Washington Nationals' manager Matt Williams talked at length about his commitment to defensive efficiency and his interest in defensive positioning in his introductory press conference in the nation's capital back in October. Williams summed up the the work he did as part of the Arizona Diamondbacks' coaching staff before joining the Nationals by explaining the overarching thinking behind his and his fellow D-Backs' coaches' approach to the defensive side of the game.
"The philosophy that Kirk [Gibson] and myself and Alan Trammell and Don Baylor and those guys in Arizona had put together was, we can do all the shifts we want and we can play tendencies all we want," Williams said, "but we have to understand what our pitchers are going to throw. First and foremost. How are our pitchers going to attack opposing hitters and how can we play accordingly?"
"We helped them be in the right spot," Williams continued. "We helped them be in a position to make a defensive play that helped us save a run, won us a game, whatever it is. So I think that is most important for us.
"We understand that it's a very fine line between two and a half runs and three and a half runs or four and a half runs. It's a very fine line. But I do understand also that if we can cut one down at some point during that game, we have a much better chance of winning with the kind of club we've got."
Unless the Nationals go out and sign free agent second baseman Robinson Cano, which General Manager Mike Rizzo at least didn't totally rule out today in a conversation with reporters, or if Danny Espinosa somehow makes a surprising comeback to claim a spot, there aren't expected to be any changes in the Nationals' infield. There will be one change on the mound, however, with the acquisition of Doug Fister in a deal with the Detroit Tigers last night.
ESPN.com reporters Justin Haven and Mark Simon wrote this morning, that Fister, 29, who had the fourth-highest ground ball percentage among major league pitchers "who qualified for the ERA title" in 2013, could benefit from a move to the nation's capital:
"Fister had the third-highest ground-ball rate (55 percent) in the majors among pitchers who qualified for the ERA title last season. However, opponents hit .276 against him on ground balls and bunts, the sixth-highest such opponents’ batting average in the majors.
With that, it should be noted that Fister is going from a Tigers team whose non-pitchers had -26 Defensive Runs Saved in the majors last season (with significant issues at the corner spots) to a Nationals team whose non-pitchers were worth -10 Defensive Runs Saved last season."
In his second full season in Detroit after a mid-summer trade from the Seattle Mariners to the Tigers in 2011, Fister went (14-9) in 2013, with a 3.67 ERA, a 3.26 FIP, 44 walks (1.90 BB/9) and 159 Ks (6.86 K/9) in 33 games, 32 starts and 208 2/3 IP over which he was worth +4.6 fWAR, which was better than any of the Nationals' other starters last season, ahead of Jordan Zimmermann (+3.6), Stephen Strasburg (+3.2) and Gio Gonzalez (+3.1). He's also under team control for two more seasons before he hits free agency in 2015.
Fister should appreciate the improved infield defense behind him in his first season in D.C. in 2014. In an interview with Fangraphs.com's Eno Sarris in early October (which FBB's Garrett Hooe quoted in his breakdown of the Nats' new starter), the 6'8'' right-hander talked about the importance of trusting his defense:
Sarris: "Does it ever worry you that a strikeout is always an out while a ground ball is *mostly* an out?"
Fister: "That’s where your team mentality comes in, you trust everyone behind you, and as long as you do your job and take the sting out of the ball, the defense will be right there for you."
It would appear to be a good match. In his talk about the trade with reporters today, the Nationals' GM said part of what sold him on the trade was the way what his scouts saw matched up with the numbers those in the front office charged with doing statistical analysis found to support the deal:
Rizzo on Fister: "It’s a good day in the Nationals front office when the sabermetricians & scouts in the field see a player the same way."
— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) December 3, 2013
Rizzo thought Fister was an "undervalued asset" and got great sabremetric reports on him from #Nats staff
— Byron Kerr (@masnKerr) December 3, 2013
Asked about adding the big ground ball pitcher to the rotation today in an interview with 106.7 the FAN in D.C.'s Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier, Rizzo sounded excited about what the pitcher and his new defense can accomplish together in 2014:
"We like the fact that our infield defense is going to be solid. And he's a 54% ground ball pitcher and a guy who, like I said, he works all four quadrants of the strike zone, can get some weak contact, balls on the ground and allows his defense to help him out. But this guy is a well-rounded pitcher who really knows his craft, he controls the running game extremely well, fields his position well, and... pounds the strike zone, doesn't walk anybody, doesn't give up many home runs..."
Rizzo went on praising his latest acquisition.
The Nationals go four strong in the rotation now if everyone is healthy and the Nats' GM said today they have depth now unlike what they've had in his time in D.C.
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