Back in late-July, things didn’t look to good for the Red Sox. On the 28th of the month, the Red Sox fell behind the Yankees and were in the midst of a horrible slump with the offense, one that was worse than anything we’d seen previously in the season. Meanwhile, they lost David Price from their rotation about a week before that right as the southpaw seemed like he was ready to heat up. At the time , it appeared to be a crushing blow and one that would severely damage their solid rotation. In fact, there was some speculation (though not much, admittedly) that they’d look at another starting pitcher from outside the organization prior to the July 31 trade deadline.
Instead, they stuck with what they had and they’ve been fantastic in the month since. Now, this is not an argument in favor of the narrative that says the team is better off without their big-money lefty. That is decidedly false, and not really a theory I’m even willing to entertain. That’s a post for another day, though. Today, I want to focus on the positive in the pitcher that has taken Price’s rotation slot. That, of course, is Doug Fister, and the veteran righty has been a shockingly solid, steady presence in the back of the rotation.
It hasn’t always been pretty for Fister in his short Red Sox tenure. He made a couple of solid spot starts when he was first acquired back in June, but they were certainly nothing awe inspiring and it always seemed like he was on the cusp of something of a collapse. Eventually, the rotation returned to full-strength but Dave Dombrowski and company elected to keep Fister in the bullpen rather than cut ties with the righty. He had a couple more meh outings in relief before Price’s injury. It was at this point that everything changed.
Fister made his first post-Price start on the deadline on July 31 and has made five starts since that time. Over them, the righty has tossed 34 1⁄3 innings with a 3.41 ERA, 30 strikeouts and 10 walks. At the same time, he has held opponents to a .210/.272/.315 slash-line. Even more impressive, and perhaps more to the point of his importance to the team, Fister has done his job of keeping his team in the game in four of his five starts. The one bad start came against Cleveland on August 14. This is the part where I mention that, after said start, I wrote that the Red Sox should consider moving on from Fister. That....well, that was a little premature. The righty has made two outstanding starts since that fateful outing.
Arguably more important than the actual results — at least more important for Fister and not for the team — is that there are tangible changes that were made to get the results. This isn’t the case of some pitcher just going through a lucky hot streak. Or, at least, it doesn’t appear to be. Ever since he took over for Price, we’ve heard about mechanical changes being made to Fister’s delivery that have helped him reach that point. The major one was as simple as moving over on the rubber. Here is a look at his horizontal release point in each start this year. You’ll easily be able to see the change in his fourth outing of the season.
That graph is pretty striking, but it can also be confusing. Lines aren’t as informative as actually seeing what that looks like. In Fister’s case, it’s as simple as moving over on the rubber. Below, you’ll see two screenshots from Fister outings. The first is from his first outing with the Red Sox, and the second is from his last. As you’ll see, he went from starting his delivery in the middle of the rubber to starting it on the left edge.
This move has been a huge boost to Fister’s command, particularly on the glove-side of the plate. Since the change, we’ve seen a lot more two seamers that have hugged that corner. That, of course, is just a brutal pitch for opponents to handle and it’s leading to a lot of weak contact. The .250 batting average on balls in play would, at first glance, appear to be the result of good fortune. There is probably some of that in there, but it’s more that he’s hitting his spots and batters can’t seem to do anything. As a pitcher who has never relied on wipeout stuff, weak contact is how he survives and this change unlocked that. It’s also led to a big increase in groundballs, which has been a big weapon to him when he has allowed a runner with fewer than two outs.
Even with all of this, I’d be lying if I said I was fully sold on Fister. It still seems like there is a lot of room to fall, and the more opponents see this new-and-improved pitcher the more strategies they’ll have to counteract his changes. Plus, off-days have given him opportunities for extra rest over this stretch, and that may not be as easy moving forward. That being said, he’s been a massively important figure in the great month of August. His stabilizing presence after Price’s injury helped propel the Red Sox to where they are today. It remains to be seen if he can keep this up for the rest of the season, but given the tangible changes he’s made and the results they’ve produced, it’s hard to bet against him at this moment.