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2017 Red Sox Review: Doug Fister

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A look back at the surprising year for Doug Fister

Oakland Athletics v Boston Red Sox Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Welcome to the Red Sox Review series. It’s a fairly standard feature in which we will review the year that was for every player who made a decently large impact on the Red Sox this year. How do I come up with that definition? Completely arbitrarily, of course! The list of players I’m using can be seen here, and if I am missing anyone please let me know in the comments. Anyway, for the players who are included we will look at the positives of their 2017, the negatives, review their One Big Question from the preseason and look ahead to what’s on the table for 2018. Today, we discuss Doug Fister.

The Positives

Fister, of course, did not start the season with the Red Sox, but instead was a member of the Angels organization. The veteran was eventually designated for assignment by the Angels and eventually claimed by the Red Sox in late June. At the time, it seemed like a short-term fix and that he would just be a footnote in their 2017 season. Instead, as we know, he stuck around all year and even made a postseason start. That brings us to the first and most important positive of his season: He sort of saved the Red Sox rotation. When David Price was first injured in July, it seemed like a death sentence for a Red Sox team that was battling the Yankees in the division. Price was starting to hit his stride and appeared ready for a strong run through the second half. Things didn’t appear to be in good hands with Fister.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Cleveland Indians Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Instead, he went on an incredible run to start things off. In his first seven starts after taking Price’s spot in the rotation, Fister was nearly unstoppable. He tossed 48 innings with a 2.79 ERA, 44 strikeouts and 14 walks. He had just one start during that run in which he allowed more than two runs and the stretch was highlighted by the start in Cleveland in which he allowed a solo homer to the first batter he saw then proceeded to no-hit the Indians the rest of the way. Instead of the Red Sox being doomed after Price’s injury, Fister stepped in, stepped up and kept the team on the right track.

Looking a little more broadly at his season, there was one pitch in particular that drove much of Fister’s success. That was his two-seam fastball, and if that offering was working it was likely to be a good pitch. At his best, he was able to paint the glove-side corner with that pitch, leading to a ton of weak contact and ground balls. This was particularly effective after the mechanical change that sparked his strong run. That change is detailed here. According to Brooks Baseball, Fister threw the pitch over 57 percent of the time and 52 percent of the batted balls hit off the pitch were on the ground.

The final two strengths for Fister this year, and big reasons he was able to pitch his way into a postseason start, were his strikeouts and his performance against right-handed hitters. Fister has never been a big swing-and-miss guy, particularly at this stage in his career, but he was able to strike out 8.3 batters per nine innings in 2017, his highest rate ever. Some of that was likely fluky and some more was due to the changing game, but he also looked like a markedly different pitcher for much of the year. Meanwhile, he thrived against a large chunk of the league as righties hit just .203/.271/.318 off Fister for the season.

The Negatives

While Fister’s 2017 was certainly better than anyone could have imagined, there were certainly some issues with his performance. The most obvious one for anyone who watched his starts was his performance in the first inning. While Fister ended up putting together strong starts for much of the second half, he almost always got off to a slow start. The final numbers are most important, but it didn’t help anyone to put the team in an early hole on such a consistent basis. Over the entire season, he pitched to a 9.00 ERA in the first inning with opponents posting a 1.035 OPS. Yikes.

In addition to the first inning issues, there is the issue of Fister losing some of his control and allowing hard contact through some stretches. Earlier I mentioned that the veteran has never really been a strikeout pitcher, and he was able to get away with that because of impeccable control. His new self that emerged in 2017 kind of flipped that switch and he ended the year with almost four walks per nine innings. In addition to that, according to Fangraphs’ batted ball data he allowed more hard contact than he ever has. All of this came to a head early and late in his season when things began to unravel. The good outweighed the bad for Fister, but we were reminded why he was a minor-leaguer for most of the first half for some stretches throughout the season.

The Big Question

N/A

Looking ahead to 2018

Fister is a free agent heading into this offseason, and something tells me there will be more interest in the veteran righty than there was last winter. Granted, he’s not going to be looking at some lucrative deals — or even multi-year ones — but he was impressive enough that someone should give him a chance. I would bet on him being with another organization next year, but with the Eduardo Rodriguez surgery it’s possible the Red Sox could be interested in bringing Fister back. Either way, I’d expect a major-league deal for Fister this winter, though if the market is less aggressive than expected it wouldn’t be a total shock to see him land a minor-league deal. Either way, he’ll have a better shot at making an Opening Day roster than he did last year.