Stephen Fife got a no-decision as the Dodgers lost last night to the Padres, keeping Fife at 1-4 over his short career. But — say it with me now – pitcher wins are stupid, because Fife has somehow managed to be pretty consistent when he’s had an opportunity.
That’s 10 starts over 2012 (top) and 2013 (bottom). Eight times he’s gone at least five innings, nine times he’s allowed two runs or fewer. Obviously, raw “runs allowed” isn’t really the greatest metric in the world because it’s so opponent-, fielding-, bullpen-, and ballpark-dependent, but for a guy we had zero expectations for, that’s a pretty good run. Honestly, the only really lousy start he’s had was in his first of this year when he was a last-second replacement flown to Baltimore when Chad Billingsley‘s elbow gave out, and even then I can’t really kill a guy for having a hard time facing Chris Davis & Manny Machado.
What’s interesting here is that I really have no idea how he’s doing it, though. Fife has increased his strikeouts all the way up to 8.78 this year, which is solid, but he’s somehow done this despite missing fewer bats overall – his swinging-strike rate is down from 7.8% to 6.8%, and overall contact rate has increased from 80.7% to 84.7%. Where there’s a change in that regard is that even though he’s been missing fewer bats within the zone — up from 86.5% to 94.9% — he’s getting more swing-and-miss on balls outside the zone, dropping the contact rate from 66.0% to 59.3%.
Obviously, a guy like Fife isn’t going to blow anyone away with fastballs down the middle, and to survive he needs to get weak contact on low & outside pitches. As you’d expect, he’s getting 59% grounders, though with a .359 BABIP, the sub-par Dodger defense isn’t doing him any favors in turning balls into outs. What Fife has been able to do is avoid the walk, cutting his BB rate nearly in half this year.
Now let’s be clear: Fife isn’t suddenly some prospect find. 54.1 career innings is hardly enough to base a real opinion on, and those stats could easily change in a heartbeat as teams get a report on a guy who very rarely even touches 90. To be honest, I like him just fine as an extra guy, but I would never want to go into a season planning on him as one of your five starters.
But if the question is, “do I believe in Fife more than I do Matt Magill?” Right now, yes. “More than Ted Lilly?” Oh hell yes, you better believe I do. For a guy included in a trade that we absolutely destroyed Ned Colletti on — the Trayvon Robinson-for-Tim Federowicz deal, and while I hate to give Colletti any more credit than truly necessary, he was absolutely right on that one, and we were all wrong — he’s proven himself, so far, to be a pretty nice guy to have around. In a season of disappointment, we’ll take what nice surprises we can find.