Nobody dropped what they were doing to pay attention when the Red Sox claimed pitcher Doug Fister off of waivers from the Angels in June. The right-hander put up unimpressive numbers in three starts with Triple-A Salt Lake. Combined with his age and coming off of two lackluster seasons in 2015-16, the expectation was that Fister would simply eat some innings at the back of the Red Sox rotation as needed and that was it.
Little did anyone know that Fister would turn out to be a godsend for the Red Sox. Things didn’t start out impressively, as he gave up 12 earned runs in 14 2/3 innings across his first three starts. The Red Sox intermittently used him out of the bullpen and the rotation towards the end of July before he became a permanent fixture in the rotation. In seven starts since July 31, Fister has a 2.79 ERA with a 44/14 K/BB ratio in 48 1/3 innings. The Red Sox won five of those seven starts. The club has been able to hold onto first place in the AL East as a result, leading the Yankees by four games.
It was hard to see Fister’s production coming. He hadn’t put up a strikeout rate above 15 percent since 2013 (the league average is above 20 percent). His walk rate increased from 3.6 percent in ’14 to eight percent in ’16. After peaking with a 54.3 percent ground ball rate in ’14, it dropped to 45 percent over the last two seasons. His fastball velocity struggled to stay above 87 MPH. This year? While he has a high 9.9 percent walk rate, his strikeout rate is way up, near 21 percent. His ground ball rate is back to 50 percent. He’s averaging close to 90 MPH on his fastball. While Fister is not back to his 2013 self, when he pitched 208 2/3 innings with a 3.67 ERA, his peripherals indicate he’s a pitcher the Red Sox can actually feel comfortable relying on as the regular season winds down and the postseason begans. And they may have to.