. Not special, but a nice prospect for Seattle to add to the mix and a player that could fill a major need at the major league level if his tools actualize to their potential. —Jason Parks
Jason Parks is an author of Baseball Prospectus. Follow @ProfessorParks