Today, we took a look at five starting pitchers the Nationals could look to acquire via trade. And yet, immediately after we hit the “Publish” key, baseball made a fool of us, as it does us all from time to time. Yes, tonight, the Nationals have acquired one Douglas Wildes Fister from the Detroit Tigers, a move that we at Serious Jammage certainly did not see coming.
Now, this move shouldn’t come as a complete surprise. The Nationals had been mentioned in possible trades for Tigers’ starters Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello, and it stands to reason that if the Tigers were willing to trade those two, they would be willing to trade Fister. But still, this deal came seemingly out of nowhere; before the winter meetings, and with the buzz around the Nationals at an absolute minimum.
And really, this move makes a great deal of sense for the Nationals. Washington, with three starters already under contract that could be aces on other teams, were not willing to pay the high price for a Scherzer or Price. But Fister, a more-than-solid starter with two years of team control left, is a perfect fit for the team.
Now, how good is Fister? Better than you might think. He is not a strikeout pitcher — his 7.2 K/9 over the past two years is a little under league average. He also allows an average of more than a hit an inning, again slightly worse than league average. But what he lacks in dominance, he makes up for with the ability to limit walks; his BB/9 over the last two years is 12th in baseball.
Fister throws a curveball, changeup, occasional slider, and several different varieties of fastball — nothing comes out of his hand straight. Because of the movement on his pitches, Fister is an extreme groundballer; over the past two years, he has a 52.9% groundball percentage, 6th best in baseball. And as you would expect, he has been hurt by the Tigers’ poor infield defense, as his .316 batting average against on balls in play (BABIP) stands at .316, 5th-worst in the league (former teammate Rick Porcello, also a groundball pitcher, had a league-worst .330 BABIP). Though he has had the most productive years of his career there, a move out of Detroit (and into the National League) can only do him good.
Because of this high BABIP, the advanced metrics like Fister even more than the conventional ones. While his ERA was a solid 3.67 last year, his FIP was a very strong 3.26. Thus, Fister has been of the more valuable pitcher in baseball. According to fWAR, he has been worth 8.1 wins over 2012 and 2013, tied for 13th in baseball — with Gio Gonzalez.
The Nationals will be sending Robbie Ray (LHP, 5th-best prospect in the Nationals’ system according to Baseball America), along with possibly utility player Steve Lombardozzi and lefty reliever Ian Krol. The loss of Ray is big, but not insurmountable, loss for the farm system — the 22-year old Ray, drafted in the 12th round 3 years ago, and lured away from college by a substantial signing bonus, struck out over 10 per 9 at single-A Potomac and AA Harrisburg. But in Fister, they get a player with a track record of production (as Rizzo described him, a “talented, young veteran… battle-tested through playoff experiences”), who can hold down a spot in the rotation until the next wave of prospects begin to surface.
For the win-now Nationals, this this seems to be a move they couldn’t afford not to make.