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What the Athletics see in Mike Fiers, at a lower price

After a November non-tender, the Athletics are giving two more goes at the former Astros starter.

Oakland Athletics v Baltimore Orioles Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Talking about the Oakland Athletics and payroll is like watching an episode of Extreme Couponers; it’s like looking straight into a late capitalist hell-scape. Shoppers load up on small soap containers, paper towels, canned goods, and non-perishables, the kinds of things you could only get with a coupon. Yet there’s no coupon for fresh produce, or fresh fish, or meat, so you’re watching people who seem like they’re getting a great deal, walking out with $10,000 in toiletries while not actually buying anything you would ever eat.

The Athletics and David Forst cashed in on their Mike Fiers coupon, and somehow they bought a Fiers and the cashier is handing them money. There were rumblings that Fiers would come back their way after a Forst comment a few days back...

...and that ended up materializing as a two-year deal worth about $15 million according to our friends at Athletics Nation. The non-tender in November, I guess, was a formality, but the thinking was likely that they could do better locking him up for two years at a lower AAV than trying their luck in arbitration, where he is projected to make a shade more.

Two years is still more a commitment than the Athletics would usually make—they could have non-tendered him after next season, remember—so there still had to be something compelling to give him that much of a leash. One could be the ability to move him should the opportunity arise, but if the Athletics want to contend, and they are wont to do that right now, then they are likely to hold on to him, and they probably liked him from they saw.

In the half-season he was with the Athletics after being moved from the Tigers for Nolan Blackwood and Logan Shore, he pitched to a 90 ERA-, despite the FIP about a run higher. DRA seemed to agree that the ERA was real, as he pitched to a 89.9 DRA-, worth about 0.8 WARP over 53 innings.

As with many things that the Astros have ever touched, his recent success is due to his lack of emphasis on the fastball:

That being said, it’s not perfect, and it’s not like he’s getting better whiff-related results on those non-fastballs:

He also maintained a HR/FB ratio of nearly 20%, so the consensus is that even under good circumstances, hitters are still going to get hard contact on what is less-than-stellar stuff.

His strength is that he walks fewer than two batters per nine innings, and there’s one other nugget that I think could be of use in 2019: using him paired with an Opener. There is a very good chance this strategy is utilized more often with the lack of Sean Manaea, and Fiers might be a prime candidate. If we were to look how much worse Fiers does in comparison to what The Book considers a normal times-through-the-order effect, you can see he gets penalized much more than most would:

Mike Fiers vs. The Book

The Book wOBA Penality Mike Fiers penalty
The Book wOBA Penality Mike Fiers penalty
0.345 0.309
0.354 0.323
0.362 0.335

Fiers seems like the perfect candidate for such a strategy because while the average pitcher has something like a .009 wOBA jump from first time to second time through, Fiers’ is .014. And from second to third, Fiers’ is at .012 instead of .08. It could regress to the mean like many things do, but it’s very possible that his slightly higher wOBA jump per time through would only further incentivize a team that already uses the Opener to put Fiers in that innings-getter role. And because it at least in the short term won’t hurt his arbitration, I’m looking forward to possibly seeing this in action.