Written by Dave Church, Dylan Svoboda, & Gideon Turk
Doug Fister’s Rejuvination
The Blue Jays are dodging the bullet that is Chris Sale this week, but they will be running into Boston’s next best starting pitcher of late on Wednesday, Doug Fister.
Fister was claimed off of waivers from the Los Angeles Angels by the Red Sox on June 23rd and placed straight into their starting rotation. He didn’t last very long. From June 25th to July 20th, the thirty-three-year-old right-hander threw 21 2/3 innings and posted a 6.23 earned run average.
Only eleven days passed before he found his way back into the Red Sox rotation on July 31st, replacing the injured David Price. He has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball since.
Fister’s 3.05 earned run average is 22nd-best in baseball among those with over 30 innings pitched since July 31st. Over that same period, his fielding independent pitching is 3.25, 16th-best in baseball, suggesting there isn’t much luck involved in his recent hot streak. By fielding independent pitching, August was Fister’s best full month of pitching since September 2013.
Fister’s recent dominance may have something to do with a different pitch mix. He has not thrown his four-seam fastball since July 24th, and instead he has started relying more on his sinker, cutter, and curveball. He had used the pitch over 12 percent of the time this year prior to July 24th.
The Blue Jays will be Fister’s latest test. With such a small sample size of success for the veteran, who has otherwise had two-and-a-half years of barely replacement level performance, the Jays can do their part in raising some doubts.
Carrera Crowded Out
Ezequiel Carrera has been the Blue Jays’ third best hitter among qualified players so far this season, behind Justin Smoak and Josh Donaldson. This is because of both improvements from Carrera and disappointing seasons from several Blue Jays veterans. In a season where the Jays have been much worse than expected, Carrera’s steady play at the plate has seen him set several career highs in offensive categories.
Despite a career year, Carrera started a grand total of nine games in August, which may come as a surprise given how well he’s hit (and how much the lineup could use his bat). There are several reasons this happened. A healthy and productive Steve Pearce mostly blocked him in left field. Carrera occasionally played for Kevin Pillar and Jose Bautista, but this was unlikely to be a regular occurrence. Bautista is a regular as long as he wants to be, and Pillar is much better defensively in centre field.
The calendar turning to September has not made this picture clearer. Though recent acquisition Nori Aoki was given his walking papers, the Jays called up Michael Saunders and Teoscar Hernandez, the latter of whom is likely to receive significant playing time as the Jays attempt to suss out their outfield situation for 2018. And there are other potential outfield callups on the horizon, as Anthony Alford and Dwight Smith Jr. are both on the 40 man roster, and have played with the Jays this season.
A crowded outfield with both established (if underperforming) stars and exciting prospects means Carrera is probably the odd man out in a September that will be more forward-looking for the Jays. A veteran having a career season will probably have to grin and bear through it for a team playing out the string. Though Zeke can rest comfortably knowing he’ll be in the outfield picture for the Jays when 2018 rolls around with an opportunity to lock down a starting role, for now, that isn’t the case.
Sinking or Spoiling
The Blue Jays are pretty close to being mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but the rest of their season is far from meaningless. As they enter a three game series with the division leading Red Sox, they have two paths moving forward this year.
The first one is to continue to lose ballgames like they have all season long. With their 63-74 record, they currently find themselves with the tenth worst record in Major League Baseball, two games worse than the 11th place Pittsburgh Pirates, and only one game better than the ninth place San Diego Padres. There are only five wins separating the Blue Jays from the fourth worst record in baseball, occupied by the Cincinnati Reds as of now. The Blue Jays, with some bad play over the next few weeks, have a real chance of upping their draft position for 2018. One nice long losing streak and the Blue Jays could have a top-5 pick in 2018’s amateur draft, where the odds of landing an impact player increase greatly over being in the six through fifteen range.
Then, there exists option two. The Red Sox have lost 6 of their last 10 games. They are not playing well of late, and have seen their once large division lead close to just 3.5 games over the New York Yankees. Even if they themselves can’t make the playoffs, the Blue Jays can force the Red Sox to fight for their right to make the playoffs a bit longer. There is no long term gain in this, but spoiling the Red Sox to the point where they would have to play in a wild card game would be fun to watch, and give the players something to go out on the field every day and fight for while playing. That’s a lot easier than trying your best in order to get a draft pick. Win two our of three or sweep the series, and the Red Sox will be in serious trouble if the Yankees continue to play well.
Either way, the Blue Jays season still has some potential to be meaningful left in it. One version just provides some entertainment for the next few weeks, while the other is… more of an investment.
Lead Photo: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports