TigsTown Analysis: Fister, Pauley Acquisition

On Saturday, the Tigers made the big deal everyone was waiting for them to pull off, acquiring right-handed starter Doug Fister as well as reliever David Pauley in exchange for a quartet of young players. How does the deal work out for the Tigers, how big was the package that they gave up, and what are they getting in return?

To start with, it's important to keep in mind what we at TigsTown have been reiterating for over a month now; the Tigers were going to stretch to any means necessary to make a deal. They could not realistically continue to rotate various minor leaguers into their fifth starter slot and feel good about their chances of winning the division. And with everyone's job on the line, not making a deal wasn't really an option.

And secondly, the Tigers were holding out against all hope that they would be able to make a deal without giving up the two prized prospects in the organization; right-hander Jacob Turner (who Tigers fans got a view of just how good he could be in his big league debut on Saturday) and third baseman Nick Castellanos.

What they did give up was by no means chopped liver though, and the group (LHP Charlie Furbush, OF Casper Wells, 3B prospect Francisco Martinez and a player to be named later) is likely going to form a good portion of the future Seattle Mariners.

In giving up Furbush, the Tigers are sending out a quality left-hander that could end up a back of the rotation starter, or at minimum a good swingman. Furbush had posted a 3.62 ERA in 32 1/3 innings in Detroit with a K:BB ratio of almost two, but his WHIP was over 1.50 and at least for 2011, he was only going to be of help out of the bullpen.

The 25-year old Furbush possesses an average fastball with a potentially good but occasionally inconsistent curveball. That right there makes him likely to be a serviceable reliever, but he will need to see further improvement out of his curveball as well as his change-up to be a starter long term.

Next up is Wells, who despite doing everything asked of him and doing it well, never got a fair chance in Detroit, consistently being passed over when there was available playing time, whether it was for Andy Dirks or Don Kelly. Wells hit .257 for the Tigers with ten doubles and four home runs in just 113 at-bats.

The biggest advantage Wells has is his power-speed combination, which should play incredibly well in Seattle's spacious Safeco Field. Wells has the power in his bat to play in a corner outfield spot, while the speed to cover enough ground as well as a great arm to make him an extra base hit killer. If anyone will prosper due to this trade, it's likely to be Wells.

The key to the deal may well be the one that many Tigers fans know so little about right now, and that is Francisco Martinez. The 20-year old third base prospect has spent all of 2011 in Double-A Erie, and given the way he's hit, was quickly establishing himself as one of the top 100 prospects in baseball. TigsTown ranked him the #4 prospect in the organization entering the season, and moved him up to #3 in the midseason edition.

Martinez shows the ability to be a very good all-around hitter with 15-20 home run power as well as the speed that makes him a threat on the base paths that could make him a 20-20 threat down the road. Right now what Martinez still needs is time to develop; while he's in Double-A, he's still at least a year away from being able to complete at the big league level, as his body has yet to fill out and he can often times appear gangly and somewhat uncoordinated, not uncommon for a 20-year old still growing into his body. With that, there's the hope that he'll get his footwork at the hot corner worked out, as without that, he may struggle to stay there and be forced to move to the outfield.

Finally the last piece of the deal will be the all too common player to be named later, which will be announced by August 20th. Speculation is that because it's a player to be named later, it will be one of the players signed late in last year's draft class, which would mean either right-handed reliever Chance Ruffin or left-handed starter Drew Smyly. It's also possible that the Mariners have a list to choose from and will use these next few weeks to conduct additional scouting to pick the guy they like most. Regardless, it's safe to say this will not be a throw-in; it will likely be another member of the Tigers' top ten prospects.

So, clearly, the Tigers gave up a lot in this deal, as we're most likely looking at a deal which forfeited four players that will all be major leaguers for an extended period of time. What exactly did the Tigers get in return?

The quick review is a pair of late 20's pitchers that have had very successful 2011 campaigns so far, despite poor records due to playing on a struggling team. The duo is reportedly very excited to join a club in the midst of a division race, as David Pauley even volunteered to get on the Saturday night redeye from the west coast to Detroit to be available to pitch on Sunday (the Tigers declined the offer, telling the pair to take their time and to report Tuesday).

The excitement of joining the team is also likely a credit to Dave Dombrowski's organization, which has made player acclimation and general player treatment a priority. When players are acquired, the Tigers have a staff dedicated to helping them find housing in the area and finding all of the necessities of living in a new area, especially important for those players that are bringing families along.

One other big noteworthy benefit of the trade; neither Pauley nor Doug Fister will be eligible for free agency until after 2015, meaning the Tigers are acquiring a pair of pitchers who will be under contract for the next 4.5 years, making them far from being rental players.

Pauley, who makes his off-season home in Sawyer, Michigan, has excelled in 2011 after being moved to the bullpen permanently in the off-season. Pauley has posted an ERA of 2.15 with an FIP of 3.32, indicating his success while a bit over his head is by no means luck. He's also struck out 34 and walked 16 in 54 1/3 innings with a WHIP of 0.99. But, with a BAbip of just .229, he's likely due for some more hits against as he's unlikely to maintain that rate.

Some of Pauley's success can be attributed to him focusing on just two pitches; his two-seam fastball that sits just below 90 and his excellent change-up. While he will also work in a curveball and has a four-seam fastball that sits in the low 90's, the curve was also his least effective pitch while he was starting and by using it sparingly and focusing on his best pitches, he's dramatically increased his effectiveness as a go-to late inning reliever.

Fister meanwhile has found plenty of success as a starter this season in every category but his meaningless record, which will get too much unnecessary attention (even if it's just comments about not paying attention to it). He's posted a 3.33 ERA with a 3.24 FIP and an xFIP under 4.00. And in 146 innings, he's struck out 89 and walked only 32, maintaining excellent control.

Despite being 6-8, Fister is not an overwhelming pitcher. He uses both a two-seam and four-seam fastball, but both sit in the high 80's. He also mixes in an average change-up and average curveball to create a decent repertoire that remains reliant on control. He's utilized his breaking pitch more this season, which appears to have helped him increase his swing and miss rate a bit as well.

The only alarming statistic that jumps out is his incredibly low home run to fly ball rate, showing the benefit that Safeco Field has provided. At only 4.4%, Fister is likely to see his home runs allowed increase in the second half which will go hand-in-hand with a bump in his ERA, but so long as he works at the bottom of the strike zone and maintains his control, Fister will be a valuable member of the rotation down the stretch, and should be able to be a solid back of the rotation starter for many years to come.

Ultimately, the Tigers have paid a very high price for a pair of solid but not dominating pitchers. That being said, it was the going rate, and for a team desperate for pitching help, the new duo should provide exactly that. It wasn't a perfect deal, but it should be good enough to help the Tigers stay in contention down the stretch.


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