The men on the field and the men in the offices were in agreement on new Nationals starting pitcher Doug Fister. And when the scouts and statisticians are on the same page it makes life much easier for a general manager.
The player they were debating inside the halls of Nationals Park is a sinker-balling, strike-throwing tough guy who once took a line drive square off the head in a World Series game and stayed on the field.
And so Washington general manager Mike Rizzo turned trade talks with Detroit counterpart Dave Dombrowski toward Fister and away from Tigers pitchers Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello. By the time the calendar flipped to December the two sides had an agreement in place.
The scouts see a big, physical pitcher who logs lots of innings, pounds the strike zone and has performed beautifully on the sport’s biggest stage. Rizzo remembers well Fister taking the line drive off the head in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series. He walked the next batter, escaped a second-inning jam and retired 13 of the last 14 batters he faced.
The stats guys look at these numbers: Over the past three seasons, Fister has a 13.3 WAR (wins above replacement), according to the web site FanGraphs.com. That ranks ninth in baseball over that stretch. Fister is fifth in home runs allowed per nine innings (0.61) and ninth in strikeout-to-walk ratio (1.8/1) and walk rate (4.9 percent).
“We like the entire package with him,” said Rizzo, who had himself scouted Fister dating back to his days as a college pitcher at Fresno State. “We also liked that he had multiple years of control and a guy that we think can grow with the Nationals.”
Indeed, Fister has two years left before he can become a free agent. Rizzo said it’s too soon to discuss a contract extension. But he is still just 29. He has no serious history of arm trouble or other injury. It made sense to Washington to part with reserve Steve Lombardozzi, lefty reliever Ian Krol and pitching prospect Robbie Ray.
The Nats like Fister’s groundball percentage rate, which was a career-best 54.3 percent last season, and hope a more aggressive defensive philosophy will only help him. The team added a defensive coach, Mark Weidemaier, to the staff under new manager Matt Williams. A move to the National League also appears favorable for a pitcher who spent five years facing stronger lineups in the American League with Detroit and Seattle.
It doesn’t hurt that Fister fields his position well and is excellent at holding runners on base. Washington’s other starters, save lefty Ross Detwiler, are notoriously bad at that particular aspect of the job.
“I just think he’s a great pitcher,” Rizzo said. “He’s hard to pick up. I’ve talked to guys who have hit against him, guys who have played against him. You’re talking about a 6-8 guy who comes at a real difficult angle to handle as a hitter and has extreme late sink in the strike zone, doesn’t walk anybody, can really pitch to all four quadrants of the plate, and a guy with a full arsenal to get major-league hitters out.”