If the Colorado Rockies sign a free agent pitcher this winter, right-hander Doug Fister should be at or near the top of their list.
I could sugarcoat my feelings on this, but I am not going to. I would be very pleased to see Fister in a Rockies uniform in 2016. Given the weakness of the 2017 free agent pitching class, picking up Fister now could be a wise move for the Rockies as he embodies several of the qualities the team tends to look for in pitchers they bring to Coors Field:
He keeps the ball on the ground
Throughout his career, Fister has shown the ability to induce ground balls at an above-average rate at the very least. In his career, he has induced ground balls at a rate of 48.8 percent, ranking 11th among pitchers that have pitched at least 1,000 innings since 2009. That number slipped to 44.6 percent, essentially league average, in 2015, but he got ground balls at a rate of at least 47 percent in each of the five seasons prior.
In addition, Fister has not exactly played in front of great infield defenses throughout his career. Just two of the 16 primary infielder behind Fister in the past four seasons had 10 or more Defensive Runs Saved in a season, with Anthony Rendon having 12 DRS at third base in 2014 and Danny Espinosa with 10 DRS at second base in 2016. By contrast, Nolan Arenado had 16 and 18 DRS in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and DJ LeMahieu had 16 DRS in 2014. Pitching with those two behind him would likely be better for Fister than pitching in front of an infield that includes Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder, as he did with the Tigers in 2013.
He does not allow home runs
In addition to a talent for inducing ground balls, the fly balls Fister does allow tend to stay in the park. In his career, he has allowed just 96 home runs in 1,085⅔ innings, with no more than 18 of those in a single season.
Aside from the raw numbers, Fister has a HR/FB rate in his career of less than nine percent. Of pitchers that have pitched at least 150 innings for the Rockies since 2009, when Fister debuted, just three, Ubaldo Jimenez, Jason Marquis and Rafael Betancourt, can make that claim and all three of them saw significant success pitching at altitude.
Fister has just one career start at Coors Field in 2014, he allowed two runs on nine hits in 5⅔ innings without allowing a home run but has seen success at other notoriously homer-friendly parks throughout the league. In fact, Coors is one of a whopping 13 parks in which Fister has allowed one or zero home runs in his career, a list that includes Fenway Park (one HR allowed in 24 innings), Yankee Stadium (one HR in seven innings), Chase Field (one HR in seven innings), Great American Ballpark (no HR in seven innings) and Minute Maid Park (no HR in six innings).
He is a buy-low candidate
Fister is coming off of an injury-plagued 2015 season that saw him make just 15 starts and pitch just 103 innings with an ERA of 4.19 and a 1.40 WHIP, both significantly worse than his career numbers of 3.42 and 1.21. Really, not much from Fister's 2015 correlates with what he has done throughout his career, and he is only 31 years old, so it is unlikely an age thing. One thing he did maintain is a low walk rate, as he walked just 24 in 103 innings, a rate of 2.1 walks per nine innings, slightly higher than his career number of 1.8.
For a player that would have likely garnered a deal north of $50 million after his strong 2014 season, CBS Sports' Jon Heyman projects that Fister will receive a deal of $20 million over two years. The projections from Fangraphs are similar, with Dave Cameron projecting a one-year, $13 million deal and Carson Cistulli matching Heyman's projection at two years, $20 million.
If Fister is receiving offers like those projected, one thing the Rockies could, and in my opinion should, do to entice him to come to Colorado is include a third year in the deal and let him be a ground ball-inducing mentor to the plethora of young pitchers coming through the Rockies' system over the next several seasons.