Photo Credit: : Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Unlocking Derek Fisher’s Potential

The Blue Jays trade deadline was widely underwhelming. Cam covered the overall returns very well in his piece. One of the key players the Blue Jays received in these trades was Derek Fisher. Thomas covered Fisher and what the Blue Jays have in him in his excellent post Thursday.

What the Blue Jays have in Derek Fisher is a player who has yet to reach their full potential. As Thomas notes, Fisher does some things really well, notably he hits the ball really freaking hard. At the time of the trade his average exit velocity was 94.8mph, per Baseball Savant, which among players with at 30 batted balls ranks second in the majors behind Aaron Judge. He also has an average exit velocity of 100.4 on line drives and fly balls which also ranks second in the majors, this time behind Joey Gallo. Fisher has only spent partial time in the big leagues over the last three seasons but that has stayed on consistent. In 2018, he averaged 98.4 on FB/LD, fourth in the league and in 2017, he averaged 94.7 which put him 66th, one spot ahead of future MVP Christian Yelich.

When Fisher puts the ball in the air he crushes it, the problem is he doesn’t do that often enough. Per Fangraphs, he has a career ground ball rate of 52.7%, and has a career ground ball to fly ball rate of 2.10. Not coincidentally his launch angle over the past three seasons has been 4.2, 3.0 and 6.7 degrees for a career average of 4.5. Fisher hits the ball very hard but right into the ground, a recipe for disaster for a left handed hitter. Fisher is a very fast and it’s possible that from a young age he was taught to hit the ball on the ground and take advantage of his speed. A habit he has not been able to shake. This type of approach can work in the minor leagues where the fields aren’t as well kept and where the fielders don’t have the same hands or range that the players in the majors do.

This approach can work in the majors as Yelich showed in his time with the Marlins. Yelich with the Marlins had elite exit velocity finishing at least in the top 8% of the league each season from 2015-2017. His average launch angle in those seasons was 2.4. For his Marlins career Yelich had a groundball rate of 59.1%. He was hitting over three groundballs for every fly ball. Yelich made this approach work because he made lots of contact, sprayed the ball around the field and took walks. Fisher is obviously not Yelich, he doesn’t make the same amount of contact and strikes out more, but his approach at the plate is similar.

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When Yelich got to the Brewers he moved into a much better park for offense and also traded some groundballs for line drives. That alone was enough for him to breakout, and have an MVP season. Even after winning the MVP Yelich changed again and is doing even better than last year. He has raised his launch angle is hitting way more fly balls, and is pulling the ball more.

If Fisher can make a similar change he could be a really good hitter and a core piece for the Blue Jays. If he could increase his launch angle a couple degrees, he would get more balls into the air and get rid of those easy 4-3 putouts.

The obvious response to this is, if he couldn’t make these changes while with the Astros, one of the most analytically inclined teams, what makes us think the Blue Jays will be able to do it. The response to that is while Houston is one of the smartest teams in the league, they have done much better with pitchers than they have hitters. Their line-up consists of high draft picks and top prospects. They haven’t done what say the Dodgers have done, and taken journeyman players like a Justin Turner, Max Muncy or Chris Taylor, and overhauled their swings. The Blue Jays have shown that they can change your swing down in the minor leagues.

Derek Fisher might not have been the return people had hoped for when they saw the Blue Jays made a trade with the Astros, but with a small tweak and change in approach at the plate he could be a stud hitter for this team in a line-up that could be really good next season.

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