Doug Fister is one of many intriguing names still available on the free-agent market, and according to ESPN’s Buster Olney, the right-hander has received offers of one and two years in length from multiple clubs (Twitter link). To this point, it’s been a quiet offseason in terms of rumors pertaining to the PSI Sports client, although the Tigers, Phillies and, more recently, the Marlins have all been connected to Fister in media reports. (Detroit’s interest was mentioned in November, so he’s probably off the Tigers’ radar now. The same may be true of the Phillies, who were linked to Fister in early December.)
Entering the 2015 season, Fister was part of what looked to be a star-studded class of elite and second-tier arms that were slated to hit the open market this winter. However, the 2015 campaign was the worst of his career by nearly any measure. Fister, of course, began the season in one of the game’s deepest rotations (Nationals), but he surprisingly struggled to the point where he lost his starting job and was moved to the bullpen. While he’s never thrown hard in the past, Fister opened the season averaging just over 86 mph on his fastball and eventually landed on the disabled list in mid-May with a bout of forearm tightness. He returned about a month later but didn’t see much in the way of improved results. All told, the 31-year-old (32 in February) recorded an uncharacteristic 4.60 ERA across 15 starts in his second (and presumably final) season with the Nats. In those 15 starts, Fister logged 86 innings (about 5 2/3 innings per outing) and struck out just 48 hitters — an average of 5.01 per nine innings. Fister’s 4.63 FIP, 4.60 xFIP and 4.70 SIERA all matched his unsightly ERA, and his 42 percent ground-ball rate out of the rotation this season was the lowest of his career.
While there’s clearly a long list of red flags surrounding Fister, the upside he brings to the table is also tantalizing. From 2011-14, Fister was one of baseball’s most underrated player, recording a pristine 3.11 ERA with 6.5 K/9, 1.7 BB/9 and a 50.5 percent ground-ball rate across 750 2/3 innings. He landed on the DL a few times in that stretch for a strained lat muscle and a pair of strained muscles in his side — nothing arm-related — and averaged 188 innings per season in that time (201 per season when factoring in the playoffs, where he owns a 2.60 ERA in 55 1/3 innings).
Fister is entering his age-32 season, and the significant drop in his velocity could be the beginning of a decline phase for the right-hander. However, it’s also worth noting that he handled relief work exceptionally well (2.12 ERA, 15-to-6 K/BB ratio in 17 2/3 innings) and maintained his usual brand of strong control in 2015 (2.1 BB/9). If Fister can reestablish some velocity or learn to alter his style to succeed with diminished heat, he could prove to be an excellent value on a one- or two-year contract. And, if he goes the one-year route, he could re-enter the free-agent market next winter in a definitively thinner starting pitching class.