Red Sox: Starter Doug Fister finding new life in Boston

BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 27: Doug Fister
BOSTON, MA - AUGUST 27: Doug Fister /

The Boston Red Sox may have unearthed a diamond in the rough in Doug Fister. But his strong play might not be enough to keep him in the rotation.

If we can call baseball anything at all, we can certainly call it improbable. Way back on June 23, the Boston Red Sox picked up Doug Fister off the scrap heap. Even the most optimistic fan couldn’t have expected much from the 33-year-old journeyman. At best, Fister’s performance had been mediocre since his stellar 2014 campaign. His start to his Red Sox tenure didn’t lend any credence to those who believed he could turn it around.

His start to his Red Sox tenure didn’t lend any credence to those who believed he could turn it around.

Red Sox: Doug Fister Finding New Life

Fister struggled mightily with pitch counts in his first two months with Boston. In July, he failed to pitch beyond the first out of the fourth inning in three of his four starts (he also made three relief appearances, and pitched poorly in two of them).

Lately, something has changed. Since his final July start, an absolute gem in which he notched five strikeouts while allowing two runs in 7 2/3 innings, Fister has been nothing short of pretty darn good. Aside from a five run hiccup against the Cleveland Indians on August 14 – and if Chris Sale is allowed to struggle with Cleveland, so is Fister – he’s allowed three or fewer runs in each of his August starts. That includes a one-hit, one-run, two-walk masterpiece in a rematch with the Indians, which proved once and for all that Fister can actually do something Sale can’t.

More than a Fluke?

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We all would like a reason to believe his current success is no fluke, and it’s there for those who would like to see it. The thing is, his July struggles may not have been entirely his fault. The Red Sox defense betrayed him in two of those outings. On July 5, against the Texas Rangers, he allowed six runs, but just four of the earned variety. On July 20, the Toronto Blue Jays ran up six runs against him, but just two earned runs. The Sox shoddy glove work skewed his final lines and forced him from both starts early. Had a couple of those plays been fielded properly, he might have had a very different month.

Fister remains much the same pitcher he has been over his career. While he won’t overpower anybody or rack up the punch-outs, he uses his strong command to limit base runners and home runs. Yes, 2015 and 2016 treated him poorly, but he served the Washington Nationals, Detroit Tigers, and Seattle Mariners ably for years before that. Honestly, 2014 wasn’t that long ago.

Rewarding Good Behavior

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One might think that Fister’s strong play has earned him a permanent spot in the rotation. Yet, a man named David Price might throw a wrench into that idea. Though still on the disabled list, Price is currently working his way back from injury. He’s scheduled to throw off the mound on Wednesday and could be back before the end of the season, or at least in time for the playoffs. If that becomes reality, Fister would be the odd man out.

There’s a strong argument in favor of riding the hot hand (or fist, as the case may be), but it would be downright shocking to see an ostensibly healthy Price not regain his rotation spot. His time with the Red Sox has undoubtedly been rocky, but he’s still David Price and he still makes David Price money. Even when factoring in Price’s abysmal playoff track record, we all know John Farrell can’t keep that kind of talent or a contract of that size on the pine. He can’t justify it, and not a single one of us could, either. Price might blow up in the postseason once again, but so might Fister. If that happened, every Red Sox fan on the planet would vilify Farrell for starting Fister over Price.

Fister’s Playoff Role

Even if he doesn’t make the playoff rotation, Fister could still play an important role on the playoff roster. The Red Sox bullpen, while generally a team strength, could use some fresh arms. As a starter who has only thrown 59.2 innings this season, Fister should still have plenty left in the tank. Though Carson Smith should rejoin the team soon, a playoff bullpen can never be too deep.

A relief role in the postseason would help Fister avoid left-handed hitters. Lefties mash against Fister this season, while righties barely touch him. Five of his seven homers allowed were hit by lefties. Right-handers collectively own a paltry .195/.268/.310 triple-slash line against him, while left-handers slash .306/.398/.472. Clearly, keeping Fister away from southpaws would clearly do him some good.

Next: Red Sox Strut

Though MLB lineups are comprised mostly of righties, every starting pitcher has to face a few lefties in each outing. In a relief role, Fister would have a better chance of avoiding them. Fister has done an admirable job filling in as the fifth starter this season, but his time in the rotation could end soon. Even if it does, he might serve his team even better out of the bullpen in the postseason.