With the Tigers down to games two games to one in the best of five American League Divisional Series versus the Athletics, manager Jim Leyland will hand the ball to right hander Doug Fister early Tuesday evening. Despite his long lanky six-foot-eight-inch frame, Fister does not have the imposing stuff of teammates Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and Anibal Sanchez. Instead, he is a finesse pitcher whose average fastball is a touch below 90 MPH, but his results are not far behind the staff aces.
On a staff which set the all-time single-season strikeout record, Fister punched out just 6.9 batters per nine innings during this season, the lowest rate among Tigers starters. He makes up for his lack of a dominant strikeout pitch with a calm demeanor and excellent control. He has extensive training in target shooting and he carries his marksmanship to the mound walking just 1.8 batters per nine innings over the last three years.
The 29-year-old Merced, California native also rarely allows a home run surrendering just 0.6 per nine innings in 2013. This is no fluke as he has the given up round trippers at the same low rate since 2011 to lead all American League starters during that period. Fister uses his sinker, curve and splitter to get batters to pound the ball into the dirt leading to a 54.3% ground ball rate, fourth lowest in the AL this year.
Due to his impressive walk and home run rates, Fister was seventh in the AL with a 3.26 Fielding Independent Pitching ERA (FIP), a statistic designed to measure a pitcher's performance on events that
he essentially controls without the help of fielders - strikeouts walks,
hit batsmen and home runs. He was also eighth in the league with 4.5 Wins Above Replacement according to FanGraphs.
The last time he pitched in post-season, the unflappable Fister survived a line drive off his head without missing a beat in the second game of the 2012 World Series. He stayed in to allow just one run in six innings versus the Giants. The Tigers lost the game, but that performance may have been the highlight of a lackluster World Series for the Tigers. Fister was excellent all post-season putting up a 1.37 ERA in three starts.
Fister did not fare well in his one start versus Oakland this year allowing seven runs in five innings back in August, but that's the life for a finesse pitcher. When he doesn't have really good command of his pitches, he's likely to be hit hard. If he has it, which is usually the case, Fister is the perfect pitcher to go against Oakland, a team that thrives on walks and home runs.
When he is not pitching or shooting at targets, Fister keeps his legs strong and his mind clear by running long distance. He often runs 10 miles in a day and has competed in half marathons during the off-season. On Tuesday, it will be more of a do or die sprint than a marathon as the Tigers face possible elimination in game four versus Oakland.