Lukewarm Reviews of Tigers’ Deadline Deal

Our latest Fungo Flash poll asks for your opinion on the Tigers/Mariners trade over the weekend. Based on his article on Grantland — Headline: “Trade Deadline Power Rankings: Part 1, the Vanquished” with the subhead: “Find your team on this list and hang your head in shame” — I’d guess Jonah Keri would vote “Wait and See” with a lean toward “Thumbs down.”

Here’s what he had to say:

16. Detroit Tigers

I have this theory that raw park effects and defense-independent stats don’t always tell the whole story on a particular player. Imagine you’re a pitcher in Petco Park. You know that hitters are far less likely to hit the ball out of the park. Couldn’t that change the way you pitch? Isn’t it conceivable that you could throw more strikes without the fear of an Earl Weaver Special in the back of your mind, thus improving your strikeout rate, your walk rate, and your overall statistical profile?

I think Doug Fister may have benefited from that effect while pitching for the Mariners. The combination of Safeco Field and an excellent defense behind him may have made Fister feel more secure in throwing strikes. That in turn may have led to some microscopic walk rates (career 1.9 BB/9 IP) which contributed greatly to Fister’s success. There are a couple of other more tangible statistical indicators that suggest Fister has had luck on his side, notably a very low home run-per-fly ball rate of 4.4 percent this season. But batting average on balls in play, strand rate, and other oft-cited luck markers don’t necessarily suggest a fluke, or a pitcher ripe for regression.

I wish I could properly test my theory to see if there’s something to it, but there are too many variables in play, and self-reported data such as “how confident was I when I pitched at Safeco Field” is rarely reliable. But the Tigers’ trade for Fister and fellow strikeout-challenged right-hander David Pauley depends largely on whether this effect is real, and if the new guys can adapt to conditions less favorable to pitchers. The good news for the Tigers? They might win a very weak AL Central anyway, even if Fister and Pauley (and recently acquired third baseman Wilson Betemit) fizzle out.

The good news? The Indians are tied with the Rockies at number 18.

Discuss.

3 Comments

  1. looks like Fister will be a good addition to the staff. He’s got the stuff. Tonights game was a big game against a talented team in need of a win. I think this guy is a good “back of the rotation” guy

  2. What do I think about the Grantland article? I read the article at ESPN before the excerpt was posted here. Wasn’t impressed then; not impressed now.

    This guy thinks moving from Safeco to Comerica Park is going to make Fister a worse pitcher. Why? Because of imagined statistics he admits to having no way of proving.

    He also thinks Fister has been lucky. Lucky? His era is 3.33; he started 21 games; he averaged 7 innings a start; and he won 3 times. Uh, if that is luck, we’d call it “bad luck.”

    This is a great trade. We gave up no 2011 assets; one blue chip 3rd base prospect (but not our best blue chip 3rd base prospect); and one player to be named later. Let’s hope it’s a minor league catcher, because Avilla is going to C for a long time here. But as long as it’s not a guy named “Nick” or “Jacob,” how can you not like this trade?

    It sounds to me like Grantland should be retitled “my imagination is better than real world statistics” land.

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