2015 Statistics: 103 IP, 5.5 K/9, 2.1 BB/9, 1.2 HR/9, 4.19 ERA, 4.55 FIP
2016 Age: 32
Position: Starting pitcher
Throughout Doug Fister's career, he has made a habit of exceeding expectations. He was only a seventh round pick in the 2006 Draft, but he has already exceeded 1,000 career innings with a 19.2 WAR at age 32. The Tigers picked him up from the Mariners at the 2011 trade deadline hoping that he could give a rotation that featured AL MVP Justin Verlander a little bit of a boost down the stretch. All they had to surrender to get him was a reliever (Charlie Furbush, long live the Fister-for-Furbush trade), a reserve outfielder (Casper Wells), and two minor leaguers of little consequence.
Fister rewarded them with a fantastic 1.79 ERA run in 70 innings over the season's last two months as the Tigers won the AL Central. The trend continued when the Tigers went on their pennant-winning run in 2012. Although not normally a strikeout artist, Fister set an AL record in his last start of the season by fanning nine Royals in a row:
Fister was almost an afterthought following Verlander and Max Scherzer, but he was their best starter in the postseason, pitching to a 1.40 ERA in 19 1/3 innings, baffling the Athletics, Yankees, and Giants. Not even a scary line drive to the head in the World Series could slow him down. After a 200-inning season and another division title in 2013, the Tigers stunned baseball by giving Fister up at a seemingly low price. The Nationals added him to their own star-studded rotation in exchange for reliever Ian Krol, infielder Steve Lombardozzi, and pitching prospect Robbie Ray (since flipped to Arizona).
The Nationals added two years of control on Fister for basically nothing. Once again, he was in a rotation overshadowed by more well-known names like Stephen Strasburg, Jordan Zimmermann, and Gio Gonzalez. Once again, he was the unsung hero, recovering from an early DL stint to record a superb 2.41 ERA (66 ERA-) over 25 starts, posting 4.5 WAR, and even earning some down-ballot votes for the NL Cy Young Award. For the fourth straight year, he was on a division-winning team as the Nationals ran away with the NL East title, and in his only playoff start, he dominated the eventual World Series champion Giants over seven innings of shutout ball in Game 3.
Expectations were even higher on the Nationals when Fister was reunited with Scherzer during the 2014-15 off-season, and thanks to a rotation loaded with Scherzer, Fister, Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, and the up-and-coming Tanner Roark, they were considered easy favorites to repeat as division champions. That... did not end up happening. Fister's performance took a severe dip. After a promising beginning, he was bombed over his next 13 starts, yielding a 5.30 ERA, an .855 OPS against, and almost a homer per game.
Fister also dealt with a painful injury, suffering a flexor strain in the middle of that stretch that kept him out of action for a month. By early August, the Nationals were tired of waiting for Fister to recover as their division title hopes faded, so they moved him to the bullpen for the season's final month and a half. His performance improved, but that obviously didn't help his free agency stock. Had he been a free agent after the 2014 campaign, he would almost certainly be looking for at least as much as Mike Leake will receive this off-season.
Now, Fister will probably have to settle for a lesser deal to rebuild his value. It's definitely too soon to call his career over, barely a year after his excellent 2014. Perhaps his injury hurt him more than he let on and he was never the same from mid-May onward. Either way, the Yankees' rotation is in need of better options than the likes of Ivan Nova and other such question marks at the back end. Taking a chance on Fister certainly seems like a reasonable suggestion.
At Fister's best, he is a ground ball machine with pinpoint command. Even last year, he walked barely over two batters per nine innings. He doesn't strike people out, but that was never his specialty. His game is centered around weak contact, and the 1.2 HR/9 he had last year was an anomaly--his career mark is 0.8 HR/9. If Fister can come even close to the consistent starter he was from 2011-14, he would absolutely be worth the short contract. Signing him is a modest gamble that the Yankees should take.