The Marlins have just snatched Pirates special assistant Jim Benedict to become their new Vice President of pitcher development. For the past few years, the Pirates have been the best organization in baseball in terms of rehabilitating the careers of starting pitchers.
Notable reclamation projects include:
Jim Benedict has long been credited with being a key cog in the Pirates pitching machine. Benedict was also in the organization when Pirates’ catchers became some of the best in Major League Baseball. Both Russell Martin and Francisco Cervelli took huge strides in the past three seasons as members of the Pirates, improving both offensively and defensively while catching the new and improved Pirates pitchers. Overall, we see that the general battery of the Pirates was in terrific form. The Marlins are banking on Benedict translating that success into a Miami team that hasn’t made the playoffs in 12 seasons.
Doug Fister was one of the top 30 pitchers in the game in terms of and ERA and WAR from 2011-2014. In 2015, Fister’s fastball velocity dropped.
His other pitches were slower as well:
Across the board, Fister threw slower and got hit harder. Here are his Hard Hit Percentages from the past two seasons:
Soft Hit Ball
Hard Hit Ball
Correlation doesn’t always mean causation, but here we can definitely see a pattern.
Yes, Fister’s velocity was down significantly last year. While that is a real cause for concern, it is not an overwhelming problem that cannot be remedied over the course of the offseason and spring training. Also, the Marlins have a good history of increasing the average velocity of their starting pitchers.
Henderson Alvarez, Adam Conley, and Tom Koehler are just three examples of Marlins starting pitchers whose scouting reports from before their Marlins debut reported that their average fastball velocities sat in the low 90s. All three have been clocked at 94 or higher during their starts. While the difference of 2-3 miles per hour may not seem like a lot, the results are significant.
For Fister, we’ve seen the large drop-off of performance for a decline of less than 2mph. Former Marlins closer Steve Cishek became completely unusable after his velocity dropped from 92 to 90mph. The encouraging sign for Fister is that he has a much longer and successful track record than any of the aforementioned pitchers, and the jump from 86 to 88 mph is much easier to obtain than a jump from 90 to 93 mph. With the right management, Fister could see his velocity rebound.
Another factor that would lead to better results for Fister in Miami would be the improved infield defense.
Miami Marlins infielders Adeiny Hechavarria, Dee Gordon, Justin Bour, and Martin Prado:
Washington Nationals Shortstop Ian Desmond:
Doug Fister won’t be missing Ian Desmond playing behind him anytime soon. While Desmond probably isn’t on his was back to DC next season, there is no doubt that a move to Miami would mean an improved infield defense for the groundball rolling Fister.
The Pirates have a better history of improving buy-low pitchers than anyone in the majors. But will they be after Fister? A potential problem for the Pirates will be Fister’s price tag. Last season, Fister earned $11.4 Million Dollars. Fister will almost certainly be looking for a one year deal at a price near or above that figure.
Considering Fister’s track record, durability, previous salary, and qualifying offer amount, Fister will most likely be fielding offers between 10-14 Million for just the 2016 season. The financially strapped Pirates will have to look long and hard at acquiring a “Buy-low” starter for over $10 Million.
A return to DC looks unlikely, and large market teams will be more enamored with the most impressive free agent pool of starting pitchers available in years. Starters such as David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman, and Zack Grienke will dictate the speed of the market, which could lead to Fister slipping onto a team with less deep pockets. The Marlins could take advantage and target Fister from the start, which would play into their favor. If Jeffrey Loria is serious about contenting in 2016, a one year deal for a pitcher like Fister would be a great place to start.