No One Can Cool Down Mike Fiers
After being up and down from the minors throughout the past four seasons, Mike Fiers is starting to show that he belongs at the big league level. He was given a chance earlier in the season, but was sent back down to Nashville 15 days after he was called up. During that span, he went seven innings and allowed two runs while striking out four and walking three. Each of those four outings came late in games, and he held down the fort in each outing, except one where he went four innings and took the loss in a 16-inning battle against the Nationals.
Last night, Fiers built on his last week’s shut-down performance against the Dodgers to earn his first victory of 2014. Fiers took the mound against the division-rival Cubs and was in great form. He struck out fourteen batters over six innings and walked only one. Fiers' WHIP was 0.87 coming into the game, and it dropped 0.06 points with his quality start at Wrigley.
While also allowing only three hits, as he did against Los Angeles, Fiers threw 106 pitches through his outing. Even though 71 were for strikes, he has to cut that down. Unfortunately, he won’t throw gems every outing, and he needs to make sure he’s a more economical than he was last night.
Although most might look at this game and discredit Fiers because he took on the Cubs, he faced the sixth-best offense in NL in terms of runs per game in August. However, Chicago was the third-worst in strikeouts in the MLB - they trailed only the Rockies and Braves coming into the outing against Fiers.
Fiers has shown at the minor league level that he has the capability of being a strikeout pitcher, even though he didn’t in his 11 MLB appearances last year. Through his time in the minors, his career K/9 averages at each level are 9.4 or better. While his K/9 in the bigs is 8.7 for his career, he had a 9.5 K/9 through his first two years of MLB experience.
The 29-year-old starter only got two innings of experience when he broke in, in 2011. He got his first real shot at starting for the big-league club in 2012, when he made 22 starts and threw 127.2 innings, logging a 3.74 ERA and a 3.10 FIP. Fiers had a 3.75 K/BB ratio that season, as well, but has had a 2.50 K/BB ratio since then.
Over his last two seasons in Milwaukee, Fiers was using his fastball a little over 50% of the time, but this year he is throwing it 61% of the time and at his best average velocity thus far (89.5). In that same time frame, he threw his curveball a little over 20% of the time, but this season he is throwing it a little less and incorporating his cutter a little more, which could be key to his success. Batters are swinging at 31% of the pitches out of the zone, and had a .217 BABIP and a .167 batting average against, so he’s getting opponents to swing at the pitches he wants them to swing at.
The biggest key to success has to be Fiers' alterations to his repertoire, and if he can maintain a healthy mix of all four of his pitches (his change-up being his fourth), then he'll have continued success the rest of 2014.