Ever sit back in front of your fireplace, pipe in one hand, pensive-frown-bearing chin in the other, and wonder:
“Why is Derek Fisher still with the Astros?”
You’d be forgiven for wondering, though not for sitting in front of a fire in Houston in May, unless the fireplace isn’t actually lit, in which case other questions about your sanity should be asked.
The Astros’ backup outfielder is batting .179/.217/.393 at time of this writing, somehow managing a 61 wRC+ despite a nearly 50% strikeout rate and uncharacteristically low 5% walk rate. Let’s be real, fam. That’s bad. It’s not Jake Marisnick bad (or even close, surprisingly), but it’s not particularly rosterable.
Adding insult to injury, that line is accompanied by a bog-standard .296 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). An extremely low BABIP would be more comfortable, as it would imply some bad luck is at play here.
So the question: why the long rope? Why is he still playing in the majors, instead of, say, Tony Kemp or Jon Kemmer? Get your Kyle Tucker‘s out of here, peanut gallery. He’s young and clearly not ready for the show. Don’t rush the formation of a diamond, or you’ll end up with a pile of sooty carbon.
The obvious answer for the patience shown to Fisher is that his strikeout and walk rates are so out of whack with his career performances that they’re bound to normalize. At least a little. Please?
But the less obvious answer can be found in MLB Advanced Media’s Statcast, which measures exit velocities of batted balls and so forth.
Fisher’s average batted ball exit velocity is a whopping 94.8 mph. for context, that is the ninth-highest average velocity in the entire major leagues, a sample of 362 qualified batters. That’s 98th-percentile.
In fact, his exit velocity ranks ahead of power-packed pachyderms like Joey Gallo, Robinson Cano, Shohei Ohtani, and Jose Abreu. He’s only a handful of spots behind Giancarlo Stanton, J.D. Martinez, Aaron Judge, and Nelson Cruz.
Fisher hits balls a long, long way. Over half of his batted balls are classified as “hard-hit” by Baseball Savant, registering an exit velocity over 95 mph, a percentage that puts him Top 15 in the majors as well.
With that kind of solid contact, the Astros’ patience becomes understandable. If Fisher can adjust to major league pitching even to have a 35% strikeout rate, and raise his walk rate up to around 10%– a feasible feat, given his minor league pedigree– he would join the ranks of the most feared hitters in all of professional baseball.
Enough to be patient? You bet. Tools for days. The Astros are praying that he adjusts. With that kind of talent in both contact strength and speed, Fisher has the tools to make George Springer look like a mere teaser trailer before the main event. Will that happen? Who knows. Odds are probably against it. But the upside–oh, the upside!–is worth a little patience for a playoff-bound club with its eyes on today and tomorrow.