The Doug Fister deal is incredibly hard to hate. That said, it's also not easy to love. The one-year pact, worth $7 million, falls into the grey area of baseball contracts, lying somewhere in between David Price and Ian Kennedy; it's really just an average deal, at an average price, for an average player. The length of the deal, the money involved, and the player involved aren't overly exciting. But, they certainly shouldn't make you angry.
If Fister is truly awful in the year ahead (which he was last year, for the record), the deal won't really hurt. If Fister bounces back and has a good year, we get a nice piece at the back of the rotation. Rather than just constantly reminding you of the mediocrity of the deal, let's have a deeper look at Fister, and his place on the Astros.
Fister is on the heels of a pretty poor year; logging a mere 103 innings, while posting a FIP of 4.55, and an xFIP 4.46. He was worth a mere two runs above replacement level. But, he has been good in the not too distant past. The season before, as far as run prevention goes, he was great, posting an ERA of 2.41 (although, that was accompanied by a rather worrying FIP of 3.93, and an xFIP 3.85, screaming regression).
So, perhaps, in terms of accountable skill, Fister has been pretty bad for two years in a row. But, in Detroit, he was one of the better, if not the best, third starters in the game. In 2012 and 2013 he had an ERA of 3.45, and 3.65, a FIP of 3.42, and 3.26 and an xFIP of 3.39, and 3.42. He was worth seven and a half wins, or so, during those two seasons. If he bounces back big time, he could be one the best fifth starters in the game. But, that's a big if.
His strikeouts have been trending negatively for quite some time now, moving steadily from the 7.63 K/9 mark in 2012, to the 5.50 K/9 mark he posted last season. Not great. However, he has always been pretty stingy with walks, he has a career BB/9 of 1.77. He also has ground ball tendencies, something we all love. He hasn't been quite as good at keeping the ball on the ground in Washington, but he still has a career GB% of 48.8, and averaged around 52% in Detroit.
It's difficult to come to a meaningful inference when discussing what Fister is likely to bring to the table in Houston. He was great in Detroit, but poor in Washington. There are, however, some noticeable differences in how Fister attacked hitters when he moved. Despite losing around two miles per hour on his fastball, he was throwing it around ten percent more in Washington. In Detroit, he threw his curveball around twenty percent of the time, this halved when he arrived in Washington.
His change in pitching tendencies is hardly conducive to his poor performances in Washington, but it's certainly interesting. Anyway, Let's get back to the Astros. We know that pitching coach Brent Strom has an undeniable ability for refining a pitcher's stuff, his sequencing and his pitch tendencies. We know that the front office know a whole lot more than we do, which, in itself, makes me somewhat confident about almost every deal we make. Perhaps, a change in scenery, in sequencing, and in pitch usage could see his strikeouts, and his ground balls go up, while lowering the runs he allows.
If Fister (with the help of the Astros), can get it all together he will be, well, pretty good (yes, I'm slightly deviating from the averageness I prescribed to him earlier). If he can't, don't worry too much. The great thing about this deal, in a sense, is that there is no pressure whatsoever on Fister to perform. If doesn't cut it, we have Scott Feldman/Mike Fiers. Beyond that, we have Dan Straily, Brad Peacock, Asher Wojciechowski, and some younger options like Michael Feliz. The Astros have lots of depth, and Fister just adds onto this.
Having too many pitchers is a great problem to have. He doesn't have to be amazing, either. With Dallas Keuchel, Lance McCullers Jr., and Collin McHugh, the Astros already have a great rotation. What they need is solidarity at the back end of the rotation, and Fister is another decent option for this. For just one-year at $8 million, the Astros can't really lose. He can be seen as a reclamation project. If things don't come together, we won't worry too much on such a tiny deal. If it works out, great, he could be a nice piece at the back of the rotation.
Of course, as you could probably tell from the money, and years involved, this isn't a contract that is going to win a pennant. It won't blow anybody away. It won't have people overjoyed, nor livid. Doug Fister isn't David Price, or Zack Greinke, but count your lucky stars he isn't Ian Kennedy, or Mike Leake. We don't have to fall in love with the deal, and we certainly don't have to hate the deal. Just an average deal, at an average price, for an average player.