There are just five short days until Spring Training starts in Lakeland. As we inch closer to next Tuesday, these previews are going to become a bit repetitive -- and understandably so, given the elite talent on this roster. Doug Fister may never be recognized as an elite pitcher, but he has definitely been one of the most effective players for the Tigers over the past two season.
What happened last year?
Fister's season didn't really start until almost July last year. He was sidelined early by a rib injury, throwing just 3 2/3 innings in his first start of the year before landing on the disabled list. He came back in May only to see himself hit the DL again in early June. Once Fister finally got healthy, the results were impressive. He was 10-7 with a 3.53 ERA in his 20 starts after coming off of the second DL stint, striking out 113 batters in 127 1/3 innings.
His postseason numbers were dynamite as well. Fister allowed just three runs in 19 1/3 playoff innings. The team was 2-1 in games that he started in the postseason, including the extra innings affair in Game 1 of the ALCS at Yankee Stadium. Fister walked four batters during that game, but was still able to get through 6 1/3 innings without allowing a run.
What needs to happen in 2013?
If Fister is going to take a step towards being mentioned among the elite pitchers in the game, he needs to have more performances like he did in New York during the playoffs. When he is on, he is arguably a 1b to Justin Verlander's 1a in the Tigers rotation. He had plenty examples of those in 2012, including the 10-strikeout performance in which Fister sat down nine consecutive Royals on strikes.
What Fister often lacks is the ability to be effective when he doesn't have his best stuff. Amid all of the excellent performances he had in 2012, he also had some stinkers. In just 26 starts, Fister had five games in which he allowed at least five runs. He tallied just 21 combined innings in those starts. Meanwhile, Justin Verlander had six such starts in 2012, but pitched a combined 37 innings in those six games. Fister is going to have bad games; there's no getting around that. He needs to be able to better control the damage during these games and eat more innings so the bullpen doesn't have to.
Granted, Jim Leyland may have been erring on the side of caution with Fister in these games due to his injury concerns last year, but I still think Fister needs to do a better job of battling through starts in which he's not on his 'A' game.
2012 stats and 2013 Bill James projections
All stats via Fangraphs
The part where I predict pretty much the same thing Bill James does
I'm a bit surprised that James' projections think that Fister's strikeout rate will drop so dramatically. Fister struck out 7.63 batters per 9 innings last year, a far cry from the absolutely redonkulous 11.40 hitters he struck out per 9 innings in his doubly redonkulous 2011 second half run. My guess -- and someone who pays more attention to this stuff than I do will probably correct me -- is that these projections take past performance into account, which includes his years in Seattle where strikeouts weren't so plentiful. My guess is that we see similar numbers as are projected above, but with a couple more wins and a strikeout total hovering closer to 180.
Fister's performance in 2012 was as good as anyone could have reasonably expected after such a phenomenal start to his Tigers career in 2011, minus the early season injury bug. If Fister stays healthy this year -- and we have no reason to believe that he won't -- expect more of the same in 2013.