Nationals Baseball: Fister Pump

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Fister Pump

Last night the Nats traded for Doug Fister. On the surface it looks like a confounding deal that leans way toward the Nats. Are we missing anything?

Talking about it in the terms we laid out yesterday the Nats, in absolute value this will take a while to shake out. Fister, a 200IP 3.25 ERA starter (say 3-4 WAR) under control for two years, is obviously worth more than a young, maybe lefty specialist relief pitcher and a utility infielder (roughly a 1 WAR let's say), no matter how long they have them. The question in play is what does Robbie Ray become? That's going to be the absolute value tipping point. In relative value the Nats add 2-3 WAR and lose probably nothing from next year. Lombo and Krol will be replaced and Ray wouldn't play.

It's an easy win in the relative (make your team better) value and an early lead in the absolute (what each team ends up getting from the deal) value. It's not an huge steal just yet (because of Ray being a question mark) but it sure looks like it'll end up being one. 

We're not missing anything in terms of the deal.  Are we evaluating the players right?

Is Doug Fister really a "Top 10" pitcher? 

Well... what they are really saying is "over the past 3 years fWAR (Fangraphs WAR) has Doug Fister as the 9th most valuable starting pitcher in the majors" Is that really the same thing as a Top 10 pitcher? No it isn't. Let's say we look at the past 2 years - 14th, or just last year - 12th. Or we look at rWAR (Baseball-Reference's WAR) last year - 21st. Or if you are a gut guy, are there only 9 guys you'd want on the mound before you'd call Doug Fister's name?

Of course who cares if he's not a Top 10 pitcher? His xFIP has been consistenly around 3.40 the past 2 years. His ERA just a bit higher. Toss in the AL-> NL move and he should give you a season like Gio or ZNN did last year. That's what Fister is, a Gio/ZNN like pitcher. A #2 who could pitch at times like a #1 or like a #3. Maybe since he's 30 you lean more toward the #3 side than the #1 but he's the Nats #4.

But he's a GB pitcher coming to the Nats great defense from the Tigers terrible one! That'll make him the bestestest!

No and Yes. Yes, the Tigers D was terrible. No, the Nats D isn't great. I'll remind you that the whole idea of the Nats as a GB vacuuming team was based around the gold glove caliber defense of Danny Espinosa. Desmond has stepped up his game, but Zimm has had his issues, LaRoche is fading, and Rendon is no Danny. It'll help but it won't be a revelation for Fister.

Is there something wrong with Fister you see in the stats? 

As I noted above his ERA and xFIP are pretty close in line, meaning he's pitching as he should, no crazy drops should be expected. That's because everything has been pretty consistent. You're not seeing any big increases in LD rate or big drops in velocity. There's nothing out of line with his LOB% or HR% or BABIP.  His GB rate is improving. His BB-rate is very good. He's a very good consistent pitcher.

If you are looking for problems you can point to some things. His K-rate did drop a bit. His contact rate on the high-side.. but that's not always telling. He does rely on a low HR/FB rate... but that's typical for a GB pitcher. Velocity IS down just a tick. Comerica and Nationals Park are both fairly average HR parks, but maybe taking into account that move and the NL East vs the AL Central, he'll give up a couple more homers than he would have. Like 2 more maybe? Nothing earth shattering (and remember they all expected Gio to crash HR wise and it never happened - guys adapt)

Stats-wise it's hard to make a case for anything to worry about. The worst thing you could say is Doug Fister is at the very beginning of his aging curve and has likely peaked. He might be in the 20-30 range for pitchers next year, 25-35 the year after that. This is the worst I can put out right now. Simply stated, for the next two years there is nothing sitting out stats-wise there to be worried about. Not in the basic fancy stats. If there's a crash coming here I don't see it.

What about  injury wise? 

Pretty healthy with one minor injury over the past 3 seasons. He will be 30 in February and is 6'8" tall so there's that but you worry about history first. So, no nothing here.

Fister sounds great! Is there anything we are underrating about Krol or Lombo? 

There is one thing. Lombo is under team control for four more seasons. Krol is under team control for six more. That's a lot of time. Krol is also very young (he'll turn 23 next May) and Lombo is young enough that they should be at least as effective as they are now for the entirity of the Tiger's control.

That being said Lombo is Lombo. He has his positives which we talked about before so I'll just cut and paste : No patience, no power, not all that fast, average at best in the field. That's not a starter. But he can do other things. He plays adequately at SS and 3B, hits for .265 or so, and rarely strikes out. He's not all that slow so he can pinch run and he can bunt. Not quite a "jack of all trades", maybe an "8 of clubs of all trades", a smart manager can use a player like Lombo.

Use Lombo right and he could be worth something on a major league bench. Over rely on him though and you're hurting your team. 

Krol is more interesting. A lot of places are writing him off as a lefty specialist since righties hit him hard last year. But the kid is 22 and improved his RHB stats in the minors from 2012 (.282 / .321 / .455) to 2013 (.245 / .320 / .464). I think he's better than a LOOGY, but I don't think he's a future lights-out reliever. More a solid piece.

So not much there. What about Robbie Ray? 

I can see what's appealing about Ray. He improved in nearly every way you'd want him to (Ks up, BBs down, HRs down, hits down) while moving up to AA. At 22 he does look to be on track to pitch in the majors. But what kind of pitcher? And could a second season in AA derail him?  He was dismissingly bad just two years ago.

And that's part of the problem with trying to evaluate him. Was 2013 a fluke or is he showing serious consistent improvement? We don't have enough data to be sure. 2014 will probably give us a clearer picture of the type of pitcher Robbie Ray will be going forward. It could be he continues to improve, gets most of the year in AAA and looks like a mid-rotation guy with upside or it could be he struggles and looks like he might end up organizational depth. There's no certainty here.

I guess I'd say I wouldn't worry about it. The Nats gave up a guy who may be their 3rd best pitching prospect but really they only care about their first best one, Lucas Giolito. Everyone else down there is a question mark.

So... did the Nats win the trade? 

With the caveat of "evaluating it right now". Yes. They did. Big time.

On a side note, why did the Tigers make this deal?

Oh, well near as I can figure they want Drew Smyly, who looks like he could be a very good starter, in the rotation. Verlander and Sanchez are set in the rotation for years. So that leaves kicking out Scherzer, Porcello, or Fister. Scherzer was better last year that Fister and is a little younger. Porcello is a lot younger. So you could see how Fister was the odd man out. (I guess. Really Scherzer should be, with his big contract coming up. You'd get a hell of a lot more value keeping Fister and Porcello, moving up Smyly and giving that Scherzer money to someone else... Cano? But then why trade for Kinsl... i'm getting off track here)

Ok with Smyly in the rotation they needed a LHP in the pen because Drew was their only good one there. That's why they wanted Ian Krol. As for Lombo, their current back-up infielders, Ramon Santiago (.224 / .298 / .288) and Hernan Perez (.197 .217 / .227) make Lombo look like an All-Star. If as he should Lombo hits .260 and walks a little bit more, he'll be a improvement. (You can aruge Santiago overall would match Lombo but Lombo is 9 years younger. I'd bet on Lombo)

Robbie Ray - who doesn't want a decent pitching prospect? Plus the Tigers prospect pitchers in general took a nose dive this year so he helps fill a gap that exists there.

Hmmm but couldn't they have gotten those minor improvements somewhere else for less than Fister?

Shhh. I'm not sure the ink is dry yet!


Anonymous said...

Certainly looks like a good trade for the Nats. Will need to address the bench with Lombo gone. He definitely was nice from the perspective that he could fill in so many places. Trade could look bad in three years, but I think it was a good calculated risk for the next couple of seasons. The number 5 starter battle should be interesting in Spring Training.

Donald said...

While I generally prefer my soft-tossing GB pitchers to have a single brow, I have to say I like the trade.

Hoo said...

Great trade given that sets up the Nats more for "win now" than win later. Ray could be plus in late 2015 or 2016 but Nats need to win in 2014 and Fister is a step up.

Lot of raised eyebrows b/c I would have expected Fister to go for more. Great deal for Nats.

cass said...

Can we order our 2014 NL East Champions gear yet? When will it go on sale? Also would like to order some playoff tickets.

Looks like a great trade, though Fister could get injured and Ray could be the next... Doug Fister? Hopefully Detroit doesn't know something about Fister that we don't.

But great news. This should lift Washington's spirits a bit.

Strasburg/Gio/Zimmermann/Fister. Wow!

Also, a possible source of an offseason post: Is there any advantage to be gained from Fister throwing slower than the rest of the Nats rotation? Will the other starts "speed up" opponents bats for Fister? Will Fister slow them down for the Nats flamethrowers? Is there any research on this?

A lot of people have been talking about this recent piece that found a significant "R.A. Dickey Effect":

Could there be a subtler Fister effect? Given that Detroit has some flamethrowers themselves, it probably would have worked in their favor if it were there.

Anonymous said...

Well lombo or Espy had to go this year because they would fill the same role on the bench. Espy has no trade value and to be honest the better player (better d, better speed, better power - if only he learns to somewhat hit again he will be a very valuable bench spot and maybe a trade piece down the road)-If I was detroit I would have wanted Espy over Lombo. So I'm glad they wanted Lombo. I think Krol is hard for us to lose, we know need to add a couple of lefties to the pen.

I assume that the domino from this give Detweiler the lead on number 5 spot as he is a lefty and (at least Davey) managers like a righty, lefty mix of SPs...might be interesting to see Fister at the number 3 spot and move zimm to four(if his pride can handle it) I think Zimm is the better pitcher - but the speed change could have better outcomes for both pitchers.

Harper - Any non tendered targets? Catcher, pen, bench?

Donald said...

Still too soon to tell what other deals may happen, but for now, Danny Espinosa has to be pretty psyched. I assume at this point he takes Lombo's position on the bench. The lefty hole in the pen got a little worse. While people have talked about moving Det to the pen, my guess is that this makes it more likely Solis is there.

DezoPenguin said...


If Espi learns to hit again he's one of the top 2Bs in the NL (mind you, that says as much about 2Bs in the NL as it does about Espi, but an OPS in the .700s with power and a vacuum-cleaner glove is pretty impressive).

Otherwise, I love the trade. Lombo was useful but there are many other players who can do a number of the same things. Ray is an absolute question mark whose apparent upside is "about as good as Fister will be 3-4 years from now." Krol is a relief pitcher, not a bad one, but still no more than the fifth guy out of the pen for the Nationals at this point and may end up just a LOOGY if he doesn't improve as expected. All this for two years of a #2 starter. There's always randomness--injuries, etc.--but really, this looks like pure theft by any measure available now.

Kenny B. said...

All this talk of infielders just makes me weep for the fate of our dear Espy. Old Espy would do so much for the completeness of the Nats. But we've hashed that through enough.

That really is a good looking rotation, and with substantially less of the "with no regression and no injuries" approach we had evaluating the Haren deal last year. The battle for the fifth spot should be an interesting storyline, and maybe encourage some development that could create a little more depth than last year.

So that was pretty much the fun part of the offseason for us, barring an unlikely run at Cano. Now it's pen and bench upgrades, which, while important, are not nearly as sexy.

nicoxen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
JWLumley said...

It was highway robbery, it was daylight robbery, it was armed robbery, it was just plain robbery robbery. Rizzo made up for the Span for Meyer trade with this one. (To think the Twins got more for a below league average hitter who plays great defense than the Tigers got for a cost controlled middle to front of the rotation starter.) This trade appears to be in the Wilson Ramos for Matt Capps territory

nicoxen said...


Two quick questions:

1) Do the Tigers know something we don't about Fister? Why unload a top 20 starter for 1 prospect, a utility player, and a dime a dozen reliever?

2) Now that the Nats need at least two lefty relievers, is there any chance that Detwiler could be moved to the bullpen if Taylor Jordan, Tanner Roark, or Nate Karns has a strong spring? I realize this would mean 5 man RHP rotation, but how important is righty lefty matchups for starters anyway.

Chinatown Express said...

@nicoxen: Did Gio Gonzalez suddenly become a righty?

It's probably helpful to have a mix of righties and lefties, but only on the margins, right? The value of a lefty-specialist reliever is that it lets you enjoy a favorable matchup for the entire time that guy is on the mound. Since no team has an all-lefty lineup, you don't get that advantage with a lefty starter. So if you're playing a club that is made up predominantly of lefties, you can start your lefty reliever. But you can only do that if he is up in the rotation already, or if you pitch him out of order. And you can only occasionally get away with pitching a starter out of order. So I'd say the advantage on a game-by-game management basis is very slim. If you have an arch-rival in your division, I suppose having an all-righty rotation would encourage your rival to build a mostly-lefty lineup, but that's a pretty speculative downside.

JWLumley said...

Foolishness if Detwiler is moved to the bullpen. When healthy he is a far superior pitcher to both Roark and Jordan. I expected him to take the next step last year before he got hurt. Roark was a non-prospect who got hot at the right time for the Nats, but expecting him to continue that would seem like playing with fire. Jordan was a fringe prospect who pitched okay, Detwiler is a former #1 pick who sits in the mid to high 90's with very heavy sink on his fastball. Not to mention that he's very long in his delivery so his 95 feels like 99 compared to a short armer.

Anonymous said...

Nats 2014- Fister of Fury

Anonymous said...

With the Detwiler start/pen thing- I may be getting a little presumptuous but if we get to the playoffs with a healthy rotation Detwiler will be moved back to the pen anyway. So for the playoffs we'll at least have him as a lefty in the pen.

Anonymous said...

Fister, I hardly knew her.

Thanks, I'll be here all the week.

Anonymous said...

So how's JayZ looking as your agent now? My impression is that Boras is filling up budgets as fast as he can and Cano will be left with either a high dollar short term deal or an embarrassing long term deal. I believe the Ellsbury signing just brought a few more teams back in play. 2 years, 28 million? The Lerners could easily stomach that, I'm thinkin'


Anonymous said...

It's a steal for the Nats. Ray still has a long way to go to prove that he's anything. He got hit very hard in 2012 and dropped well down most prospect lists before rebounding this year. He likely wasn't going to crack the Nats' rotation, particularly not in the next 2-3 years.

As for Lombo, no, he is NOT SS material--Davy played Rendon as the backup to Desi, not Lombo. We all loved to cheer Lombo, but we can't carry a sub-.300 OPS guy on our bench anymore. (Hear that, Hairston and T-Mo?) I have no idea why DET didn't insist on Espy, Walters, or Kobernus instead of Lombo. Four years of team control doesn't mean much for a guy who will struggle to make your MLB roster.

The other thing to love about Fister is the contract situation. The numbers out there for guys not nearly as good and/or much older are insane.

Yes, it might be inflated to think of Fister as a #2-type starter, but he doesn't have to be for the Nats. He just has to be better than EJax and Haren at #4, so the bar is pretty low. There was no reason on God's Green Earth to pay $15 million for a #4 starter.

And yes, the Nats' infield defense WILL be MUCH better than Detroit's. Matty W. is a meticulous infield coach. Admittedly, it would be better if Espy makes it all the way back, but that's still a big "if."

Anonymous said...

Oops, Lombo is sub-.300 OBP, not OPS, although it did seem like that at times.

nicoxen said...

Chinatown Express said...

"@nicoxen: Did Gio Gonzalez suddenly become a righty?"

Dunce cap for me. I hadn't had my coffee when I posted that comment.

Either way, Ross has performed admirably out of the pen in the past while his starting pitching has been spotty (especially in 2013). If the Nats can get more quality starts out a Taylor Jordan or Tanner Roark, why wouldn't Detwiler in relief make sense?

blovy8 said...

I agree that it's a steal of a trade for the Nats, and by giving up three guys from the 40-man, it also opens up the opportunity to address needs without waiving somebody. Lots of good analysis going on regarding this. Cedeno figures to be a happy guy, or at least an X factor. I don't think Espy will be the immediate choice for that utility job, at the very least, they'll bring in a vet on a minor-league deal. Walters and Kobernus don't have the defense to feel like viable utility options, though I suspect Walters will get a real chance despite his K and error rate. You just don't find a lot of SS who hit 29 homers at AAA.

That Ellsbury deal is nuts, but aren't they all. An option for an 8th year?

John C. said...

I need another season before I believe in Walter's sudden power stroke. Nothing in his previous seasons telegraphed that, and it may be a mirage

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