After Fisher’s recent struggles, many fans are calling for the Blue Jays to DFA him. That would be a mistake.
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The American writer Ransom Riggs once said “If you must fail, fail spectacularly!” Clearly, Derek Fisher must be a fan. For when the Fish fails in the field – from his 2019 face-catch to his uncaught “catchable ball” last week – he does so with style.
And his hitting has not been much better. Fisher has a career 78 wRC+ over 458 PAs. That is 365th of the 435 players with 450+ PAs since 2017.
So clearly, the Jays should just cut their losses and drop him, right?
Let’s start with the obvious caveat. Fisher has only 16 games and 39 PAs so far this year. So the small sample size question is alive and well. But remember – we are not talking about Hall of Fame voting here. The question before us is whether Derek’s performance, in that limited sample, merits a longer look. And I believe that it does.
Let’s start with his hitting. It is common for a young player to struggle when he first makes it to the big leagues, and Fisher is no exception. In 2018, his wRC+ was a terribad 58. In 2019, it improved to a merely bad 76. And that positive trend continues – so far in 2020, he is hitting to a 120 wRC+, better than Biggio, Grichuk or Vladdy. Fish has done so with an average exit velocity in the top 8% and a hard-hit percentage in the top 7% in the league. Ah, but you might say, “what about his poor .226 batting average?”. To which I would reply (as a wise old baseball philosopher once said) “but he gets on base”. Fisher’s OBP this year is .359 – second only to Cavan Biggio, and (if he had enough PAs to qualify) top-50 in baseball. What has happened so far this year is that pitchers are throwing outside the zone, and hoping that Derek will chase (37.6% of the pitches he sees are in the zone. That would be 10th lowest in baseball). But he is not chasing, and instead has a BB% of 17.9%, best on the Jays.
I am not suggesting that Derek’s excellent hitting in 2020 is a definite breakthrough. What I *am* saying is that it might be a breakthrough, and that he (and the Jays) need more at-bats to find out. Certainly if he could maintain this pace, his bat would be valuable – in 2019, only 52 (qualified) players in baseball had a wRC+ of 120 or better … and none of them were Blue Jays.
So now let’s talk about Fisher’s fielding. Problem he has is that he is the poster boy for confirmation bias. We all remember his face catch in 2019, and being human beings (with the possible exception of Yankees fans) we have formed an opinion about his defensive skills and we look for evidence to confirm our perceptions. So when he makes a catch, we claim blind squirrel, but when he misses one we say “I told you so!”. But what do the unforgiving stats say? Over his 1,023 innings in the outfield, Fish is a +3.6 UZR/150 (a +2 DRS) . And his career outfield fielding percentage is .976 (in 2020, the average mlb fielder has a .980 FP). So, by statgeek standards, he is – on average – adequate, bordering on above average.
It is true that Fisher is struggling in 2020. I wonder if that is due to his playing all three OF positions, with less than 60 innings in each, and only playing 1-2 games per week, all in these crazy coronavirus times. I doubt if anyone knows. But if the covid craziness is affecting his glove, he is not alone – Randall Grichuk is an uncharacteristic -10.8 UZR/150 and Some Other Fish in Anaheim is -12.
The bottom line
Derek is not a finished product, and it is far from guaranteed that he will ever be an above-average MLB fielder. And any conclusions we draw from his limited sample sizes in 2020 can only be indicative at best. But if the question is “are there enough positive indicators to justify a longer look – and to justify the additional work required to smooth out his rough edges?” I believe that the answer is a clear “Yes”.
*Featured Image Courtesy Of DaveMe Images. Prints Available For Purchase.
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A Jays fan since pre-Series, Jim’s biggest baseball regret is that he did not play hooky with his buddies on 7 Apr 77. But hearing “Fanfare For The Common Man” played from a rooftop on 24 Oct 92 helped him atone.