Mike Fiers broke into the majors as a 27 year old with the Milwaukee Brewers. Since then he has proved himself a quality major league starter and great back end piece (excluding an injury marred 2013), but as Fiers moves into his early 30s he looks to prove himself again with a new team.
Viewed by most as just pitching depth and the obvious lesser piece of the Carlos Gomez trade, many people may have overlooked Fiers upon arrival in Houston.
Then came August 21, 2015 and Fiers introduced himself to the masses. In only his fourth game pitching for the Astros, Fiers proceeded to hurl a no hitter against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The no hitter was not his only moment to shine in an Astros uniform either, as he appeared in ten games and pitched to a strong 3.32 ERA.
While we obviously can’t expect Fiers to throw a no hitter every time out, the question is what can we expect in 2016?
Here we will dig a little deeper and try to understand the man behind the no hitter. Let’s take a look at the stats and see what Pitch F/X tells us about one of the newer Astros pitchers and see if we can get a feel for what the upcoming season holds.
Fiers primarily relies on his "hard stuff" if you can call pitches in the upper 80s and low 90s hard at the MLB level. His go to pitch in this category and overall is a fourseam fastball that sits right around 90 and appears to exhibit slight rising action. He also mixes in a fair share of his cutter, but gets a very low swing and miss percent. Finally, pitch counts show a sinker during the 2013 and 2104 seasons, but it only accounted for roughly 50 pitches so has little relevance going forward.
Looking at his breaking and off speed pitches, Fiers throws a curve, change and a recently added slider. His curve is thrown in the low 70s and has a typical 12-6 motion. The change typically is thrown in the low 80s and accounts for roughly 12 percent of his pitches. In 2015, Fiers worked in a slider for the first time, but not much can be gleaned from the small sample size of 92 pitches. The pitch comes in at a similar speed to his change and results in elevated flyball rates when compared to other pitchers, but a larger sample will be needed to truly evaluate the pitch.
Surprisingly, with the above-mentioned repertoire and lower velocity Fiers finished 2015 with 180 strikeouts good for 23rd in all of baseball ahead of the likes of Jonny Cueto, Stephen Strasburg and Sonny Gray. This has been the case with Fiers for most of his career, as he has balanced elevated flyball rates and below average velocity with an above average strikeout rate. His career strikeout rate of 24.2 percent is well above the 19.8 percent league average over the last five years.
The breakdown of how Fiers racks up the strikeouts can be seen below. Fiers has shown the ability to get swinging strikes with all three pitch styles, but induces swings on offspeed pitches at nearly twice the rate of his harder offerings.
Table 1. Mike Fiers Strike Ratios
Pitch Movement and Trajectory:
In terms of movement, Fiers has shown surprising consistency with all of his pitches year to year and game to game. While all pitchers are going to have the occasional dud (even the Clayton Kershaws of the world get lit up once in a blue moon) consistency is what distinguishes good pitchers. Now Fiers is never going to have the stuff of an ace and he isn't going to suddenly get younger, but he has shown an incredible capability to show consistency in all of his pitches.
The below chart illustrates the consistent vertical movement Fiers has been able to achieve over the past five years. Fiers horizontal movement and release velocity have demonstrated similar levels of consistency.
So, what does this mean for Fiers in 2016 and beyond? The level of consistency bears well for the late bloomer. As Fiers transitions into his 30s the consistency of his performance across the board points to the repeatability of his results.
If anything is going to cause a change in Fiers numbers it could be his first full season in the American League. Having to face the DH will inevitably have a negative impact on Fiers stellar strikeout rate and cause a slight uptick in his ratios.
Overall, Mike Fiers should be one of the best back end starters in all of baseball if he can avoid any extended trips to the disabled list. So pray for health and believe in the statistics because they all seem to point toward another solid if albeit unspectacular season from Fiers.