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Arbitration case: Doug Fister takes his place among rising stars on the mound

In his first season of arbitration eligibility, Doug Fister rates among league’s best young pitchers.

Doug Fister is a solid No. 2 pitcher in the Tiger rotation
Doug Fister is a solid No. 2 pitcher in the Tiger rotation

Rick Porcello received a salary of $ 3.1million last season. Max Scherzer received a salary of $ 3.75 million. Both were eligible for arbitration for the first time, just as Doug Fister is in 2013. Fister figures to earn a salary in line with what Scherzer received in 2012.

Fister was a seventh round selection in the 2006 amateur draft, the same year that Scherzer was chosen in the first round by Arizona. While Scherzer was chosen eleventh overall, Fister was taken with the 201st pick. The Tigers made Porcello the 27th pick overall, a year later.

Fister is actually five months older than Scherzer, but has a year less service time in the major leagues, as the Diamondbacks signed Scherzer to a major league deal, and put their highly touted first rounder on the fast track to the show, starting the season in Arizona’s rotation in 2008, and joining them for a full season the following year.

Fister made his debut in August of the 2009 season, which was also Porcello’s rookie season. But because Porcello was on the major league roster for those extra few months, he became eligible for arbitration last winter, while Fister earned just above the major league minimum salary. But Fister will be eligible for free agency after the 2015 season, as will Porcello, unless they’re signed to a contract extension that keeps them under club control beyond that point.

In the very unlikely event that Fister’s case is not settled and an arbitration hearing is necessary to determine his salary, Porcello and Scherzer would be two of the pitchers that he would be compared to. Fister compares favorably to his team mates.

In parts of four seasons between Seattle and Detroit, Fister has posted a career ERA of 3.48 with a WHIP of just 1.18 in 95 starts. Not only is his career ERA+ better than Scherzer and Porcello, but his 1.22 ERA+ was second in the Tiger rotation to Verlander in the 2012 season. Other than a couple of stints on the disabled list last summer, Fister has been the Tigers most consistent starting pitcher not named Verlander since he arrived from Seattle in July, 2011.

Over the past two seasons, Fister’s ERA of 3.10 ranks fifth among qualified starting pitchers in the American league. His FIP is third, and his walk rate of just 1.76 BB/9 is also third lowest Fister’s WAR of 9.1 is sixth in the American league, and his win probability added, 2.59, ranks tenth in the league over those two seasons. He is not the strikeout machine like Scherzer or Verlander, but he holds his own. He has allowed only ten runners to steal a base off him in over 610 major league innings. Fister’s numbers are impressive by any statistical measure.

Since this is is first season of arbitration eligibility, Fister will not be compared with the same pitchers that Porcello and Scherzer will be compared to in their second year of eligibility. Here are some comparable salaries for Fister. Doug has three years and 58 days of service time (read 3.058) for comparison:

2012 Second year arbitration eligible cases

Clayton Richard, Padres, 3.070, 1 yr/ 2.705 million

Jeff Niemann, Rays, 3.022, 1 yr/ 2.75 million

David Price, Rays, 2.164, 1 yr/ 4.35 million

Rick Porcello, Tigers, 2.170, 1 yr/ 3.1 million

Homer Bailey, Reds, 3.017, 1 yr/ 2.425 million

Chris Volstad, Cubs, 3.076, 1 yr/ 2.655 million

Max Scherzer, Tigers, 3.079, 1 yr/ 3.75 million

Matt Harrison, Rangers, 3.083 1 yr/ 2.95 million

Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers, 3.105, 2 yr/ 19 million

Justin Masterson, Indians, 3.108, 1 yr/ 3.825 million

2011 Second year arbitration eligible cases

Johnny Cueto, Reds, 3.000, 4 yrs/ 27 million

Edinson Voloquez, Reds, 3.12???, 1 yr/ 1.625 mil

Kevin Slowey, Twins, 3.063, 1 yr/ 2.7 million

Jeremy Guthrie, Orioles, 3.130, 1 yr/ 3 million

Joe Saunders, Angels, 3.013, 1 yr/ 3.7 million

Tim Lincecum, Giants, 2.148, 2 yr/ $ 37 million

Matt Garza, Rays, 2.149, 1 yr/ 3.35 million

Scott Feldman, Rangers, 3.091, 1 yr/ 2.425 million

There are two obvious outliers on the upper end of this scale, those being National League Cy young winners Clayton Kershaw and Tim Lincecum. Both signed two year contracts with their clubs that paid them $ 7.5 million and $ 9 million in their first seasons of arbitration eligibility. Lincecum was a super two player, and his contract set a new record for starting pitchers with that level of experience.

Matt Garza was also a super two player, like Porcello. The salaries on this chart indicate that super two status doesn’t tend to hurt a player’s overall salary nearly so much as how much time he actually plays during the season.

Several of the lower salaries on the list belong to players who missed time during their previous season due to injury, or time either in the minor leagues or their team’s bullpen. Johnny Cueto was limited to 24 starts. Jeff Niemann made 23, Edinson Volquez 20, and Clayton Richard just 18 starts.

This is one factor that may hurt Fister’s arbitration case more than any other. Fister made 26 starts for the Tigers, missing about six weeks on the disabled list with a strained muscle in his side. From the perspective of a Tiger fan, Fister’s value was proven during his time away, as his replacements were shelled to the tune of an ERA over 8.00. But to an arbitration panel, he needs to stay healthy to provide value to the team. Despite the time off, Fister threw 161-2/3 innings, enough to qualify for the ERA title, because he averaged over 6.2 innings per start.

Another factor not in Fister's favor is wins. He finished the 2012 season with a record of 10- 10. As we know, wins are very much dependent upon run support from team mates and upon having a reliable bullpen to close out leads. While Cy Young voters seem to have copped on, for the most part, and are more reliant upon pitching stats other than wins these days, arbitrators are skilled in settling disputes, not in measuring the value of baseball statistics, so a won- loss record may factor in.

All added up, Fister’s value to the team is tremendous. I wrote at the time of his injury that the Tiger rotation was not even league average without Fister. They’ve added Anibal Sanchez since then, and Scherzer has gotten more consistent, but Fister remains a solid number two starter who would be the best starting pitcher on several major league teams.

Matt Schwartz of MLBTR has put Fister’s value at $ 3.8 million for the 2013 season. That’s slightly more than Max Scherzer got in his first season of arbitration eligibility and $ 700 K more than what Porcello received. I think he deserves it.

Next: Things go better with Coke!

Previous Arbitration cases analyzed in this series:

Brennan Boesch

Max Scherzer

Rick Porcello