There have been times this offseason when the Tigers announce a move and you’re left scratching your head exactly how it fits into the plan. And there are others where a move simply makes so much sense it restores some of your hope in a grand scheme.
Signing Mike Fiers was exactly the kind of move the Tigers should aim to make this offseason.
Face value, you’d be right to raise your nose a bit in disgust. Fiers has an ERA of 4.15 for his career and more losses than wins. During two-plus years in Houston, he’s been even worse, with a 4.59 ERA and without the benefit of a lower FIP (fielding independent pitching stat) to make you think he just had a little bad luck: 4.82.
And on top of all of that, he’s a 32-year-old, former 22nd-round draft pick. So he’s not exactly some uber-talented kid who’s just struggled to put it together.
I’ve nearly talked myself out of the idea entirely just glancing at the figures. But when you dig a little deeper, there’s reason to see the genius behind the move, which will only cost the Tigers $6 million for a pitcher who’ll eat 150-180 innings in the rotation while providing some veteran leadership to the rest of the staff. He’s not eligible to become a free agent until after 2019 either, giving Detroit two years of control.
With a fastball that sits around 90 mph, he doesn’t blow batters away with speed. What he does do is find a way to strike them out anyway. Across parts of five seasons with Milwaukee, Fiers posted 9.2 strikeouts per nine innings and an ERA of 3.66. Anything above a strikeout per inning is a pretty good indicator a pitcher is going to be able to more than hold his own. After a bit of a drop in 2016 with Houston, Fiers responded by posting 8.6 K/9 last year.
The two areas he struggled were in limiting walks and in keeping the ball in the park. Fiers posted a career-worst 3.64 walks per nine inning last year to go along with 1.9 home runs allowed per nine innings, or about 50 percent worse than the average pitcher last year.
Oh, and there’s one final piece to this puzzle: Fiers’ pitching coach in the Milwaukee farm system was Chris Bosio, who’ll be joining incoming manager Ron Gardenhire’s staff for the upcoming season.
Bosio served as pitching coach for the Chicago Cubs during most of Fiers’ major league career, but in that capacity helped his club go from one of the worst pitching staffs in the majors to one of the best. Jake Arrieta won the NL Cy Young Award in 2015, but only after flailing to a 5.46 ERA in four season in Baltimore. Multiple other mid-level projects turned their careers around in Chicago under Bosio, as well.
Put it all together and what you’ve got is a relatively inexpensive lottery ticket in Fiers. Best-case scenario, he puts up numbers closer to what he did in Milwaukee, giving the Tigers a boost as they surprisingly compete for the playoffs, or a nice trade chip as they more likely tank in 2018. Worse case, they pay him his $6 million and send him on his merry way after 2018 if any of the pitching prospects make an early case for the rotation.
That’s about as close to buy low, sell high, as you could ask for.
This is exactly the kind of move that can help speed up a rebuild, and the Tigers should look for as many opportunities as they can to do more like it.
Kurt Mensching is the editor of Bless You Boys, a Tigers blog (www.blessyouboys.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.