Friday, October 30, 2015

Exit Music (For A Player): Mike Fiers

Hey, the wounds are still fresh, so it seems like a fine time to do some evaluating. This is the Exit Music (For A Player) series. Check out other Exit Music (For A Player) posts here

Acquired: Acquired via trade with Milwaukee on July 30, 2015 with Carlos Gomez for Brett Phillips, Domingo Santana, Josh Hader, and Adrian Houser.

Age: 30. He will be 31 in June 2016.

Contract Status: Fiers will be arbitration-eligible in 2017 and won't be a free agent until 2020 season.

Career: 

I wonder how many times I watched Mike Fiers pitch for Milwaukee's Triple-A team in Nashville, but was too focused on Yazoo's Dos Perros Ale to notice. Fiers was drafted out of Nova Southeastern University by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 22nd Round of the 2009 draft - two rounds after Houston drafted Fiers' college teammate J.D. Martinez. Fiers' former head coach at Nova Southeastern said that Fiers was "one of the best competitors that ever put on a Sharks uniform." He led the country and set a school record in his senior season with 145 strikeouts.

Fiers has always been older than basically everyone he's ever pitched against - he didn't make his professional debut until he was in his Age 24 season (2009) and it wasn't until he reached Triple-A Nashville in 2011 at age 26 that he was actually younger than his average competition.

He had solid dashboard numbers all through the minors: 483.1IP, 2.76 ERA/1.02 WHIP, and they've gotten better at each stop along the way: 3.42 ERA/1.05 WHIP at A-ball, 3.00 ERA/1.00 WHIP at Double-A, 2.55 ERA/1.05 WHIP at Triple-A.

Problem is, the Brewers had no idea what to do with him. Their 2011 rotation consisted of Zack Greinke, Yovani Gallardo, Shawn Marcum, Randy Wolf, and Chris Narveson and the Brewers won 96 games, so they were able to find Fiers two innings of work in the 2011 season.

Fiers made his 2012 debut at Dodger Stadium on May 29, throwing 7IP, 5H/01ER, 3K:0BB and getting his first ML win. A couple of 4ER outings followed, then a stretch of ten games (nine starts, there was a bizarre relief appearance in there) in which Fiers allowed 42H/7ER, 63K:14BB in 62IP. He got lit up at Coors Field (but who hasn't gotten lit up at Coors Field before, amirite?), and his last nine starts were more middle of the pack, as he finished 2012 with a 3.74 ERA and the Brewers missed the playoffs.

Fiers wasn't a big part of the Brewers in 2013. With a rotation led by Kyle Lohse, Wily Peralta, Yovani Gallardo, and Marco Estrada, the Brewers had six pitchers make at least five starts. Fiers made eleven appearances (22.1IP) with a 7.25 ERA/1.52 WHIP. This wasn't helped by his first start against the D'Backs, when he gave up 9H/6ER in 5IP - he would only make two more starts and both were Disasters, with his season over in June, the result of a line drive breaking his pitching arm and the death of his mother at the age of 54. The Brewers finished 74-88.

The 2014 Brewers were interesting though. They started hot, much like the 2015 Astros. Fiers pitched in relief in his first four outings in June and was sent down again before being brought back to the team in August. In ten starts from August 9 to the end of the season, Fiers recaptured his old form, throwing 64.2IP, allowing 40H/15ER, 71K:14BB for a 2.09 ERA and a .510 OPS-against. Of course, he did end Giancarlo Stanton's season by hitting him square in the cheekbone in September, then with the next pitch he hit Reed Johnson - who had come in for Stanton - in the hand, and got fined for it. Though the Brewers faded at the end, the Brewers had a 29-year old pitcher with value for a rebuilding process that was on the horizon.

2015:

Fiers started out the 2015 season - his Age 30 season - as the team's 4th starter. Through 21 starts Fiers had a 3.89 ERA with a .749 OPS-against. While he got beat up by the Dodgers on May 7, Fiers did record an immaculate inning in the 4th, striking out the side on nine pitches. He rattled off seven straight quality starts in May-June until he ran into the Royals, who beat him up for 8H/6ER in 5IP. One day before the Astros traded four prospects (Santana, Phillips, Hader, and Houser) for Fiers and Gomez, Fiers threw 6IP, 4H/2ER, 5K:1BB at San Francisco, a game in which the Brewers were shutout and he took the loss.

When the trade went down - the second of the Astros trades intended to bolster the team for 2015 and 2016 - Fiers was seen as a throw-in. A pretty good starting pitcher, a little old, a little flybally, but who could be useful. As it turned out, he was one of the better starting pitchers as the Astros tried to give away the postseason.

Still, his Astros debut was...hm. Pitching in relief of Lance McCullers' disaster outing at Arlington, Fiers came in to relieve Lance McCullers after the BABIP gods smote him to the tune of 6ER in 0.1IP, giving the Rangers a 6-2 lead. The Astros brought it back to 6-3, then Fiers allowed 5ER, which is a shame because the Astros lost that game 12-9.

Anyway, Fiers made nine starts after that relief appearance, throwing 57.1IP, allowing 38H/17ER, 53K:18BB. He was homer-prone, giving up eight homers in five September starts, but still good enough for a 2.67 ERA and a WHIP under 1.00. The Astros scored 9+ runs 20 times in 2015, and were 18-2. Fiers was on the mound for both losses.

Of course the highlight of Fiers' season was on August 21 when he threw a 137-pitch no-hitter against the Dodgers in which he struck out ten and walked three. It was the first single-pitcher no-hitter by an Astro since Darryl Kile did it in 1993. There was a kerfuffle, if you will, about whether or not Fiers was cheating - mainly from Dodgers fans and not the Dodgers themselves. Hell, Marlins great Don Mattingly didn't even have a problem with Fiers.

Challengers:

Every starting pitcher we talk about in this series is going to have the term "crowded rotation" applied to it. Fiers is a really interesting case, because he is under team control for so long - he won't be a free agent until 2020 - his Age 34 season. But his numbers don't make sense to me. Perhaps it's because he has outperformed his FIP/xFIP the last couple of seasons, but you have a guy with a sub-4.00 ERA (all alarm bells about using ERA are applicable), with a fairly low BABIP, just under a strikeout per inning, but with a middling WAR and below average WPA. I don't get it.

Still, the rotation locks for 2016 seem to be Keuchel, McHugh, McCullers, with Feldman/Fiers/Velasquez/insert possible minor-leaguer here as internal options. Of course, if the Astros go out and get a Big Name, one of these guys will get bumped from the rotation into long relief. Who freaking knows? #Analysis.

Reads:

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Mike Fiers hopes for changeup in misfortune (March 2014)
Astros trade for Carlos Gomez and Mike Fiers (July 2014)

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