ALCS Pitching Preview: Doug Fister

Because the Athletics pushed the Tigers to the full five games in the ALDS, it will be Doug Fister and not Justin Verlander on the mound in Game One of the ALCS tonight. Verlander threw a complete game in the Game Five win over the Tigers and will instead have to wait for Game Three to face the Yankees. That’s a break for New York, but Jim Leyland is still running a quality starting pitcher out there to open the series.

The Yankees actually drafted the 28-year-old Fister with their sixth round pick back in 2005, but the 6-foot-8 right-hander did not sign and instead returned to Fresno State for his senior season. The Mariners drafted him in the seventh round a year later and traded him to the Tigers at last season’s trade deadline. Fister made two starts* against the Yankees in last year’s ALDS, allowing six runs in 4.2 innings in Game One and one run in five innings in Game Five.

* Technically he pitched in relief of Verlander in Game One, which was suspended due to rain in the middle of the second inning. That whole thing was just a mess.

2012 Performance vs. Yankees

Date Tm Opp Rslt Dec IP H R ER BB SO HR HBP BF Pit Str
AugĀ 9 DET NYY L,3-4 6.1 8 2 2 1 4 0 0 27 109 67
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 10/13/2012.

Fister dealt with an oblique injury (and a subsequent setback) early this season and it caused him to miss Detroit’s first two series against the Yankees, though he did pitch in that four-game series in Comerica Park in early-August. He left his start in line for the win, but Mark Teixeira and Eric Chavez hit back-to-back homers off Joaquin Benoit in the eighth before Rafael Soriano pitched out of a first and third with no outs situation in the ninth. The Yankees had just started their second-half slide and I remember that win being a real nice lift.

Pitch Selection (via Brooks Baseball)

Guys like Fister are basically 4.5-pitch pitchers, meaning a sinker-baller who will throw the occasional get-me-over four-seamer but not use it as a regular weapon. He’s very textbook in the sense that he’ll go sinker early in the count and offspeed late, especially against left-handers. Fister is huge and lanky, creating a lot of deception with his delivery and it makes his upper-80s sinker play up. The slider (mid-80s), changeup (low-80s), and curveball (mid-70s) sit right where you would expect them to. Fister has a generic repertoire but is very unique due to his size and deception, if that makes sense.

Performance & Results

TBF wOBA FIP K% BB% GB% FB% LD% HR/FB%
vs. RHB 286 0.276 3.83 19.6% 8.4% 60.7% 19.9% 19.4% 15.4%
vs. LHB 387 0.316 3.13 20.9% 3.4% 44.4% 31.3% 24.3% 10.0%

For the first three seasons of his career, Fister was a pure ground ball guy who didn’t walk anyone and didn’t miss any bats. He reinvented himself a bit this season, his first full year with the Tigers, by throwing some more changeups and curveballs instead of just pounding away with the sinker. His overall walk rate (2.06 BB/9 and 5.5 BB%) remains phenomenal and he’s still getting a ton of grounders (51.0%), but now he’s striking out more batters than ever (7.63 K/9 and 20.4 K%). Grounders, strikeouts, and no walks sure is a great recipe for success.

As you can see from the table, Fister is really tough on right-handers. They have a hard time elevating the ball against him, but he will make the occasional mistake and let it be hit out of the park. Left-handers have an easier time getting the ball airborne, but Fister has been extra stingy with the free passes against batters on the other side of the plate. The Tigers have a very sketchy infield defense that has come back to bite the sinker-balling right-hander a few times this season, and the Yankees figure to have more lefties than righties in the lineup regardless of whether Alex Rodriguez starts. Part of me wonders if starting Brett Gardner would be a good idea given his left-handedness, his speed, and his ability to slap the ball on the ground and into that defense. Then again, he hasn’t started a game in over six months now.

I mentioned this morning that the Yankees really need to be patient and work the count against Detroit’s starter so they could get into that questionable bullpen as soon as possible, but that will not be easy against Fister. He ranked 25th out of 65 AL pitchers (min. 100 IP) with 3.74 pitches per batter faced this year, which is identical to Hiroki Kuroda for some perspective. The guy pounds the zone, so working the count is going to be tough.

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Previewing Doug Fister, Part Two

Will Fister switch up the game plan tonight? (AP Photo/Kathy Kmonicek)

When I previewed Doug Fister prior to the continuation of Game One, I noted that he’s an extreme strike-thrower that gets ahead with his fastball and generally pitches lefties and righties the same way. Righties will get a few more fastballs, lefties a few more changeups, but otherwise it was the same approach. He’s not a huge stuff guy, instead relying on command and the willingness to attack hitters rather relentlessly.

The Yankees touched Fister up for six runs on seven hits and two walks in 4.2 IP in Game One, drawing the same number of free passes in that game that he issued in his final four regular season starts combined. He did plow through the lineup the first time through the order, but the Yankees adjusted and really went to work once it turned over. Seven of the final ten hitters he faced reached base, and the Yankees won the game.

Fister will start the decisive Game Five tonight, so I figured it would be good to look back at Game One to see how he attacked the Yankees hitters. It’s just one game, a sampling of just 90 pitches, so we shouldn’t take any of this stuff to heart. It’ll just give us an idea of what he did in that game, and give us something to look for tonight. Let’s break apart the two different types of hitters, starting with the guys he’ll see more of…

Left-Handed Batters

(via Brooks)

Pay attention to the numbers in the strike zone plot, and remember this is from the catcher’s view. The vast majority of the number ones (i.e. the first pitch of a given at-bat) are down and/or away. Most of the higher pitch numbers (three and up) are inside. Fister started the Yankees left-handed batters off with pitches away before coming back inside a little later in the at-bat to keep these guys honest. Outside then inside, and usually that was it.

The pitch selection, seen in the chart to the right, shows that Fister threw his five different pitches at a rate consistent with the regular season. He only threw 64 pitches to lefties in Game One, so one individual pitch represents 1.6% of the sample. The difference in the rates is like, plus or minus three pitches. Nothing crazy. For the most part, Fister was his usual self against all the left-handed batters the Yankees threw at him on Saturday. As for the guys on the other side of the plate…

Right-Handed Batters

(via Brooks)

Obvious statement is obvious: Fister pounded the Yankees righties (Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, and Russell Martin) inside with fastballs on Saturday. I mean really pounded them inside; just two (two!) of the 26 pitches he threw them were on the outer half of the plate, and they were two waste pitches so far outside they were easily taken for balls. All but six of those 26 pitches were two-seam fastballs, only three were offspeed pitches (two curves and a changeup).

Unlike his approach to lefties, it seems pretty clear that Fister and his battery mate Alex Avila made an effort to go at New York’s three right-handed bats high-ish and hard, preventing them from getting any kind of extension in their swing. Martin, A-Rod, and Jeter combined to go 2-for-6 with a double, a ground ball single, three strikeouts, two ground outs, and one fly out off the big right-hander in Game One.

* * *

Just looking at Fister’s combined pitch chart (all batters), you can see that he threw the majority of his pitches to the armside, or inside to righties and away to lefties. That could just be his comfort zone, some guys have trouble throwing to the glove side, or it could be by design. My semi-obvious theory: he was pitching to Yankee Stadium. He didn’t want to put a pitch outside so a righty could flick it towards the short porch, nor did he want to have a lefty pull their hands in and yank something down the right field line. It’s just a theory, but if it’s what Fister was trying to do, it didn’t work. Five of the nine balls he allowed to be hit to the outfield went to right, another two to center.

Whether or not Fister continues to bust righties in with fastballs while working away to lefties remains to be seen, but that seems to have been their plan in Game One. It didn’t really work, but that doesn’t necessarily mean an adjustment is coming. The Tigers could be banking on better execution instead.

2011 ALDS: Previewing Doug Fister

(Jason Miller/Getty)

Five of the Yankees’ first eight picks in the 2005 draft have reached the big leagues, and one of those picks was Doug Fister. Taken in the sixth round out of Fresno State, Fister did not sign with New York and instead went back to school for his senior year. The Mariners took him in the seventh round the next year, and put him in their rotation three years later. Two years after that, they traded him to the Tigers. Two months after that, he’s starting Game Two One of the ALDS against the team that first drafted him.

Fister will inherit a somewhat unique situation following last night’s suspension, entering the second inning of a 1-1 game. The Tigers still have 24 defensive outs to get, the Yankees just 21. Let’s get to know the former Yankees’ draft pick…

Performance

A command and control monster, Fister posted a 57-5 K/BB ratio in 70.1 IP across ten starts (and one relief appearance) after the trade to Detroit. His 1.79 ERA with the Tigers is stellar, and his overall season numbers were very good: a 6.07 K/9 with a 1.54 BB/9 and a 47.5% ground ball rate. Fister doesn’t have much of a platoon split.

Pitch Selection

(via Texas Leaguers and FanGraphs)

A five-pitch pitcher with two different fastballs, the name of Fister’s game is contact and quick outs. Linear weights indicate that his two breaking balls are just a touch below-average, less than one-third of a run below-average for every 100 thrown. FanGraphs lumps the two fastballs together, but collectively they’re almost a full run better than average over the course of 100 pitches. The change is his most effective and also least used pitch, leading me to believe the linear weights data might be falling victim to some sample size noise.

The usage patterns indicate that Fister attacks all hitters generally the same way, just with a few more fastballs to righties and a few more changeups to lefties. The overall lack of swings and misses isn’t surprising considering how around the plate he is. Fister’s a huge dude (6-foot-8), and he gets good downhill plane on everything judging by the strong grounder rate.

Pitching Pattern

(via FanGraphs)

Another straight forward guy, Fister doesn’t pitch backwards as much as you might expect someone with his stuff to. He will get ahead with the fastball, but is just as likely to throw his slider as he is his curveball and changeup with one strike. The slider seems to be his go-to pitch with two strikes.

Extreme strike-throwers like Fister always throw a wrench into things because the Yankees can’t sit back and wait for him to paint himself into a corner. Well, they can do that, but they’ll be behind in the count before you know it, and that leads to defensive at-bats rather than aggressive attempts to do damage. Luckily, Fister will allow the Yankees to put the ball in play, and Detroit’s defense is nothing to write home about (especially in the outfield corners and at both short and first).

Saturday’s Trade Deadline Open Thread

Gotta figure the next day and a half will be pretty hectic with rumors and trades and what not, so let’s start a thread for any Yankees-related stuff throughout the day. I’ll update this post and bump it to the top of the site whenever something noteworthy breaks, so the top bullets will be the latest info…

  • The Yankees bowed out of talks for Ubaldo four days ago after Colorado refused to let them perform a physical on the right-hander if they agreed to a trade. For what it’s worth, Jimenez is warming up to pitch against the Padres at the moment, so the report of him being scratch was erroneous. (Sherman)
  • Jimenez has been scratched from tonight’s start, and a deal appears to be done. He’s heading to Cleveland. (Heyman & Renck)
  • The Yankees took all the prospects Colorado wanted for Ubaldo off the table, and instead offered Phil Hughes and several others. The Rockies weren’t happy with that, so they turned to the Indians and sped up talks. The Yanks tried to sell it as troubled pitcher for troubled pitcher. (all Joel Sherman)

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