Dec 6, 2013, 6:00 AM EDT
THIS WEEK’S DEBATE: BY SEASON’S END, WHERE WILL DOUG FISTER RANK WITHIN THE NATIONALS’ ROTATION?
MARK ZUCKERMAN: Though he figures to open 2014 as the Nats’ No. 4 starter, I don’t expect Fister to be the team’s fourth-best starter next season. I expect him to be much better. In fact, I’ll say he winds up as their second-most effective pitcher, behind Jordan Zimmermann. That’s not a knock on Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez. I expect each to pitch well next year (though you always have to worry somebody ends up suffering an injury at some point). But all the evidence suggests Fister is primed for a really big year in D.C. He sports a career 2.04 ERA against NL clubs. He’ll get to take advantage of DH-less lineups now. He’ll also take advantage of a Nationals infield that reigns superior to the Tigers’ foursome, especially if Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder really is healed at last. I wouldn’t be shocked at all if Fister winds up winning 15 games with an ERA right around 3.00, 200 innings pitched and few walks or homers allowed.
CHASE HUGHES: I find this question interesting for a variety of reasons. For one, it could be viewed as ‘If the Nats make the playoffs, which game does Fister start?’ It also brings up a comparison between the Tigers and Nationals rotations. Fister was probably the fourth best starter on the Tigers last year (unless you think he was better than Justin Verlander), so it amounts to which team has the better staff. When I really think of how I see the Nats’ rotation performing next year, I don’t see Fister ranking higher than fourth. It wasn’t the top three pitchers that gave the Nats problems in 2013, it was the back end of their rotation. I see Fister greatly improving that area of their team, but their top pitchers are so good and still so young, I don’t foresee any of them being supplanted. Fister will start the season in the back of the rotation and end it there as well.
MZ: Well, I’m not necessarily saying Fister would start Game 2 of the 2014 NLDS (should the Nats get there). I’m just saying he’ll be their second-best starting pitcher in 2014. A lot goes into how a rotation is aligned, and we probably read too much into that kind of stuff. Point is, this guy is much better than your typical No. 4 starter. And even in a rotation that ranks among baseball’s best, I think he can better than some of his teammates. Like I also said, you have to wonder if at some point one of the Nats’ big three starters is going to get hurt. I’m not saying they’re more likely to get hurt than anybody else, but the odds are against it. They’ve been very fortunate the last two seasons. Strasburg has had a couple of minor injuries, capped by the end-of-season revelation he had a bone chip in his elbow. Zimmermann dealt with that neck issue for a little while during the summer. As much as you’d like to believe they can get through another season with 90 total starts out of the big three, that might be wishful thinking.
CH: Whoa, so you’re saying you would start Fister Game 1 of the NLDS? Just kidding, I see your point. Injuries can happen of course and you’re absolutely right about the Nats’ fortunate run of durability. For all that went wrong last year, it could have been much worse if one of their top arms went down for an extended absence. As far as their rotation goes, I think I just see a big year for their Big Three. Zimmermann, Strasburg and Gio (all 28 or younger on Opening Day) still have room to improve while Fister may have already reached his potential. Strasburg in particular I find an interesting case. He battled numerous injuries in 2013 and finished with a losing record of 8-9, despite holding a 3.00 ERA. All in all, it was a bit of a tough year for the Nationals’ ace, this after his unusual 2012. I think he will respond in a big way. I like bringing in Fister over their other reported options, especially considering the price. I think all of us without the surname ‘Dombrowski’ can agree on that. I don’t, however, see him outperforming his counterparts.
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