Right now you are probably wondering why I am telling you not to draft a guy who just put up a 2.41 ERA with a 16-6 record and a 1.08 WHIP. I don't blame you because that sounds like a great fantasy season, right? That is correct he did put up great fantasy stats in 2014, but I don't think he will in 2015 and I will tell you why...
To get right down to the nitty-gritty of the matter, the Washington Nationals' Doug Fister was very fortunate in 2014. His peripheral stats simply do not match his fantasy stats. His ERA may have been 2.41 but his FIP was 3.93, his xFIP was 3.85, his tERA was 3.94 and his SIERA was 3.93. One of those stats does not match the rest. His ERA was a full 1.5 runs lower than every one of his peripherals and that is not a good thing because those peripherals do a much better job of predicting the future than ERA does. That means his ERA next year is likely to be near 4.00, close to double what it was last year. That is going to hurt his fantasy owners a lot.
In my database of 214 starting pitchers, Fister's 5.38 K/9 ranks him 193rd in that key fantasy category. Out of all the pitchers who threw enough innings to qualify for the ERA title only four struck out fewer batters per game than Fister. Not good. Strikeouts are a big portion of a fantasy pitcher's value, and Fister is a big drag on that category for your team - especially if your league has an innings limit.
Some other warning signs for Fister's 2015 prognosis are his luck stats. He benefited from an unusually low .262 BABIP that is highly unlikely to repeat itself next year. His career BABIP prior to 2014 was .297, which is right in line with the league average. As that BABIP corrects itself it will take his WHIP up with it, mostly likely into the 1.20+ level where he has been most of his career. Fister was even luckier in terms of strand rate. His 83.1% LOB% was freakishly high and extremely unlikely to happen again. In fact, that was the highest strand rate of any starting pitcher in baseball and is due to come crashing back down to Earth next year.
The most important component stat for a pitcher is K%-BB%. Fister's 11.2% is below the league average of 12.1% for starting pitchers. It is extremely hard to be a good pitcher with a poor result in that key metric. This is even more true when it comes to fantasy because strikeouts are one of the 5x5 categories. Fister does a very poor job of striking hitters out.
Here are Fister's final 2014 ranks among starting pitchers according to the most popular fantasy scoring systems:
Yahoo 5x5 leagues: 17th among all SPs
CBS 5x5 leagues: 23rd
CBS Points Leagues: 40th
ESPN Player Rater: 19th
So basically the scoring systems agree that Fister was a top 25 starting pitcher in 2014 despite missing the first 5 weeks of the season with a lat strain. If you take a look at the pitchers close to him in the rankings, Fister is the one to avoid the most. He is by far the most likely of the bunch to suffer a significant dropoff in performance in 2015. I also expect Julio Teheran, Scott Kazmir and Danny Duffy to see large declines as well, but not as bad as Fister.
Based on his final 2014 rankings, it is likely that you will have to draft Doug Fister in rounds 5-7 if you want to get him next Spring. Don't do it! There is very little chance that Fister will end up providing enough value to justify such an early round pick. Although I wouldn't draft him until at least the 20th round, you could justify taking him in the 12th-15th range if he were still available by some miracle. He won't be available that late though because somebody in your league will take him way too early. Don't be that guy. Let somebody else make the mistake of thinking Fister will repeat his excellent 2014 fantasy season.
Fangraphs' Steamer projections call for Fister to produce a 2015 stat line of a 12-10 record, 3.78 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 126 strikeouts in 182 innings. I think that is very close to my personal prediction of an 11-10 record, 3.90 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and 120 strikeouts in 200 innings next year. Those stats are a far cry from the 16-6 record, 2.41 ERA, 1.08 WHIP and 98 Ks in 164 innings he put together this year. Fister is going to disappoint a LOT of fantasy owners next year, make sure you are not one of them.