Heading into Friday night’s start against the San Francisco Giants, Nationals right-hander Fister has gone seven-plus innings and allowed two runs or less in five consecutive starts. He has a 0.51 ERA over that period, lowering his season ERA from 2.91 to 2.20. And we’ve seen the groundball fiend change his style over the hot streak.
Four of those five starts have come in August, a month in which 62 percent of Fister’s pitches have been sinkers. He’s never thrown such a high percentage of sinkers over a single month in his entire career.
More than 50 percent of Fister’s pitches during the 2010 season, back when he was with the Seattle Mariners, were sinkers. That rate proceeded to decline in each of the next three years, when he was with that dreadful infield defense in Detroit.
Miguel Cabrera and Jhonny Peralta made up the left side of the Tigers’ defense back then. Fister started throwing fewer and fewer sinkers, steering away from the pitch in which he was so confident and seeing his sinker rate decline during each season he spent in Detroit. Essentially, he figured the defense would hurt him, so he changed his style. And he wasn’t particularly wrong: Fister’s FIP was 3.26, compared with his 3.67 ERA last season.
While the Nationals’ defense is far from the best in the league, it’s also far from the worst. And apparently that’s all Fister needs to dust off the discomfort and get back to throwing sinkers confidently and often.
Washington’s infield has six defensive runs saved on the season, and though team defensive statistics can be volatile from year to year, it’s safe to say based on numbers or the ever-successful eye test that the Nats’ infield — especially the left side — is far more adept than last year’s Tigers defense. That alone is a reason we’re seeing a new style in Fister, one that should continue as long as he has competent fielders behind him.
Fred Katz averaged almost one point per game in fifth grade, but he maintains his per-36-minute numbers were astonishing. Find more of his work at Bleacher Report or on ESPN’s TrueHoop Network at ClipperBlog.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FredKatz.