Skeptics Say: We need to be wary of seasons that come out of nowhere. Generally when players have a breakout, we can see some numbers from their minor league career that back up the production we saw in the majors. We don't really have that with Fister. Granted, his K/9 went up from 4.9 to 6.07, and yes that is around where he was in the minors and the stellar walk rate is for real, he has great control, but everything else is a red flag.
His 2.83 ERA was his best since low A in 2006 when he threw 40 innings and had a 2.25 ERA. His next best mark in the minors was AAA where it was 3.81 with a 3.39 FIP, which is fine. However, his 2011 ERA has nothing to really back it up as being anything other than a stroke of luck. His FIP, xFIP, tERA and SIERA are all higher. His .272 BABIP was 1/100th of a point from being the best of his career (minors included). His HR/FB of 5.1% was aided by his pitching in pitcher friendly Safeco for most of the season. He is only generating a swing and miss 6.7% of the time. Among the 94 qualified starting pitchers on fangraphs last year, Fister had the 15th highest contact percentage on all his offerings.
Peer Comparison: Since Fister doesn't get many outs by way of the "whiff" if should be important to note the type of contact that he is giving up. His LD/GB/FB percentages go 20.4/47.5/32.1. A similar pitcher who we can compare him to from this past year breaks down as 23.8/45.1/31.1. Their advanced ERA break downs are similar too:
Fister: xFIP 3.61, SIERA 3.67
Other: xFIP 3.55, SIERA 3.79
But luck plays a big role...with those types of numbers Fister could have easily put up the same actual ERA of 4.67, and that low 5.1% HR/FB rate could have been a much more normalized 9.5%. Fister's even had similar K/9 and BB/9 numbers that this "other similar player" had (6.47 and 1.92, respectively)...who happens to be Ricky Nolasco.
Team Outlook: Detroit should be a contender again giving Fister plenty of run support. They have the same players in the bull pen to give Fister the help he needs to hold onto a win. He will pitch 2nd or 3rd in the rotation.
What They're Saying: CBS Sportsline - Not Ranked in the Top Pitchers; Tristan Cockcroft of ESPN.com: #47 in Top 75 Starting Pitchers & #184 in the Top 250 Players; RotoChamp: #109 in the Top 300
Projection: Fister is starting off in a better situation than he was last year. Wins will come more easily but I'm scared of too much regression in things like BABIP and HR/FB that will lead to an increase in ERA and WHIP. A lot of places seem to like him, but call me bearish. People will probably have his strong finish in mind at the draft or auction table next year so he might get picked a little earlier than perhaps he should, and I'm OK with letting someone else reach.
12 W, 4.05 ERA, 118 K, 1.37 WHIP in 180 innings.