Reporters didn’t get a chance to discuss the Doug Fister trade with Mike Rizzo last night because Rizzo had previous obligations, but we were able to fire questions at the Nationals general manager just a bit ago during a conference call.
Rizzo said that the Nationals had been talking with the Tigers about a possible trade for a starting pitcher dating to just before the general managers meetings in November, and they initially “kicked the tires” on three of Detroit’s right-handed options - Fister, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello.
As the talks between Rizzo and Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski played out during and after the GM meetings, the Nats started turning their attention more toward Fister, which paved the way for yesterday’s deal that sent the 29-year-old righty to D.C. in exchange for infielder Steve Lombardozzi and left-handers Ian Krol and Robbie Ray.
“We really had identified Doug as our primary acquisition target as far as starting pitchers go,” Rizzo said. “Thought he was an undervalued asset. We thought that we had really strong scouting reports from our scouts in the field, we had extremely strong sabermetrics reports from our analysts here in the office. A guy that I’ve seen pitch over the years and I’ve scouted personally at times, and fit the criteria that we were looking for for one of our rotation starters, a big physical pitcher that takes the ball and logs innings and has had success at the most crucial times in a team’s season.
“So we like the entire package with him. We also liked that he had multiple years of control and a guy that we think can grow with the Nationals.”
Among some of the key advanced statistics that evaluate pitchers (WAR and ERA-plus), Fister is considered one of the top 10 starters in the majors, yet few would probably list him in the company of David Price or Cole Hamels when just rattling off names of top-notch hurlers off the top of their heads. Whether it’s because Fister doesn’t throw very hard (his four-seam fastball averaged 88.6 mph last season), because he was in a rotation with Scherzer and Justin Verlander, or some other reason, Fister hasn’t seemed to get the attention nationally that some of his stats might indicate that he should.
That doesn’t bother Rizzo any.
“He’s certainly not undervalued by us here,” Rizzo said. “It’s a good day in the Nationals’ office when the sabermatricians and the scouts in the field see the players in the same way. It makes things much easier for me. That’s what we had here. It’s a good match for us. He’s the type of pitcher who could continue to be very successful here in the National League. We feel we’ve got a good defensive infield. Him being a 55 percent groundball guy, I think he’ll flourish with that. Pitching in the National League without the designated hitter, his numbers will only improve.
“The fact that we control at a comfortable cost - when you look at the players that are required in recent trades in the last couple years with the (Matt) Garza trade, the (James) Shields trade, the (R.A.) Dickey trade - we thought the player acquisition that we would have to give up was palatable.”
It was palatable for the Nationals largely because they didn’t have to part with infielder Anthony Rendon or right-handed pitching prospect Lucas Giolito, two young, talented, highly regarded players. Rizzo wanted to acquire a starting pitcher without needing to ship out one or more of his top prospects, and he accomplished that goal.
“We made it clear to the industry we weren’t going to part with a handful of players (including Rendon and Giolito),” Rizzo said. “To do a deal, to get a caliber of pitcher like Doug Fister with the makeup he has and the track record he has, we’re excited. We gave up three fine players to get him. You have to give to get. We felt that it was a fair, baseball deal. The trade did what they felt they had to do. And we filled the need we thought we needed to fill.”
Rizzo also offered more of an in-depth scouting report on what sabermetric numbers the Nats liked when it came to Fister.
“Sabermetrically, he’s a very popular guy,” Rizzo said. “The fifth-fewest home runs per nine innings over the last three years. He doesn’t walk anybody. He keeps the ball on the ground. He keeps the ball in the ballpark. He logs a lot of innings. The fourth-fewest walks per nine innings in the league. We just thought with his delivery and his groundball rate and the fact that he attacks hitters and keeps the ball in the ballpark, with our defensive alignment I think that he’ll thrive here.
“He’s a guy that does a lot of the little things that will really translate into the National League. He holds runners really well. He’s one of the best at controlling the running game. Fields his position well. And can handle the bat pretty well for a guy who played his whole career in the American League.”
Fister has also proven his toughness on a big stage, remaining on the mound in Game 2 of the 2012 World Series after taking a line drive off the head, and taking a shutout bid into the seventh inning of that game.
“This is a character guy on the mound,” Rizzo said. “Takes the ball and wants to be out there at the most crucial times of the season. He’s had great postseason success. You look as recent as this postseason against the Red Sox. When he was needed most, he really thrived in a game against the eventual world champs. He’s battle tested, he’s playoff tested and a guy who logs a lot of innings and gives you quality starts and goes deep into games.”
With the Fister acquisition, Rizzo says the Nats are done looking for starting pitching. They have Ross Detwiler, Tanner Roark, Taylor Jordan, Ross Ohlendorf and potentially Nathan Karns to compete for the No. 5 spot in their rotation. Rizzo also listed Sammy Solis as a guy who adds starting depth, as well.
Rizzo declined to say that Detwiler is the favorite for the final spot in the starting rotation, making it seem that there will be an open competition for that job.