The Tigers picked up a mid-level starting pitcher midway through a high-stakes season and he proceeded to be a huge part of their playoff run. He had a career year, put up stats like never before and was clearly a great addition.
If this is 1987 and Doyle Alexander, we know what happened the following year. If this is 2011, we're looking at Doug Fister and wondering if history repeats itself.
(Let's simplify issues by not bringing any of the trade issues into the discussion, whether it's Smoltz's Law or making Allison weep over Casper Wells. I'm focusing just on the two pitchers in question.)
In 1987, Alexander pitched 11 regular-season games after coming over from the Braves. He went 9-0 with a 1.53 ERA and 1.008 WHIP. (Compare that to a career 3.76 ERA and 1.293 WHIP over 19 journeyman years for eight different teams.) He gave up only 15 earned runs -- and three home runs -- in 11 starts and threw three complete-game shutouts. In 1988, he fell back to Earth with a 4.32 ERA and 1.336 WHIP, going 14-11 in 34 starts. By 1989 he was clearly old and tired, and retired after the season.
In 2011, Fister pitched 11 regular-season games after coming over from the Mariners. He went 8-1 with a 1.79 ERA and a 0.838 WHIP, giving up 14 earned runs, only four HRs and only five walks in 10 starts. Compare that to a career 3.81 ERA and 1.238 WHIP in two seasons in Seattle.
Of course, we remember that Alexander completely fell apart in the 1987 playoffs while Fister was a big part of the Tigers' trip to the ALCS. That's one difference already in their outcomes.
Another difference between the two is that Alexander just basically stopped giving up hits in 1987. His K/BB and K/9 didn't deviate strongly from his career numbers (1.69 vs 1.56 career K/BB and 4.5 K/9 vs. 4.1 career), but he dropped two runs/9 from what he'd been throwing in Atlanta in the first half of the season and cut his HR/9 by two thirds.
Fister, however, became a different pitcher when he joined the Tigers. His K/BB went from a reasonable 2.78 in Seattle to an insane 11.40 in Detroit. His HR/9 was the lowest in the American League. He cut his BB/9 by more than two thirds somewhere in the process.
There's very few people who don't think there'll be some regression for Fister this season, but is it unrealistic to worry that history might repeat itself for the Tigers, and that the Doug Fister we saw last year isn't the one we've got slotted into the #2 spot in the Tigers' rotation for years to come? The most obvious difference between the two is at what point in their careers they each put up the magical half-season, but we do have to wait and wonder.