The last 10 baseball seasons, I've run a prediction contest for my colleagues and friends. As a way to encourage creative picks for the end-of-season awards, I offer a bonus if someone is the only person to pick a player for that award, and that player finishes in the top three. It was dubbed the Ubaldo Rule after the 2010 season, before which one entrant (me!) picked Ubaldo Jimenez as his choice.
Last year, our Heisman-predicting colleague Ryan McCrystal made Doug Fister his selection. It was one that went unrewarded, as Fister had a decent season but received no award consideration.
I think Ryan may have been a year ahead of his time. We have five months to consider our preseason prognostications and while the chalk would be to take Adam Wainwright and Clayton Kershaw for the NL Cy Young, and the trendy choices would figure to be Jose Fernandez and Michael Wacha, Fister makes for a good sleeper pick.
The NL move
The AL-to-NL switcheroo is frequently one that is beneficial for a pitcher (see A.J. Burnett, Gio Gonzalez and Francisco Liriano among recent examples). There's no reason to think that Fister won't benefit too.
As Justin Havens noted in the Stats & Information blog, Fister has good numbers in a limited sampling against NL opponents -- a 2.09 ERA in 12 regular-season games (11 starts), with a strikeout-to-walk rate of better than 6-to-1 and an astounding one homer allowed in 73 1/3 innings.
Fister should face what is still a strikeout-happy Braves team without Brian McCann, an aging Phillies team, a work-in-progress (but not likely to be great) Mets lineup and a young Marlins team with only one significant offensive threat in Giancarlo Stanton at least a dozen times in 2014. He beat (and pitched well against) the Braves, Phillies and Mets in 2013.
The Nationals' primary interleague opponent is the AL West, meaning Fister will likely only see an AL East team once -- when the Nationals face the Orioles in the four-game Beltway Series.
The big curveball
Fister throws a nasty curveball, one that netted misses on 42 percent of swings last season, and netted misses on 41 percent of swings the year before. His miss rate over the last two seasons ranked eighth-best among the 100 pitchers who have thrown the curveball the most.
Remember, too, that that curveball will be new to many of the hitters he'll face in 2014.
Fister allowed groundball hits at a rate that ranked among the highest of anyone last season. That deviated significantly from his career norms. He also goes from Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera manning the corners for him to Adam LaRoche and Ryan Zimmerman.
Over the last two seasons, the latter two were 46 Defensive Runs Saved better than the former two. The Nationals also rate better at second and short over the last two seasons, though the difference isn't that dramatic.
Regardless, Fister's history and a better defense to work with could mean a big boost to his numbers.
A dominant team
We mentioned already that, at least at the moment, the NL East is weak.
The upgrade from Dan Haren to Fister gives Washington four starting pitchers, none older than 30, who could be No. 1s on a lot of teams. Bryce Harper will be fully healthy and primed for a big year as a 21-year-old. Ian Desmond is in his offensive prime.
And there’s always the possibility of Robinson Cano joining the mix.
Perhaps we were all a year off with our assessments that the Nationals would win 105 games and romp in the NL East in 2013. Perhaps that year will be 2014, with Fister among those leading the way.