Maybe the Tigers know something nobody else does about Doug Fister, or maybe they realllly like Robbie Ray. On paper, though, the Nationals appeared to have scored a major victory against the rest of the National League in the the run-up to 2014.
Yes, Fister has a funny name, and, no, he isn't Justin Verlander or Max Scherzer. But check out these numbers over the last three seasons, Fister's 27, 28, and 29-year-old campaigns: 3.30 ERA, 124 ERA+, 6.8 K/9, 1.8 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9. By comparison, Cliff Lee's numbers in his three seasons leading up to free agency, when he signed a five-year, $120 million contract with the Phillies: 2.98 ERA, 142 ERA+, 7.2 K/9, 1.3 BB/9, 0.6 HR/9, 667 1/3 innings. As Dave Cameron notes over at Fangraphs.com, Fister has ranked among the best pitchers in the game in fWAR over the last few seasons.
The Fister deal offers some good context for the Phillies' biggest challenge at the moment, which is filling out a rotation that features Lee, Cole Hamels, and then a huge drop off to Kyle Kendrick, and a huge unknown in Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez. And no No. 5 starter at the moment.
The Phillies have a clear advantage at the top of the rotation, but comparing the names on the left to the names on the right underscores the depth problem the Phillies have. Detwiler started 27 games with a 3.40 ERA in 2012 for the Nationals before battling injuries in 2013. Jordan made nine starts as a rookie last year, while Ohlendorf is a 30-year-old with 80 big league starts under his belt. They also have 26-year-old Tanner Roark, who started five games and made nine relief appearances for a total of 53.2 innings with a 1.51 ERA, 6.7 K/9, 1.8 BB/9 and 0.2 HR/9. Essentially, they have a pitching rotation that goes eight deep, seven of whom have at least decent upside.
In a seven-game series, it would likely be Stephen Strasburg vs. Cliff Lee, Gio Gonzalez vs. Cole Hamels, Jordan Zimmermann vs. FREE AGENT TBA, and Doug Fister vs. Kyle Kendrick.