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The Player: Doug Fister

The Terms: Houston Astros for 1 year, $7 million

The Astros added to their pitching corps with a single-year commitment to Doug Fister, who could fill a hybrid role with Houston by pitching out of the bullpen or in the rotation. Fister is coming off of his worst season of big-league ball in a seven-year career, but the make-good deal gives him an opportunity to re-establish his value before re-entering the free agent market next offseason.

Career Stats

GS

IP

ERA

WHIP

H%

HR%

BB%

K%

167

1085.7

3.42

1.210

24.4%

2.1%

4.7%

16.2%

Fister is the stingiest pitcher in all of baseball when it comes to handing out free passes. His career rate of 1.77 BB/9 is the lowest mark among active pitchers (minimum 1000 IP) – No. 2 on the list is Jordan Zimmermann, so Nats fans should expect to see a lot more bases on balls next season with both pitchers having packed their bags. Up through 2013, Fister rarely paid the price for his strike-zone affinity with just 0.71 home runs allowed per nine innings, but over the last two seasons that rate has risen to 1.08 HR/9.

He's coming off the worst season since his rookie year in terms of innings pitched (103.0 frames) and home run percentage (3.1 percent) while his 4.19 ERA and 26.7-percent hit rate (10.5 H/9) were career highs. Despite the poor indicators, there's something to be said for a pitcher whose ERA, at worst, has been within spitting distance of league average in each year of his career. Fister's K rate has been sub-par throughout his career, never topping more than 7.6 K/9 in any one season, and over the past two seasons it has shrunk to 5.4 K/9 with the right-hander punching out just 14.5-percent of the batters that he has faced.

The Stuff

2009

2010

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

FB Velocity

88.8

88.9

90.7

89.6

89.7

88.6

86.7

FB Frequency

61.9%

66.1%

56.8%

53.3%

50.6%

63.7%

69.8%

SL Frequency

2.3%

4.6%

2.0%

3.4%

10.5%

CB Frequency

9.8%

8.5%

15.0%

19.6%

20.2%

8.8%

6.8%

CUT Frequency

6.8%

10.2%

15.3%

9.5%

12.5%

10.8%

0.4%

SPL Frequency

21.5%

14.2%

10.6%

13.1%

14.7%

12.8%

12.6%

Similar to the strikeout issue, velocity was just never among Fister's strengths. He has cracked an average velo over 90 mph just once in his career, but looking at the glass half-full his 2014 pitch-speed was just a hair off of his velocity of five years prior. That said, 2015 was an unmitigated disaster in the velocity department, as the pitcher who could ill afford to lose any zip dropped nearly two full ticks from his fastball.

The fastball has always been more about movement than speed for Fister, and he can get some mean arm-side run on the two-seamer at times, but he is crossing over into a zone of pitch-speed wherein batters have too much time to see and identify the type and location of a pitch. The real head-scratcher is that Fister pumped up his frequency of fastballs to a career-high level of 69.8 percent, despite the fact that he had lost some octane on his gas, effectively playing into the batters' hands by giving them more of his diminished fastball. In fact, he threw the pitch 80 percent of the time on the first pitch against right-handed bats.

It doesn't seem like this was a necessary adjustment as Fister has a relatively deep arsenal of pitches, including a slider, a curve and a splitter, so the fact that he upped the ante on his reduced heat reveals just how uncomfortable he was with throwing the secondaries. It will be critical that Fister regains some of the lost radar-gun readings if he is to rebound and put the disaster of 2015 behind him.

Mechanics Report Card

2012

2013

2014

2015

Balance

40

65

50

60

Momentum

60

55

55

55

Torque

60

60

45

40

Posture

45

55

45

50

Repetition

65

65

60

60

Overall

B –

B

C

B –

For an explanation on the grading system for pitching mechanics, please consult this pair of articles.

Up until this point, the pitchers covered in the Free Agent Roulette series have carried boring report cards with minimal change in their mechanics over the last few years. Part of this was due to the small sample with which we're dealing, and part of this adhered to the expectation of a group of veteran players who are more likely to have honed their baseline skills in order to survive this long in the majors. But Fister stands out in this crowd as a pitcher who has made majors changes to his delivery over the last four years.

The current iteration of Fister's mechanics represents a middle ground between the extremes that he had shown in the past, earning a lukewarm grade of a B- for his overall delivery with plenty of room for improvement. It is rare to see such high levels of volatility in any one category let alone multiple subjects on the report card, and though the free-agent pitchers covered thus far have been more consistent than the norm, what Fister has done mechanically is unorthodox to say the least.

Let's start with balance. Fister was a mess back in 2012, completely turned things around in '13 by harnessing stability in all three planes, and then took a step back in '14 due to the addition of a front-side tuck into max leg lift followed by a severe drop as the back-side collapsed into a drop-and-drive delivery. He eliminated the drop last season but the tuck remained, resulting in a return to plus balance. His posture has followed his balance, tracing a similar path of progression though typically trailing the balance score by at least a half grade due to late spine-tilt as he nears release point.

The most glaring change to Fister's delivery over the last three years has been his stride direction. Back in 2013 he maintained an extreme angle to his stride, charging toward the third-base dugout before redirecting his energy back toward the plate. The momentum has remained relatively steady in terms of sheer speed down the mound, but his angle of approach has been much more volatile. He has straightened things out a bit since '13, and though he still maintains a closed stride, Fister has muted the angle such that he now strides toward the right-hand batter's box rather than the third-base dugout. Interestingly, the other elements of his delivery were much stronger in the season that he had the extreme angle, as 2014 was a complete mess in terms of stability while his torque took a sudden, precipitous decline.

Fister's torque used to be much more impressive than his radar-gun readings, suggesting that he had more in the tank but had found a cruising speed that worked for him. However, his hip-shoulder separation has disappeared over the past two seasons, and what was once plus torque has devolved into poor separation over the past two years. The culprit has been his timing of trunk rotation relative to foot strike, as he used to feature a more pronounced delay to his trigger of trunk rotation that allowed his hips to rotate after foot strike and create separation. However, he has since adopted more of a “hip whip” strategy in which hips and shoulders fire closely together, limiting his overall torque and likely playing a role in his diminished pitch-speed.

The Verdict: Solid value play

There is little downside to a one-year deal, particularly one that only sets the team back $7 million. Fister could stick in the 'pen all year and potentially earn his salary. The performance and stuff indicators are all trending in the wrong direction, but Fister only needs to pitch about 100 innings of league-average baseball to justify his paycheck. His mechanical volatility over the past few years can have implications on both sides of the performance coin, simultaneously decreasing his reliability yet increasing the odds that he can rediscover past levels of success. We don't know whether his difficulties of 2015 will perpetuate along a downward slope or whether that was the trough in a wavy performance pattern, but for $7 million Houston is taking a reasonable gamble on the latter. The Astros have a deep stable of arms and Fister just adds to the pile, potentially bringing value as a swingman but with the upside to handle a bolder workload if the need arises. Throw in the incentive of Fister earning a bigger payday next offseason, and it's easy to see how this deal makes sense for both sides.

Thank you for reading

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