He probably isn’t going to wow anyone — though he does have a no-hitter to his credit — but the addition of Mike Fiers is a solid move by Detroit Tigers general manager Al Avila. Fiers’ deal is inexpensive and short term, booked for just one year at $6 million. The player in question has a good chance to rebound and outperform his 2017 numbers. Those are the major qualifications for the type of player the Tigers are rightly trying to add right now.
So, Mike Fiers makes a lot of sense.
The Tigers are betting on Comerica Park
In terms of strikeouts and walks, Fiers has been a good pitcher his whole career. He has punched out 8.53 batters per nine innings, which pairs well with a career walk rate of 2.85 per nine. The Tigers will be banking on numbers like that, and hope the rise in Fiers’ walk rate in 2017 is just a blip. They will also be banking on their home ballpark.
The home run surge took a major toll on Mike Fiers in 2017. He allowed 1.88 home runs per nine, while the league average was 1.27. They were the major reason Fiers’ ERA was over 5.00 on the year.
As the ESPN Home Run Tracker graph above illustrates, Comerica Park’s large outfield could potentially help him trim a couple of home runs from his tally in 2018. Those are his 2017 home run landing spots superimposed onto Comerica Park’s dimensions. Some of those deep fly balls to center and right-center field may stay in the park if Fiers is pitching in Detroit.
Fiers posted a 5.22 ERA, and a 5.43 FIP in 2017. Let’s say Comerica Park saves him three home runs next season. Now his FIP is 5.11. Presumably his ERA is close to that number as well. Without doing anything but switching home parks, the Tigers are likely to get a little better production out of him in 2018.
Chris Bosio calls his shot
When a team is rebuilding, looking for cheap assets to rehabilitate into decent trade pieces, and has a brand new pitching coach, it’s a smart move to give that coach a lot of voice in terms of which pitchers to sign. He is the one tasked with fixing them up. The Tigers clearly took that approach by signing Fiers.
Mike Fiers said he had two-year offers from multiple clubs, but liked the fit with the Tigers. He also liked the chance to work again with Chris Bosio, his old pitching coach in Brewers farm system.— Jason Beck (@beckjason) December 8, 2017
Fiers and Bosio know each other from working together during their time in Milwaukee. That checks a box as far as familiarity goes. Bosio presided over the best work of Fiers’ career. The Tigers’ new pitching coach has also built a reputation for fixing pitchers, particularly during his time with the Chicago Cubs. Bosio seems like the best candidate to iron out Fiers’ command issues.
Ride it or sink it
Something else to watch for as Bosio and Fiers re-unite is the direction they take with his fastball. With Milwaukee, Fiers was known for a very high arm slot and a riding four-seam fastball that he used up in the zone with success. During his time in Houston, the Astros’ philosophy was to try to lower his arm slot somewhat. Fiers got more ground balls that way. After he took a beating early in 2017, they also convinced him to throw more sinkers. Fiers got more ground balls that way as well, and he was much better in June and July.
That trend collapsed for Fiers in August. It’s difficult to know if the sinker experiment was a success or not based on two months. There are also some good reasons why sticking with the four-seamer may make more sense in the long run.
The increase in home runs across Major League Baseball, which began to spike right as Fiers arrived in Houston in 2015, has led more and more hitters to try and take advantage of the hot ball by adding a little more uppercut to their swing. Guys are golfing low strikes out of the park to an obscene degree. The ball is carrying farther, and hitting more fly balls just makes sense. Unfortunately, for a lot of pitchers out there, the sinker isn’t proving to be the best way to combat the trend.
Even after the adjustments, Fiers’ arm slot is not well-suited to the pitch. He is still throwing out of high three-quarters slot due to the tilt in his torso as he releases the ball. Possibly, Fiers is better off going back to the four-seam fastball most of the time and using it up in the strike zone. Perhaps he is better off returning to a higher arm slot as well. Those moves would seemingly pair better with Fiers’ curveball as well. So far, the changes he made during his time with the Astros have to be seen as unsuccessful.
Bosio will certainly have his own ideas.
Fiers has always been a bit streaky, and he can get wild. He hits his fair share of batters and his walk rates have rarely been above average, but he gets plenty of whiffs and has always punched out his fair share of hitters. If he can manage to move his walk rate closer to his career averages, and a few balls stay in the park, The Tigers may have themselves a respectable starter who can be flipped for a prospect in July.
The Tigers needed a veteran who was a good bet to bounceback, give them innings, and support a very inexperienced staff. Fiers needed a bigger park to pitch in, and a familiar hand to help him turn his career around. He’s an interesting pitcher, and this is the kind of addition the Tigers needed to make. They struck earlier this offseason than expected and found a pretty good fit in Fiers.