In the very last moments of the trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays acquired outfielder Derek Fisher from the Houston Astros for Aaron Sanchez, Joe Biagini, and prospect Cal Stevenson. No matter what is the perceived value of those players, Fisher is now in Toronto and will play out the rest of the 2019 season.
Fair trade or not, there is a new outfielder that will be playing for the Blue Jays and will most likely get his longest stint in the majors in the short couple of months that remain in the 2019 season.
Since the Astros currently have a stacked outfield with no opportunities to make way for an upcoming prospect that needs some major league at-bats, moving on from Fisher makes sense for them and the Blue Jays. Now, the outfielder will get some consistency in his career that might do him good.
For a rebuilding team, Fisher might just be the kind of player you take a flyer on. Regardless of the price, his floor has already been shown as a “AAAA” player and it can really only go up with the opportunity that he’s going to now get in Toronto.
Through three different years involving short appearances with the Astros, Fisher has a slash line of .201/.282/.367 — pretty horrible for a player that was once seen as a cornerstone of the future Astros outfield. But that’s through a total of 312 plate appearances, where the longest length of time he spent with the team was back in 2017, where he was called-up on June 25th and stayed as a part of the roster until October 1st.
He turned 23-years-old in the middle of that so it’s not like he came up too young, but to judge the player on a few months of production he had two years ago is not very accurate.
Trying to get a sense of what Fisher has done this season on the Astros might be selling him short as well, just 61 plate appearances in 2019, where he’s hitting for a .226 average and has a .675 OPS — a slightly better improvement compared to his stats overall.
Other than just the simple box score figures, Fisher has generally shown some signs of being a capable major-league outfielder.
At the plate, he appears to be much more disciplined than the current outfield for Toronto. His BB/K ratio of 0.5 would be the fourth-best among current Jays and the best of all other outfielders (Hernandez is the next best with a 0.30). So at least there might be less strikeouts and that has clearly been a focus of his since he debuted back in 2017 — each year in the majors his K% decreases.
Since the Jays currently just have an outfield that loves to swing and miss, Fisher might be a pleasant surprise if he’s able to get on base regularly. But that’s been his problem this year, he’s not been able to regularly get on base.
It’s a small sample size, but using Statcast and their expected statistics, he comes across as one of the unluckiest hitters in all of baseball.
With an expected weight on base average of .344, Fisher sits at 116th of the 459 batters that have had at least 50 plate appearances. Surrounded by names like Manny Machado, Javy Baez, Jose Ramirez and even our own Vladimir Guerrero Jr. — the way Fisher has hit the ball so far suggests that he should be getting on base much more than he actually is.
Comparing his xwOBA (.344) and his actual wOBA (.298), there’s a difference of -0.44, which is the 22nd-largest difference among those 459 batters.
Looking at his entire MLB career in one fell swoop, Fisher has clearly been on a rollercoaster ride of expected wOBA and is just coming off of some of his best performances. Through it all, he has generally averaged out to be an average hitter but there might be more to work with.
If there’s anything we notice with all the young players on the current Blue Jays, it’s that they can hit the ball damn hard and Fisher can join them. Through his entire MLB career so far, Fisher has a higher-than-average barrel percentage (8.8% compared to 6.3%), exit velocity (90.5 MPH to 87.5 MPH), and hard hit percentage (43.2 % to 34.4%). Taking all of this in, he can hit the ball hard and that should go far.
His offence is there and through his time with the Blue Jays, he might just suddenly go on a hot streak to really finish the season strong — but that can be said of anyone.
Where Fisher really differentiates himself from the pack of the current outfield Toronto has is his defensive ability.
|Innings||Defensive Runs Saved (DRS)||Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR)|
|Lourdes Gurriel Jr.||466.1||1||0.2|
Using Fangraphs’ Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Ratings to carefully summarize a player’s individual contribution to their team’s defence, Fisher clearly stands above the current outfield.
In the 108 innings that Fisher has fielded, he has saved more runs than any other Blue Jays outfielder over their entire season. It could be small sample size and the experienced peers he had on the Astros, but Fisher is clearly a step above defensively.
It might seem like comparing an average fielder to a giant pile of defensive trash, but any inclination of improvement coming is a positive. Especially when Fisher is already placing himself among the top-60 outfielders to have over 100 innings to their name.
Among 181 outfielders that have that criteria, Fisher is tied at 55th in DRS and 52nd in UZR. The players around him in the ranks generally have more innings and therefore more opportunity — a player like Bryce Harper or Tommy Pham has two defensive runs saved as well, but about 600 more innings in the outfield this season.
All we need is more innings and this trend can be justified as factual.
One other instance that was mentioned heavily while Fisher was rising through the prospect ranks was his speed. As soon as he was rated in 2017 on Fangraphs, they gave him a 70-grade speed and he has shown that in the big leagues to an extent.
Statcast has his current sprint speed in the 85th-percentile of all batters and that’s due to his elite quickness in the two seasons before this one. With a consistent 29.4 feet per second in both 2017 and 2018, Fisher was in the top four per cent of all runners when it came to his speed. This season, unfortunately, his running has dropped down a whole point to 28.4 feet per second which lowered him to the top 15 per cent.
If that aspect of his game comes back in a slow-speed team like the Jays currently are on average, it will certainly be noticed.
The only current member of this team that has averaged a faster sprint speed this season is fellow outfielder Teoscar Hernandez at 29.0 feet per second, placing him in the top six per cent.
If Fisher is able to successfully put together this whole power-speed combo, he can be a deadly force that happens to be extremely valuable. It’s a massive, blinking, glaring, if, that can haunt some dreams, but there’s clearly an upside that he has shown before.
If the defensive ability isn’t a fluke, he’s able to get some luck when it comes to getting on base and his speed stays consistently what it was in previous seasons, Fisher can be in the Blue Jays’ outfield for the next few years.
If there is one general sweeping statement that can be made to justify acquiring Fisher, it’s that he can be another buy-low bat that this front office clearly loves, and has once shown immense promise to be a star in this league. It’s all there — clear signs that point to his potential, but it’s getting enough time to stabilize and to get a consistent job in the majors without checking the next flight down to Triple-A will help.
One big giant if.