Derek Fisher, a multi-category fantasy stud in the making

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Photo Credit: Leslie Plaza Johnson (Icon Sportswire)

When you googled ‘Derek Fisher’ about a month ago a majority of the search results were related to the legal troubles of the former NBA player and basketball coach. Unfortunately there wasn’t much love for the 6’3″, bald-headed Houston Astros outfielder. Baseball Derek Fisher, outside of a five game call-up to Houston in June, has spent the last three seasons quietly plying his trade across the minors in workmanlike fashion. And despite being the 37th overall selection in the 2014 draft, Fisher flew under most prospect prognosticator radar screens, not even cracking the top five among Astros prospects heading into this season in many rankings.

But google ‘Derek Fisher’ now and you’ll see a host of articles talking about the Astros’ slugger, who has cemented his place on the MLB squad after a late July promotion and the trade of Nori Aoki to the Blue Jays. It’s about time that Fisher receive some recognition, because he will be a boon to the Houston Astros and fantasy baseball managers going forward, bringing a balanced offensive approach that features an abundant display of power, patience and speed.

Mashing at every level

For whatever reason certain prospects, despite producing consistently at every level, don’t get their fair shake. File Fisher under this category. Drafted out of University of Virginia in 2014, Fisher’s rangy frame and athletic prowess excited scouts at the draft, but they seemingly all forgot about him after that. He made a swift transition to the professional ranks in late 2014 with the low-A Tri-City ValleyCats, hitting for a .303 / .378 / .408 triple slash line and a 133 wRC+. While the power wasn’t immediately evident, the hit tool, on-base ability and speed certainly was, with Fisher totaling an impressive 17 steals in 172 plate appearances.

derek fisher minors.PNG

The power potential did reveal itself the following season in A and high-A, with Fisher increasing his HR/AB, XBH/AB and slugging percentage rates across the board. All of that didn’t come at the sacrifice of speed, as Fisher still swiped 31 bags on the year.

The 2016 season was the first time Fisher caught my attention. He started the year with the AA Corpus Christi Hooks in the Texas League and was teammates with Alex Bregman, the second overall pick in the 2015 draft. I had Bregman stashed on my fantasy team and would follow his progress game in and game out, and noticed Fisher continually showing up positively in the box score.

While Fisher’s XBH/AB and slugging rate are a tad subdued in AA in 2016, the Texas League might be the most pitcher-friendly stop in the minors. As a result, his 132 wRC+ (which adjusts for league run-scoring environment) with Corpus Christi was right in line with his performance the preceding seasons and actually higher than the 124 mark he earned upon promotion to Fresno Grizzlies of the offense-packed Pacific Coast League. And regardless if he was in Texas or California, Fisher kept running, stealing 28 total bases in 2016.

2017 is the season where people began to take notice. But really it was just more of the same for Fisher. He started the year with AAA Fresno and continually raked, increasing his HR/AB ratio to 6.1% and XBH/AB rate to 14.0%. He actually managed to cut his strikeout rate to below the 20% threshold, surprising for a player hitting for the most power in his career, and also stole 16 bases.

Opportunity knocks

It’s likely that Fisher would have made most other MLB clubs out of spring training or earned a mid-May call-up. But Fisher plays for a Houston Astros organization in the midst of one of the best offensive seasons of all-time. Houston also has insane outfield depth, trotting out some combination of George Springer, Josh Reddick, Jake Marisnick, Marwin Gonzalez and Nori Aoki for most of the season. It took an injury to George Springer in late July and the trade of Aoki to open the door for Fisher, who has now cemented a consistent starting role with the club.

Since Fisher has only amassed 87 plate appearances we can’t really analyze his counting fisher MLB.PNGstatistics, like home runs, RBIs and stolen bases, properly. However, evaluation of Fisher’s rate stats show that he’s successfully carried over his balanced hitting profile from the minors. His triple slash line of .257 / .368 / .473 is above average in all respects and his .841 OPS ranks in the 80th percentile of MLB hitters with at least 80 plate appearances this season. Because Minute Maid Park has heavily suppressed runs over the last several seasons, Fisher’s wRC+, which adjusts for park factors, ranks even higher in the 87th percentile.

Of course, any professional baseball player can look decent over 87 plate appearances due to fortunate batted ball luck. This isn’t the case with Fisher though, as his .326 BABIP, while elevated, is only in the 72nd percentile of hitters. It’s also supported by a 42.0% hard hit rate that ranks in the 94th percentile, indicating that Fisher makes the type of solid contact that leads to a high batting average. Fisher also managed to post BABIPs ranging from .314 to .379 across every stop in his minor league career, providing further support for his advanced ability to make balls in play drop for hits.

derek fisher PD.PNGBut perhaps the most impressive aspect of Fisher’s debut, and the one that indicates a sustainable path forward, are his plate discipline metrics. Fisher’s patient approach has yielded a 13.8% walk rate, ranking in the 92nd percentile of hitters. And while his strikeout rate of 27.6% is certainly elevated, up in the 83rd percentile, his 0.50 BB/K ratio is still above average.

Delving further into his plate discipline numbers indicates that we can probably expect his strikeout rate to creep down in the near future. Fisher’s O-Swing %, which measures the percentage of pitches a player swings at outside the strike zone, is 20.3%. In this case his 5th percentile ranking is a good thing, meaning that Fisher is one of the best avoiding swinging at bad pitches. Similarly, his SwStk%, which tracks the percentage of swings and misses a player takes, is only 8.3%. Since O-Swing % and SwStk% are the primary determining factors in a player’s strikeout rate, Fisher should strikeout less moving forward, which will increase his offensive production across the board.

The one blemish on Fisher’s performance thus far has been a proclivity to hit groundballs. His 53.1% groundball rate is well above average, and his resulting 20.0% flyball rate is towards the bottom of the league. It’s generally difficult to hit for power and nab extra bases with so many balls on the ground, so that’s something Fisher should work on going forward. However, given his consistent ability to hit for power in the minors, I would expect more flyballs to come in the near future. And if a player does hit the ball hard enough, they can get away with a middling flyball rate, as Domingo Santana of the Milwaukee Brewers has shown over the past several seasons.

Wrapping it all up

That was a lot of stats to digest. What do they all mean in terms of fantasy production? Fisher has managed to carry over his blend of power and patience from the minors to the majors, and the underlying numbers support the strong surface-level performance.

Hitting in an Astros lineup that is pacing baseball in terms of offensive production will also elevate Fisher’s counting stats going forward. The downside to hitting in a lineup replete with such good hitters is that Fisher will probably be less active on the base paths, but that’s okay. While he was averaging in the range of 25-30 steals per year in the minors, he’ll likely be in the 10-15 range across a full season in the MLB.

All told, I see Fisher as a player capable of putting up 25 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a .350 on-base percentage over a full season moving forward. His run and RBI opportunities will vary depending on his position in the Astros lineup (he’s batted everywhere from first to second to ninth this season), but since a rising tide tends to lift all boats, his presence anywhere in Houston’s lineup will likely ensure a floor of 80 runs and 70 RBIs. If he can carve out a niche for himself in the 1st or 2nd spot in that lineup, the upside is 100 / 90 respectively.

At a meager 10.6% ownership in ESPN leagues, Fisher is a sneaky add for fantasy teams light on outfield depth heading into the home stretch, especially if he can sneak himself back into the top half of Houston’s batting order. Fisher is also a must-add in leagues with advanced prospect and keeper arrangements, as he will be a fixture on a dominant Astros offense over the next several seasons.

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