Even with Wednesday’s uneven start, Doug Fister has been the Nationals’ best starter all season. He throws strikes and has good command. His stuff, especially his darting sinker, is undersold. He works quickly and fields his position well. But one of the overlooked reasons for his excellence is his ability to keep base runners in place.
A sinkerball pitcher such as Fister invites contact from opposing lineups and that, inevitably, will lead to hits. What makes Fister different from other starters is his ability to hold those runners. Fister allows more singles than most pitchers. After Wednesday’s start, 96 of 128 hits allowed had been singles, 75 percent. The league average is 68 percent.
The most impressive part? Among starters with at least 100 innings this season, only five — Yordano Ventura, Lance Lynn, Hisashi Iwakuma and Fister — have not allowed a stolen base. In fact, only one player has attempted a stolen base against Fister this season — then-Diamondback Gerardo Parra — and he was picked off at second base by Fister.
“He knows it’s an important part for him,” Manager Matt Williams said. “If he gets a guy on first, he’s got the opportunity to roll a double play with the sinker or the change-up. If he holds them there, he’s got a chance to do that. It’s important for him.”
Fister holds runners well because he holds the ball on the mound to throw off runner’s timing and has a quick delivery despite his 6-foot-8 frame. Fister’s delivery is 1.2 to 1.25 seconds to the plate, Williams said, an elite time. Fister even throws over to first base on his own, without signs from the dugout.
After years of trying, the Nationals have improved at limiting stolen bases this season and Fister, one of the fastest-working pitchers in baseball, is a big reason. In his six-year career, Fister has allowed only 16 stolen bases in 32 attempts over 150 games, a remarkable number.
“He understands the whole game,” Williams said. “Remember, he was an infielder [in high school and college]. In his brain, he probably still is. He understands the pace of the game. He understands who’s at the plate, who’s on the bases. It just helps him with his pitching.”