Welcome to another edition of Mortal Kombat, where we take two potentially evenly matched players and pit them against each other to see who the better man is. This week it’s righty verse lefty as Nationals starter Doug Fister takes on the Dodgers Hyun-Jin Ryu. Looking at SP draft averages for 2014, Ryu was taken in the middle of round 10 and was in the bottom half of the top 30 pitchers off the board. Fister was selected 10 players later, going off the board in the middle of round 13. By the end of the season Fister looked like the smarter pick, finishing at #20 on ESPN’s player rater and the 16th most valuable SP in Yahoo. Ryu came in at #44 on ESPN’s player rater; good numbers, but not worthy of the place he was ranked. Still, the early rankings and Streamer projections favor Ryu. Is Ryu the better pitcher? Was Fister playing over his head in 2014?
Let’s go to the tale of the tape to see how these three stack up against each other.
|Doug Fister||Hyun-Jin Ryu|
|Age||31 on Feb 4th||28 on Mar 25th|
|Height||6′ 8″||6′ 2″|
|First Year in Majors||2009||2013|
Ryu finished the season with a 3.38 ERA, up from his rookie season 3.0. His xFIP & SIERA were both lower suggestion he was a little better than advertised. The FB% stayed virtually the same, but his HR/FB% dropped from 8.7% to 5.9%. Ryu’s walk rate also came down, with 1.72 BB/9 compared to 2.3 the previous year. He was a little more hittable and saw an increase in his LD%, but a 47.4 GB% combined with the low walks should keep things in check. While Streamers calls for an ERA close to what we saw in 2014, it’s possible it could tick up closer to 3.5 if the HR/FB% creeps back up and he does not maintain his lower walk levels (which streamer says he will not). With an .255 average BAA the past two seasons, I don’t see an ERA of 3.0 again, but it shouldn’t go much above 3.5 if it even goes that high at all.
Fister finished the season with an ERA below 2.5 (2.41 to be exact). It was his first time in this neighborhood as his ERA has hovered in the mid 3’s the previous two seasons. His xFIP & SIERA say that the 2014 ERA was a fluke and should have been closer to 4.0. It’s not the first time his ERA has not agreed with his xFIP. In 2011 he had a 2.89 ERA with an xFIP of 3.61. Part of that was due to the low numbers tallied in Seattle as those numbers came up once in Detroit and were close to what he did in 2012 and 2013 for the Tigers. Fister’s FB% spiked back up to his 2011 levels to 34.2% after hovering in the 25% range the two years prior. His HR/FB% was slightly higher than his career mark but on average with what he produced those two years prior, his new home park playing a big factor in this with only 5 long balls allowed at home. His walk rate was the lowest of his career (1.32 BB/9) so he could give some back here, but with a career 1.73 BB/9 average it won’t be much of an increase. While the FB% increase, the GB% and LD% both went down. While the drop in LD rate is good, he needs to boost his GB% back above 50% where he previously was. Streamer calls for an ERA of 3.77, but that’s a little high if you ask me. His BAA has been in the .250 range in three of the past four seasons; while Fister will always be good, he won’t be as good as we saw in 2014.
If we go by projected stats from Streamer Ryu is the winner here, but I already stated I think their numbers are slightly off. I realize Fister was aided by a lower BABIP, but his previous seasons are on par with what Ryu has done the past two season so suggesting an ERA over 3.5 is wrong. While Fister’s FB% was higher than Ryu, he did move to a new home and division so last year could have been an adjustment period so the FB% could and should come down. Fister’s contact rate went up last year and was higher than Ryu; on average it is higher than Ryu, but the previous two season were equal to Ryu. All things considered they are close. While I believe the projections are off, the numbers still favor Ryu. Not to mention that this will be Ryu’s third full year and this is the time that we usually see pitchers break out. I’m not basing my decision on this, just pointing it out.
Ryu has been very consistent with his WHIP in his first two seasons, with a 1.20 his rookie season and a 1.19 in 2014. His BB/9 went from 2.30 in 2013 to 1.72, but the drop in walks started last season. Ryu issued only 10 walks after the break in 2013 so the decrease was expected. While his walks decreased, his H/9 increased from the previous season from 8.53 to 9.0. Whatever gains he made in walks he handed back in hits. Of the 27 players with a BB/9 below 2.0 in 2014, only 8 of them were repeats from the 2013 season. Of those 8 players, only 2 had a BB/9 lower than 2.0 for each of the past 3 seasons, Jordan Zimmerman and Dan Haren. Dan Haren? Yup, Haren is the man for walks, or lack there of. Anyway, the point is that while there is a chance that Ryu can maintain his low walk rate, history suggests that he will give some back. Considering he is a groundball pitcher, I would also expect him to give up fewer hits. What does that mean for Ryu? Another WHIP around 1.2.
Fister is one of those guys with back to back season’s of a BB/9 below 2.0. In fact, four of the past five seasons have been below 2.0 (2.06 in 2012). His career H/9 is 8.98. That number spiked up to almost 10.0 in 2013 (his final year with Detroit), but was at 8.4 last year. 2014 was his best year for H/9, and coincidently it was his first year in the NL. While Fister has shown he can deliver a BB/9 below 2.0, the odds of him repeating last years 1.32 are slim. He will give up a few more walks and more than likely a few more hits. If that happens, you’re looking at a WHIP of 1.19 (and that is his career average).
While a WHIP of 1.20 can be expected from both men, both are capable of doing a little better. Like I stated earlier, Ryu could break out in his third year. Fister’s WHIP was 10 points below his career norm in 2014, but it could be maintained with his move to the NL. This one is close enough that it really doesn’t matter which man you draft, at least as far as WHIP goes.
Wins (and Quality Starts)
I’ve stated numerous times in the past that I don’t like the wins category and lobbied last year for leagues to change to quality starts. Wins are still a part of most standard leagues so I will still address them, but I will also cover quality starts for those who decided to move into the modern-day era.
Ryu is coming off two straight 14 win seasons. Of his 26 starts, 19 of them were quality starts. That’s in line with the 22 quality starts in 30 attempts from 2013. He failed to pitch at least 6 innings six times, five of those games he was hammered with the sixth being a two hit game to open the season. Of his 19 quality starts, he allowed 3 earned runs in only three games, the other 16 starts he allowed only 2 runs or less (six games with zero earned runs). Ryu keeps his team in the game; given the bats on the Dodgers and the bullpen behind him, another 14 win season could be in the cards. Streamers says it will be only 12 which is a conservative estimate.
Fister had 16 wins after winning 14 the previous season. Of his 25 starts, 18 of them were quality starts. In 2013 he had 22 quality starts in 32 games started. He failed to pitch 6 or more innings five times, one of those was due to rain which would have been a quality start. Of his 18 quality starts, he allowed 3 earned runs just once. The other 17 starts were only 2 earned runs or less and he had 9 games where he did not allow an earned run. He allowed 2 or fewer runs in 19 of the games he started in 2013. Granted that was for the Tigers, but it just solidifies the fact that Fister keeps his team in the game and is stingy with runs. The Nationals lineup shouldn’t change much next season other that Zimmerman potentially moving to first. They did (provided he does not resign) lose Soriano, but the rest of the bullpen is strong so expecting him to at least tie Ryu in wins is realistic. Streamers only gives him 12 wins, but that is based upon the rest of his numbers that they expect to regress.
I would put them dead even for quality starts so if you’re looking for an advantage, there is none for that category. As for wins, they are even as far as the bullpen is concerned and this will come down to offensive production. The Nationals will have the same lineup and maybe Harper and Zimmerman can stay on the field for the full season. The Dodgers on the other have lost Hanley Ramirez and are currently shopping several members of their outfield. Losing Ethier or Crawford won’t affect their offence much; if they trade Kemp, combined with the loss of Hanley could be a large blow. The Dodgers were 6th in the league for runs scored in 2014, the Nationals right behind them in 9th. The Nationals finished in the top half for scoring runs the previous 2 years, the Dodgers did not. For now I will put them even, but if they lose Kemp as well as Hanley and don’t shore up the offence some other way, the edge could go to Fister. Even with an edge, it will only be a couple of wins so they are still close.
I could go into both pitchers arsenals, speeds, pitch selection, etc.., but there isn’t really much need for that. Ryu’s K/9 the past two years was 7.22 and 8.23. Streamer projects his K/9 just below 8.0, giving him around 160 strikeouts which is where he was in 2013 and slightly below what he would have had in 2014 had he played a full season. Fister has a career 6.13 K/9. He has only had a K/9 above 7.0 once. Last year we saw the strikeout fall of dramatically, down to 5.38 and a total under 100. Fister is pitching to more contact. He has abandoned his slider and cut his curveball use in half since arriving in Washington. He has also adopted a cutter. Any one of these things can be a contributing factor on the drop in strikeouts. Maybe these things have something to do with the drop in ERA; while that’s wonderful for his ERA, it doesn’t help much in the strikeout department. Even if he regains some of the K’s he lost he is not going to total 160 in a season, not without going over 200 innings. With 3 of the past four seasons being 164 innings or less, that’s another strike against Fister.
If the planets align and all things break right, Fister could match Ryu in the perfect world. Realistically, it’s not going to happen.
ADVANTAGE and WINNER: RYU
Ryu has the edge in ERA and strikeouts, and those two categories happen to be the two most fantasy owners eyeball first. In 2013 I could see Ryu getting edged out by Fister since it was his first year and people were skeptical, but he stepped up and was as good as advertised. In 2014 Ryu edged out Fister although many were expecting big things with Fister’s move to the NL. They were right as Fister had a career year, but Ryu still had a very productive fantasy season. Going into 2015 Fister is taking the lead over Ryu; while I can understand some of the arguments as to why, the numbers say you’re wrong. Ryu is the better and safer choice for 2015 and also has an upside advantage. That does not mean Fister is inferior, it just means that Ryu is slightly better and has a clear advantage in two categories. I would be happy with either one of these pitchers on my team. If I had to pick just one, I’m gong with Ryu.
The Mortal Kombat Series