Our latest Fungo Flash poll asks for your opinion on the Tigers/Mariners trade over the weekend. Based on his article on Grantland — Headline: “Trade Deadline Power Rankings: Part 1, the Vanquished” with the subhead: “Find your team on this list and hang your head in shame” — I’d guess Jonah Keri would vote “Wait and See” with a lean toward “Thumbs down.”
Here’s what he had to say:
16. Detroit Tigers
I have this theory that raw park effects and defense-independent stats don’t always tell the whole story on a particular player. Imagine you’re a pitcher in Petco Park. You know that hitters are far less likely to hit the ball out of the park. Couldn’t that change the way you pitch? Isn’t it conceivable that you could throw more strikes without the fear of an Earl Weaver Special in the back of your mind, thus improving your strikeout rate, your walk rate, and your overall statistical profile?
I think Doug Fister may have benefited from that effect while pitching for the Mariners. The combination of Safeco Field and an excellent defense behind him may have made Fister feel more secure in throwing strikes. That in turn may have led to some microscopic walk rates (career 1.9 BB/9 IP) which contributed greatly to Fister’s success. There are a couple of other more tangible statistical indicators that suggest Fister has had luck on his side, notably a very low home run-per-fly ball rate of 4.4 percent this season. But batting average on balls in play, strand rate, and other oft-cited luck markers don’t necessarily suggest a fluke, or a pitcher ripe for regression.
I wish I could properly test my theory to see if there’s something to it, but there are too many variables in play, and self-reported data such as “how confident was I when I pitched at Safeco Field” is rarely reliable. But the Tigers’ trade for Fister and fellow strikeout-challenged right-hander David Pauley depends largely on whether this effect is real, and if the new guys can adapt to conditions less favorable to pitchers. The good news for the Tigers? They might win a very weak AL Central anyway, even if Fister and Pauley (and recently acquired third baseman Wilson Betemit) fizzle out.
The good news? The Indians are tied with the Rockies at number 18.