Blue Jays: Doug Fister still too large a gamble at reduced rate


The Blue Jays recent links to Yovani Gallardo have also spiked fan discussion on former Nationals starter Doug Fister, but the risk remains uncomfortable

News that the Blue Jays have remained engaged in talks with free agent starter Yovani Gallardo over the winter, including this recent report from Sportsnet’s Ben Nicholson-Smith, have cracked the door back open for those fans still yearning for a mid-rotation arm.

One of those left the market on Saturday in the form of Ian Kennedy, who signed with the Royals for $70 million over five years (not to mention a surrendered draft pick). The J.A. Happ contract looks better by the day.

Back in September, Jeff Blair of Sportsnet reported that the Blue Jays would “make a play” for Doug Fister in free agency. Despite coming off his worst career season in many primary and peripheral statistical categories, Fister was seen by some as a bounce-back candidate. And still could be, especially if his asking price bottoms out over a one or two year term. 

These loose Gallardo links have made some level of logical sense for the Blue Jays, especially if the contract of R.A. Dickey were moved to make way for a three-to-four year deal that would align the consistently productive Gallardo with the window  of Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Russell Martin and the cheapest seasons of their younger talent (Stroman, Travis, Pillar, Osuna, etc.).

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In Fister, however, a level of risk is involved that still isn’t at the point where the Blue Jays should be biting financially. It’s something often overlooked, but being a buy-low candidate means, well, you’re low.

Fister did enjoy an excellent 2014 season in Washington with a 2.41 ERA in 25 starts, earning a 16-6 record with a 1.079 WHIP. His 3.93 FIP suggested that those numbers were being easy on him, however, which caught up with the right-hander in 2015.

Last year for the Nationals, Fister, who really was one of the league’s more underrated arms for several years, hit the wall. He managed just 15 starts before being demoted to the bullpen after a start on August 3rd, finishing the season with a 4.19 ERA and 0.2 WAR.

After striking out over 7.0 batters per nine innings in his three years with Detroit (2011 – 2013), Fister averaged just 5.4 and 5.5 over his past two seasons in Washington. That’s where the trouble lies. In the fear that 2015 was not just a down year.

Fister’s ground ball rate of 44.6% in 2015 represents his career-low for seasons in which he’s pitched over 100.0 innings, while his Hard-Hit% and HR/FB rate were both uncomfortably high. This is surely linked to his velocity.

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After averaging 88.6 MPH on his fastball in 2013, that dropped to 87.9 MPH in 2014. This past season, it took a significant step back to an average of 86.4 MPH. Fister has never been a power pitcher by any means, but the decline has hurt his changeup and this is yet another example of an arrow pointed in the wrong direction.

So while the dollars and track record involved here make me understand the interest among Blue Jays fans, when we look at this past the surface level and through the lens of Ross Atkins, Tony LaCava and Mark Shapiro, the risk involved is still not appetizing. Yes, the Blue Jays need to “go for it” in 2016. But at the present cost, Fister doesn’t yet fit.