Opinion of Kingman's Performance

Friday, March 22, 2013

Fife's Progress, Hardly Even Noticed

(photo by Jon SooHoo, L.A. Dodgers)

I know there is a lot of talk about the Dodgers setting up their starting rotation.  Whether it's Billingsley, Beckett or Ryu pitching the second game of the year and which starter will be the odd man out for the first two weeks of the season.  With all the fuss going on there, caused by Geinke's elbow pain and Billingsley's fingernail, few have noticed what might be one of the biggest developments in the organization's pitching front.  

Don Mattingly was quoted in Ken Gurnick's mlb.com piece yesterday on Stephen Fife that caught my attention.  I’m surprised others aren’t commenting on it because it is a significant development with a player that can make a difference for years to come with the Dodgers. 

“This guy has come so far last Spring to this Spring.  Huge strides.  And his stuff has taken a jump.  He gives credit to the developmental staff.  He does his thing a little differently and they let him be.  Last time he hit 96, 95 (mph).  We’re seeing velocity we didn’t see before.”

I wasn’t aware that Stephen Fife is throwing 96.   Last year during his August and September call ups, Fife was hitting 91 tops on the radar gun.  This increased velocity makes Fife a different pitcher.  

Unlike another Fife from TV fame,(“Barney,” who carried one bullet in his pocket at the instructions of Sheriff Andy), this Fife has a whole arsenal of ammunition to use.  He came to the Dodgers as an afterthought mostly.  Everyone was looking at Federowicz and overlooking the pitching prospect that came along in the deal.  Fife was advertised as a pitcher that threw an 89 MPH two seam fastball who would locate that pitch well on the inside portions of the plate.  His curve has served well as a secondary pitch and he mixed in a change up as well.   He was never viewed as over-powering.

Here is the scouting report of Stephen Fife from 2011, as posted in the Red Sox site, soxprospects.com:

Throwing from a high ¾ arm slot, his 88-90 MPH two-seam fastball is his bread and butter offering to right-handed hitters, and shows good run in on their hands. When Fife can keep this pitch moving down through the strike zone and pound the lower portion of it, hitters have a tough time elevating the offering. He also works in a 90-93 MPH four-seam fastball during sequences to raise the eye level of hitters or spot across the plate, usually showing strong command of the pitch and good feel for when to mix the pitch in. Fife is at his best when he is pounding the zone with his fastball and then using his secondary offerings to keep hitters off-balance. Over the last couple of seasons, he’s sharpened his 76-79 MPH curveball to become a viable out-pitch for him, improving his command and the depth of the offering. Fife also can throw a low 80’s change-up, but uses this pitch with less frequency and more as a look pitch before going back to his fastball. With an understanding on how to pitch, he’s become adept at mixing all of his pitches into counts and become less dependent on throwing his fastball when needing outs.”

Look out, but this kid might be in for a monster year, and it’ll probably be in the altitude at Albuquerque, which might make his improvement something that is barely noticed.

It’s time for Aaron Harang to take his super soaker squirt gun to another team.  Despite the fact that Ted Lilly shut down minor leaguers today for five innings, he needs to seriously consider retiring from the game.  Chris Capuano should resign himself to the fact that he will be a long reliever.  

Fife, who has always been an afterthought to most writers when discussing the starting pitcher options for the Dodgers, has had his share of spring training starts and outperformed virtually everyone on the staff that is not named Kershaw or Beckett.  There is always a period of time when a player develops from “boyhood to man” status.  It looks like Fife has arrived to full maturity as a pitcher.
Fife in action last season at AT&T Park, San Francisco (photo by Jon SooHoo/L.A. Dodgers)

He was called up last year to spot start in crucial games and he held his own.  Debuting against Philadelphia and Roy Halladay to boot.  Fife shined against the Phillies and later  San Francisco.  Offensive ineptitude by the Dodgers failed him as he didn’t get a “W” in either contest, but he kept the opposition at bay.  During the September callup phase, Stepen pitched well against St. Louis and Cincinnati.  Altogether, he had 5 starts.  Four against playoff teams where his accumulative ERA was 2.70 over 26 innings.  

Now this Spring he adds a 96 mph fastball to his arsenal.

Fife’s late development may be because he didn’t even start pitching until he was 17 years old.  We know that few starting staffs last an entire season without digging into the minors for help.  As deep as the Dodgers are, I still have the sneaking feeling that we'll see some of Fife this year.  Meanwhile, it'll be interesting to check out his progress at Albuquerque this year.


  1. Good to hear that news about Fife. I saw him pitch a spring game when I was in Arizona and he quietly dominated. He may be a solid, cheap back of the rotation type.

  2. True Blue posted a similar article and Think Blue had a blog article on March 17 promoting Fife as an option. No matter how he does, without injuries he starts out #6 - Kershaw, Greinke, Beckett, Billingsley, Ryu, Fife.

    I think he definitely is a step up from Lilly, Capuano and Harang. Capuano may have a hot stretch but struggles in the second half. Fife is the consummate baseball player. He simply works hard and improves his game. He listens, gleans, whatever he can, wherever he can. There is a spot for him in MLB.