The unluckiest pitcher in baseball looks like he just got a little lucky. Right-hander Doug Fister, labeled by colleague Jayson Stark as the most criminally unsupported pitcher in the game because the Seattle Mariners simply don't score runs for him, reportedly will be traded Saturday to the Detroit Tigers, a team with considerably more offense. Heck, the Toledo Mud Hens might present more offense than the Mariners.
Consider that Fister, a sad 3-12 this season, has a better ERA (3.33) than Felix Hernandez, Tim Hudson, Ervin Santana, Chris Carpenter, David Price and Yovani Gallardo, among many others. Fister's WHIP is 1.17, good for 28th among qualified hurlers, and better than Tim Lincecum, Jon Lester and All-Star Ryan Vogelsong, the current NL ERA leader. Look, Fister isn't an ace, but the way he's pitched, he should be in double digits in wins and owned in a lot more fantasy leagues.
Don't be surprised if Fister suddenly starts winning more games with the Tigers, assuming he continues to pitch effectively. Led by Miguel Cabrera, the Tigers enter Saturday tied for eighth in runs scored. The Mariners are hitting .220 in July with 68 runs scored in 24 games, having recently lost every game for more than two weeks. Fister ranks last among 110 qualified pitchers in run support this season.
All that said -- and I think that's the most I've ever written about run support -- Fister won't become Justin Verlander overnight, either. A hittable control artist who relies on the defense behind him and boasts a below average strikeout rate, Fister's xFIP (expected fielding independent pitching) is 3.90 (according to FanGraphs.com), so there was likely some regression pending in his numbers.
Still, he ranks 22nd in WAR among qualified starting pitchers. Fister's ERA at spacious Safeco Field in Seattle is an even 3.00, with two home runs allowed over 11 starts (his road ERA is 3.71). Detroit's Comerica Park, where Fister has pitched twice and lost both times and has a 6.39 ERA, currently ranks middle of the pack for park factors, meaning it's more neutral than bandbox (Coors Field) or pitcher's best friend (Safeco Field). Then again, fantasy owners would take an ERA more in the 3.90 range if it meant more victories. Three wins? There are 31 relief pitchers with four or more wins!
Fister is owned in 3.7 percent of ESPN standard leagues, and since he's currently 61st among starting pitchers on the ESPN Fantasy Player Rater, despite having won one game since the start of May (in 15 pretty solid starts!). I'd say he deserves to be owned in quite a few more leagues, probably 50 or 60 percent, and ahead of the following pitchers owned in more than 30 percent of standard leagues: Josh Tomlin, Kyle Lohse, Kevin Correia, Bronson Arroyo, Brett Myers, Derek Lowe and Jake Peavy, among the bigger names. Fister is not really a spot starter type; we expect spot starters to win! Fister has been one of the top 50 starting pitchers in baseball this season, and hopefully now the one category he hasn't been able to provide will fix itself. Fister could get 12 more starts. If he wins half -- this is a first-place team he's going to -- you'll quickly become interested in him.
As for the other particulars in this trade, I don't expect 25-year-old left-hander Charlie Furbush to make a major impact for the Mariners. He's a tall, strikeout pitcher and will certainly enjoy pitching at Safeco Field, but it's not like the Mariners are suddenly going to score runs. The team did acquire right-handed hitting outfielder Casper Wells, a 26-year-old with power but issues when it comes to making contact and hitting for a decent batting average.
Wells produced a 27-homer, 25-steal season in the minors in 2008, so the base skills are there, but at Triple-A Toledo last season his 21 home runs in 103 games came with a .233 batting average and 111 strikeouts, and he was caught stealing more than he was successful. Even if the Mariners play him -- and they shouldn't play him over Mike Carp in left field, as he is a better prospect, and center field and right are currently taken -- he's not likely to help much. In other words, Casper and the invisible Mariners offense should get along just fine.
The Tigers also pick up ordinary reliever David Pauley, formerly an ordinary starting pitcher until this season, and while his numbers look attractive (2.15 ERA, 0.994 WHIP), he's 5-0 with a 0.67 ERA and 0.66 WHIP at home, 0-4 with a 3.62 ERA and 1.31 WHIP on the road. He won't sniff any save chances in Detroit.