On August 9th the Milwaukee Brewers promoted Mike Fiers from the minors and inserted him straight into their starting rotation. He proceeded to rattle off a 10 game stretch of truly elite statistical dominance. Counting the 4 relief appearances he made in June, his season line was 6 wins and 5 losses with a spectacular 2.13 ERA and 0.88 WHIP. He only pitched 71.2 innings but if you picked him up in August he may have carried your team to victory down the stretch and in the fantasy playoffs. He might also have helped or hurt your squad by drilling Giancarlo Stanton in the grill and ending his season.
As fantasy baseball players, we need to ask ourselves some questions about Mike Fiers. Was his great season a small sample size fluke? Can we rely on him to help our pitching staff next season? What round should we draft him in?
Let's start from the beginning. Fiers was never expected to be an impact major league pitcher. He wasn't drafted until the 22nd round in 2009, when he was already 24 years old. That is not a good sign. Fiers bounced around from starter to reliever several times in his minor league career, but he did put up some very good strikeout rates and kept his walk rate low. He got a cup of coffee in 2011, making his major league debut at the late age of 26.
In 2012 Fiers opened some eyes by delivering a 3.74 ERA for the Brewers in 127 quality innings. His peripherals were even better. He struck out 9.52 batters per 9 innings and his FIP was only 3.09. That is a very impressive season for a rookie.
Then 2013 happened, and it wasn't good. He got off to a really bad start to the season and was swiftly demoted to the minors. He made a couple more poor appearances in the majors in May before getting sent down again. Then he took a line drive off his pitching arm and it broke, causing him to miss the rest of the season.
He failed to make the Brewers' starting rotation this spring and his fantasy value plummeted to nothing. He got into 7 innings in relief in June during a brief major league call-up before finally getting a chance to join the Brewers' rotation in mid-August. From then on he was awesome, much better than he had been even during his fine 2012 season. His 9.54 K/9 and 2.13 BB/9 led to an excellent 21.5% K%-BB%, which would have been good for 7th in the major leagues if he had pitched enough innings to qualify. His 2.13 ERA and 0.88 WHIP would have been 2nd only to Clayton Kershaw!
There are some notes of caution to consider. Firstly, his .224 BABIP was very lucky and is never going to happen again. It is likely to rise about 70 points next season, leading to a lot more base runners and runs allowed. Secondly, his very high 46.9% fly ball rate would have been 4th in the majors if he qualified. Fiers' 0.88 HR/9 was quite lucky considering his fly ball tendencies and the fact he pitches half his games in a ballpark that gives up a lot of home runs. Another sign that the luck gods were smiling on him was his 82.7 left-on-base percentage, which is 10% higher than normal. The chances of him being that fortunate next season are slim to none, so some big regression is on the horizon.
Given those extreme luck stats it will come as no surprise that Fiers' FIP and SIERA were not as pretty as his ERA. But even with all that luck his 2.99 FIP, 3.15 xFIP and 2.94 SIERA are still very, very good. Not as good as his 2.13 ERA, but impressive nonetheless. Those numbers are much more accurate at predicting future results, so it is quite reasonable to expect Fiers to produce an ERA in the range of 3.00 to 3.30 on the conservative end. His WHIP will rise from this year's lucky 0.88 to about 1.20, which is more in line with his expected BABIP and career walk rate.
Fiers' stats in the minor leagues this year were also very impressive and lend strength to the notion that his major league stats were legitimate. He manages to get a lot of strikeouts despite having a below average fastball in terms of velocity. His heater comes in at 90 mph yet he relies on it heavily, throwing it 63% of the time. He mixes in a cutter, curve and change, with the changeup being particularly effective in missing bats. He has an unorthodox delivery that adds some deception and unusual movement to keep hitters off balance.
Mike Fiers is not a fluke. He is a good pitcher who should continue to be successful, although not to the extent he was in 2014. Assuming Fiers earns a slot in the Brewers' opening day rotation next year, we can expect him to be a solid #3 fantasy pitcher. He will likely have a record near .500 unless the Brewers take some big steps forward offensively. He will strike out about a batter per inning, so count on at least 175 strikeouts if he pitches a full season, and more than that if he exceeds 200 innings. The aforementioned 3.00 - 3.30 ERA and 1.20 WHIP will also be plenty good enough to earn you extra points in roto leagues.
Fiers' draft position is going to be a bit tricky. In 12 team leagues he is good enough to justify an 8th or 9th round pick, but I would not suggest drafting him that early because I think you can wait and take him later, maybe much later. I would start thinking about him in the 10th round but might not pull the trigger until the 12th round. I don't think he will rank too highly on most cheat sheets, largely because he is so unproven. He only started 10 games this year and didn't play long enough to rate highly on the end-of-season ranks. In Yahoo 5x5 leagues, Fiers ranked 149th overall despite playing only 1/3 of the season, but in CBS points leagues he ranked only 276th. That creates an opportunity for savvy team owners to draft him as a mid to late round sleeper with the potential to return early-round value. I would certainly draft him before some guys who will outrank him, like Danny Duffy and Scott Kazmir.