The high-profile starting rotation of the Detroit Tigers always gets a lot of buzz. Befitting his role as unquestioned ace of the staff, Justin Verlander draws the bulk of attention. Chatter about Rick Porcello and Anibal Sanchez is as uneven as their performances. And with a strong second half, Max Scherzer is the golden boy du jour. In the midst of this, Doug Fister is the Rodney Dangerfield of the Tigers: he just can’t get any respect.
Oh sure, last year he was the ace up Dave Dombrowski’s sleeve. Plucked from Seattle, the Sahara Desert of run production, Fister became one of those trade deadline legends. His stellar second half helped pull Detroit to the division title and within two games of the World Series. But, when he fell victim to nagging injuries in the first half of 2012, many fans dismissed him. Even a post-All Star reprisal of his 2011 performance did little to restore him to favor.
Scherzer’s momentum has him gaining favor as the #2 starter, but the choice isn’t that clear-cut. It’s worthwhile comparing the two since the All-Star break, when their starts and innings pitched, along with their records (7-1 for Scherzer, 6-2 for Fister), are almost identical. Max, of course, is the runaway leader in strikeouts. But in almost every other category, Doug’s numbers are better.
Here are a few stats worthy of particular note:
WHIP (Walks/Hits per Innings Pitched): Considered one of the purest evaluations of a pitcher’s performance, Fister’s is a miniscule 1.01, by far the lowest of any of the starters, including Scherzer’s 1.15.
OBP (On-Base Percentage): If Moneyball judges a hitter by his ability to get on base, then keeping them off base is equally valuable for a pitcher. Fister’s OBP of .265 is 24 points lower than Scherzer’s .289.
GROUND VS. AIR: Ground balls are a pitcher’s friend. Fister’s 88 groundouts far surpasses Scherzer’s 51. Combine that with Ground Out/Air Out ratios of 1.66 and 0.76 respectively and it’s clear that opponents are far more likely to put the ball in the air against Max.
PIP (Pitches per Innings Pitched): It’s a no-brainer: the fewer pitches thrown, the better. Again, at 15.09, Fister leads all starters, with Scherzer at 16.34.
Yes, strikeouts are sexy. Fans love to hang those Ks off the upper deck. The whole blue eye/brown eye thing doesn’t hurt either. But in a city that cherishes a blue-collar ethic in its athletes, there should be some love going Doug Fister’s way.