Why Doug Fister has been so effective
April, 28, 2013
By Buster Olney | ESPN.com
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesDetroit right-hander Doug Fister is 3-0 this season with a 2.00 ERA and 17 strikeouts.DETROIT -- Mike Trout hit a roller toward first base last Sunday and Prince Fielder took a couple of steps forward to corral the ball. You can see it in this highlight reel, starting at about the 18-second mark. Then Doug Fister dove headlong toward the ball.
Fielder immediately rushed toward the base, because the other Tigers have learned about what Fister is capable of with his athleticism over the past couple of seasons. "Gold Glove caliber," said catcher Alex Avila.
Fister sprawled out on the grass, using all of his 6 feet, 8 inches, and gloved the ball. He lurched and flipped the ball to Fielder to retire arguably baseball's fastest man by a step. Fister is pretty good at throwing a baseball, creating movement with a sinker and slider; but he does a lot of other stuff well, too, and hopes to lead the Tigers to a sweep of the Braves when he starts against Mike Minor tonight (ESPN, 8 ET).
When Fister was on the disabled list last summer and in Detroit while the team was on the road, Tigers GM David Dombrowski said he was down in the team's workout room at Comerica Park, battling away on the treadmill, going somewhere between 6 and 7 miles per hour, as best he can remember.
Fister stepped onto a nearby treadmill, and Dombrowski recalls Fister started his workout at about the same pace that the GM had built up to, before quickly accelerating his pace, his long strides covering the treadmill easily at 10 mph. Fister ran cross-country as an eighth grader, and later, his fastest timed mile was 5 minutes, 15 seconds.
He played football, as a quarterback and at other positions, and in basketball he played forward. His growth spurt came early when he was a teenager, and Fister cannot remember a time when his coordination was a problem, when he struggled like a baby giraffe to get synched up in his movement. He played positions other than pitcher as an amateur, playing first and third base up until his junior year in college, and he loved playing defense.
Courtesy of the Fister FamilyDoug Fister, in addition to baseball, played basketball and football in high school.
Fister's angularity would seem to be perfect for someone throwing a sinker ball, with his long arms creating the sort of whiplash motion that can make the ball dive. But Fister really struggled to develop any kind of consistent sinker until he was near the top of the Seattle farm system, and the slider that he threw seemed to hurt the consistency of his curveball, which is not an unusual problem for pitchers. He tinkered with the grip of his sinker until he realized that when he kept his fingers off the seam of the baseball, he could command the pitch much more effectively and get more consistent sink. If he touched a seam at all, he couldn't really command it the way he needed to. That changed a lot for him.
Then in 2009, Fister tried a cut fastball, with a very slight alteration from his four-seam fastball. It suddenly gave him a complete set of tools, the sinker that dove down and in to right-handed hitters, the cutter that veered away.
This is what you hear from hitters about Fister: Everything he throws seems to move horizontally a lot, and late in its journey to the plate. Since Fister has joined the Tigers, he has a 2.85 ERA.
Around the league
• For Minor, a turning point came last summer, when Braves pitching coach Roger McDowell asked him to start preparing his own scouting report. Minor is a polite and understated person, and he was not one to shake off Brian McCann or David Ross; rather he would just nod his head at what they suggested.
But in preparing his own scouting reports, in 30-minute sessions with videotape, Minor developed a better sense of the hitters and a better sense of how his stuff would work against them. With that understanding, he became more invested in each pitch he threw. Over the second half of last season and into this year, he has become one of the better left-handers in the National League.
• The Tigers and Braves continued to rave Saturday about Anibal Sanchez's 17-strikeout game on Friday night. The scouting report on Sanchez is that he throws a changeup, but the Braves' hitters think he was throwing something much more like a splitter than a changeup, because of the way it dove and spun.
• Rick Porcello endured Saturday to give Detroit the win in Game 2 of the weekend series.
The Braves have dropped six of their last eight and are ready to get home.
• Justin Upton clubbed his 12th homer Saturday, and like those before, it went a long, long way. From ESPN Stats and Info: Upton's home run traveled 423 feet. His average home run distance is 423.5 feet, the highest among players who have hit more than five home runs this season.
Highest average home run distance this season
Justin Upton -- 423.5
Anthony Rizzo -- 418.6
Mark Reynolds -- 418.1
Jose Bautista -- 417.0
This season, Upton is just 3-for-14 against fastballs away. However, two of those three hits were for home runs, including the one on Saturday.
• Since the start of the 2006 season, Miguel Cabrera and Fielder have missed a total of 40 games. Combined. Just 40 games.
To put that into perspective, think about this: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the start of the 2006 season, there have been 1,554 players on the disabled list for at least 40 days.
• Rockies prospect Nolan Arenado is headed to the big leagues, writes Troy Renck.
• Matt Moore is perfect, so far. From Marc Topkin's story:
But the 5-0 start, and the almost equally impressive 1.13 ERA, especially for a pitcher previously known as a slow starter?
"I've never done this before in the beginning of a season," Moore said. "So right now I'll just try to stay hungry and keep feeding off that last one, keep riding the snowball." Those watching him, though, were plenty impressed.
"Same thing as every night he pitches, it's special," [Kelly] Johnson said. "He gets a lot of uncomfortable swings. Guys just don't time him. His fastball looks like 110 (mph) sometimes. Just so poised and smooth."