Is Doug Fister the Nationals’ Missing Piece?
One of the newest and most exciting additions to the Nationals roster for the 2014 season is pitcher Doug Fister. Fister, a starter acquired from the Tigers, may be the proven veteran in the Nats rotation that Mike Rizzo has been hoping to find for many years. He may also be the missing link in the rotation for taking the Nationals to the playoffs. But where did that start? Let’s go back a few years.
Two hours down the long California freeways from San Francisco, Doug Fister was born in the Northern California town of Merced. Doug grew up the son of Larry, a fire captain and police SWAT team member, and Jan, a homemaker. He grew up interested in baseball, woodworking, and remodeling cars. As a kid,he would take apart his mom’s appliances and then put them back together again, just for fun. Doug grew up a fan of the nearby A’s and Giants. He was also a fan of the “Iron Man” Cal Ripken, Jr.
Doug went to Golden Valley High School, and played high school ball for the Cougars. He was a pitcher and a utility player, and he hit .425 in his senior year. He was drafted by the nearby Giants as a first baseman, but decided to play baseball in college. After graduating from Golden Valley, he decided to go to Merced Junior College for two years. In those two years, he was a junior college All Star, and struck out 29 players in just 30 innings pitched. He went on to Division I Fresno State and, in 2006, was voted to the ESPN All-District team, with a 3.33 ERA. Doug was also a good student because he had a 3.31 GPA in liberal studies and planned to be an elementary school teacher if he didn’t make it to The Show. The Fresno State Bulldogs, as they were called, went to the NCAA tournament that year, but fell to Cal State Fullerton in the Regional Finals that year.
After watching big names like Evan Longoria, Tim Lincecum, and Max Scherzer being picked, Doug Fister was selected with the fifth pick in the seventh round of the 2006 MLB Amateur Player Draft by the Seattle Mariners. His dream came true as MLB Commissioner Bud Selig introduced Doug Fister as a professional ballplayer.
After rising relatively quickly through the Mariners’ organization, he made his major league debut on August 8, 2009 with one inning of shutout pitching. Three days later, he started his first game against the White Sox, and eventually finished that season 3-4. The next year, he was given the chance to become a regular starter. He got the job, and posted a 6-14 record with a 4.11 E.R.A. Even with those rough numbers, many people saw the potential in the tall kid from Merced.
On the trade deadline of 2011, after a rough 3-12 start, the Mariners shipped Doug Fister away to the Detroit Tigers. After that trade, he went 8-1, and had a 1.71 E.R.A in ten starts as a Tiger. After two playoff wins, things were looking good for Doug Fister and the Tigers. 2012 had potential to be a big year for them.
Although injured for a portion of the beginning of the 2012 season, Fister came back strong, and managed a 10-10 record that year, recorded a shutout and, in all of his playoff games, did not give up more than two runs in any game, in up to seven innings of work. Doug was a large part in the Tigers’ 2013 Division Championship run. Not only did he post a career high in wins, win percentage and strikeouts, but kept the eventual World Series champions, the Red Sox, to one run over six innings in the ALCS.
On the evening of December 3, 2013, a high school senior in Boston, Chris Cotillo, broke the news that Fister was being traded for the second time of his career. In a move that surprised the baseball world, Doug Fister was traded to the Washington Nationals for utility player Steve Lombardozzi, rookie pitcher Ian Krol and prospect Robbie Ray. For a deal like this, it was hard for Nats fans not to be excited.
— Chris Cotillo (@ChrisCotillo) December 3, 2013
The Nationals are hoping that Doug Fister fills a role in their rotation that they tried unsuccessfully to do with Edwin Jackson and Dan Haren in 2012 and 2013. Fister is a seasoned veteran going on 5 years of major league experience with lots of postseason experience. With his clutch pitching and intimidating height, he could be a force to be reckoned with in the already solid rotation. Most likely, he will slot in as the Nats’ fourth starter, although on most teams he would probably slot higher. Most expect that Nationals starting rotation to go Strasburg (R), Gonzalez (L), Zimmermann (R), Fister (R), and the fifth spot to be decided in Spring Training between Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan or possibly even Christian Garcia. With a lineup that strong, Fister could even go #5 for real right-left, right-left rotation. He could also slot in higher in the rotation to mess with hitters’ timing– while Strasburg can go 95 mph and Gio and J-Zimm also throw heat in the 90s, Fister’s fastball tops out in the high 80s but with major accuracy and a sinker that induces a lot of infield outs. Imagine what it would be like as a batter playing a four game series against the Nats facing Strasburg’s fastball on Monday, Gio’s wicked curve on Tuesday, Zimmerman’s change in velocity on Wednesday, and Fister’s nasty sinker on Thursday.
One big way Doug Fister can help is in the clubhouse. He will be the oldest of the Nationals starting pitchers and can be a great mentor for some of the younger pitchers in the rotation, like Strasburg and Gonzalez. He has a calm personality that will probably make him fit in well with teammates Strasburg and Zimmermann.
However, the biggest reason Doug Fister can make the Nats a championship team, is the simple fact that he is an amazing pitcher. Even while he was pitching in the third most hitter-friendly ballpark in the country, he posted great numbers throughout his tenure as a Tiger. He succeeds by throwing well-placed pitches and getting hitters to swing on top of the sinker that drops like a rock, which means lots of groundballs to guys like Zimmerman, Desmond and Rendon/Espinosa. With Fister’s accuracy, he rarely gives up walks, which is as bad as giving up hits. He studied to be a teacher, and hopefully he can teach the younger guys what has made him excel. Doug Fister has seen a lot of postseason play with the Tigers, but in those high pressure situations he’s posted a 2.98 E.R.A. for an average of six innings a game.
The Nats already had the potential to be a great team, but with the addition of Doug Fister, they may have taken the leap to become a World Series team. Fister told USA Today, he is going to “approach every day trying to get better and trying to make it to October.” Hopefully, we’ll see the Nationals there this Fall.
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Thanks to Will Kubzansky, who collaborated with me on this post. Will writes a blog called sideofnatitude.com. You can also follow him on Twitter @kubzdc.
Are you interested in biographies or profiles of other Nationals players? Check out my pieces on Stephen Strasburg, Ian Desmond, Ryan Zimmerman, Christian Garcia, Bryce Harper, Craig Stammen, and others in the Matt’s Bats Archive.