Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Who is the real Mike Fiers?

Mike Fiers pitches for the Brewers today, so it seems that now is as good a time as any to point out that he hasn't been very good lately. That's not exactly a news flash, but his overall numbers kind of cover up how awful he's been. No one thought Fiers would be as outstanding as he was in June and July, but the last month and a half have been really rough for the 27 year old righty. Here are his numbers from his call-up in late May to August 7th.

13 games pitched (12 starts), 80 innings pitched, 65 hits, 16 walks, 17 runs (16 earned), 3 home runs, 80 strikeouts, 1.80 ERA, 1.01 WHIP

Not bad numbers. Actually, that's a lie. Those numbers are outstanding, and Fiers' first couple of months thrust him into the Rookie of the Year conversation and gave Brewers fans visions of lollipops and unicorns for the team's future. But then came a nightmare start on August 13th start in Coors Field. Prior to that start, I wrote that Fiers may struggle in Coors due to his flyball ways, and while Fiers was terrible in that game, he did not give up a single walk or home run. Rather, he was line-drived to death (yes, line-drived is now a verb). While liners haven't been a problem for him since then, other problems have surfaced. Here are his numbers from August 13th until now.

8 games pitched, 37 1/3 innings pitched, 45 hits, 17 walks, 30 runs (28 earned), 5 home runs, 37 strikeouts, 6.75 ERA, 1.66 WHIP

Those are alarming numbers. While the K/9 rate seems fine, his K% has dropped slightly from 25% to 22% while his walk rate skyrocketed from 5% to 10%. And you don't have to be a mathematician to notice that five homers in 37+ innings is worse than three homers in 80 innings.

So what's to blame? Has the league figured Fiers out? Is it bad luck? Is he tiring having thrown a career-high 172 1/3 innings between AAA and the majors? Does he not mesh with starting catcher Jonathan Lucroy the way he did with Martin Maldonado while Lucroy was injured? Or was he just not that good in the first place, and succeeded due to randomness and a lack of a scouting report on him? My boring guess is that it's some combination of all of the above, with the workload factor being the biggest probable cause.

During his epic summer run, fans and analysts alike surmised that Fiers might be the next coming of Jered Weaver or James Shields, a righty whose excellent control and above-average off-speed stuff made up for a seemingly unimpressive fastball. But over the last eight starts he's looked more like Dave Bush or Jair Jurrjens, guys with mediocre stuff who found success immediately but eventually got figured out, rendered unable to get major league hitters out despite the desire to pound the strike zone. So while we may not know who exactly Fiers is going forward, the Brewers' depth at starting pitcher may soften the blow should the worst happen. And if he's just tired, and the June-July Fiers is for real? Well, that's awesome. Though if I'm the Brewers, I wouldn't count on it.

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