A Tale Of Two Princes

Once upon a time there lived an extraordinary ruler. His dominion was vast and his storehouses overflowing. The cuisine prepared by his cooks was in a class of its own and consumed in abundant quantities even by the poorest of peasants. Never bored, the pride and joy of the imperator was to see his subjects thrive in athletics. His archers were longstanding champions, finishing among the top tier of competitors every year for a score. Yet with the lance, the King’s athletes were always faced with much adversity on the field of competition. No, his jousters had never, since the commencing of his reign, raised the most distinguished banner. Distraught and longing for glory in his elderly state, the mogul was easily convinced to employ a notorious mercenary at great cost. To commoners, the knight, for his noble deeds around the world, was highly favored and even, out of reverence, called a prince.

You guessed it. We’re talking about Prince Fielder. The aging ruler, of course, is Mike Ilitch, proprietor of, most notably, the Detroit Red Wings, Detroit Tigers, and Little Caesars Pizza. The signing of Fielder, my so-called mercenary, is a clear indication of the owner’s desperation for his baseball team (not a jousting squad) to win a World Series, a feat they’ve failed to accomplish for 20 years (a score) under his watch.

Fielder to Detroit is certainly a thrill for fans, including myself; he’s hit an average of 38 home runs every season for the past six years and wields an imposing bat which will complement that of Miguel Cabrera almost perfectly in the middle of the Tigers’ lineup. Then again, there are some real concerns that come with the addition of Fielder. Most commonly discussed among them are financial implications and the continued defensive deterioration of the infield. There’s one thing that hasn’t been discussed at length, though; our favorite comprehensive sabermetric figure, Wins Above Replacement (WAR), doesn’t view Fielder as the superstar he’s billed as. At least it doesn’t every other year.

Combining WAR from Baseball-Reference and FanGraphs and rounding up to the nearest tenth, we get the following figures for Fielder since 2006, his rookie year:

2006: 0.4
2007: 4.5
2008: 1.9
2009: 6.3
2010: 3.1
2011: 5.4

In 2007, 2009, and 2011, he averaged 5.4 WAR. In 2006, 2008, and 2010, he totaled 5.4 WAR. What was different in those down years and should it be a concern going forward?

His walk and strikeout rates haven’t changed parallel to his WAR and neither has his defensive value. What has fluctuated is his power. His Isolated Power (ISO, slugging percentage minus batting average) for the last six years:

2006: .213
2007: .330
2008: .231
2009: .303
2010: .209
2011: .267

Again, we see enormous spikes and equally huge drops every other year. Between ‘07, ‘09, and ‘11, the odd years, his average ISO was .300. In the even years, that number drops to .218. That first figure comes in somewhere between the career numbers put up by Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The second is the career ISO of Paul Konerko. Konerko was and is a power threat, but not at or near the same level we’re expecting out of Fielder (fair expectations considering that contract). This isn’t even mentioning the fact that Fielder’s power numbers will be hurt, at least slightly, by playing in Comerica Park as opposed to Miller Park in Milwaukee.

Marc Normandin at Baseball Nation voiced this same concern after the Tigers signed Fielder, concluding that his signing with the Tigers was not quite the least team-friendly contract to a star first baseman in baseball, that title going to the Philadelphia Phillies’ extension of Ryan Howard, worth $25 million annually.

Two Princes. Which one will we be getting? Will Fielder hit home runs to Comerica’s Pepsi Porch like he’s making $23 million? Is this all an overreaction? Please comment and let me know what you think.

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Tags: Detroit Tigers Miguel Cabrera Mike Ilitch Paul Konerko Prince Fielder Ryan Howard

  • Sam Genson

    Great article Garret, love the opening.

    I have very little explanation for the fluctuation in Price’s numbers in even years and odd years. I do have a bit to say about the HRs we could expect to see at CoPa. While I love the charts, they don’t really tell the whole story. Fence distance is only one factor in home runs. The other is airflow. With Miller Park being fully enclosed (when when the roof is open) vs CoPa is is much more open air I don’t think the numbers will translate as easily as many are projecting. Further more, the problem that many are (wrongly) projecting is that what is not a HR will be an out. That is simply untrue. We may see Prince up his doubles totals from the past which could lead to more sustained rallies than a simple HR alone.

  • ChrisHannum

    His swings in productivity are mostly due to variation in his HR/FB rate. BABIP gets a bad rap as being a totally unreliable skill, but as I have gone to pains to demonstrate in the past power is no less prone to seasonal fluctuations. You wind up with 5 more balls caught at the track being a bad year and 5 more balls just over the fence being a good one. That, and that alone, led the normally mediocre Brandon Inge to be completely without value in 2011.

    • garretkc

      @ChrisHannum Are you saying that fluctuations in HR/FB rate are more attributable to luck (or lackthereof) than those in BABIP are for a hitter? Because unless I’m interpreting it wrong, this study (http://bit.ly/ztcK6O) from The Hardball Times actually concludes that hitters have almost four times more control over HR/FB than they do over BABIP. It also says they have a ton of control over ISO power. They have almost as much control over both of those figures as they do their walk rates.

    • MCBjohnverburg

      @ChrisHannum I think more than 5 balls on the warning track led to Brandon Inge being without value in 2011.

      • ChrisHannum

        @MCBjohnverburg @ChrisHannum I’ll refer you to my 5/29 post “The Case of Brandon Inge and the Missing Home Runs”: at that point in the season (right about the time of his mono DL stint) the difference between normal (bad) Inge and current (terrible) Inge was 4.3 home runs caught at the track. And in response to Garret: I’m just saying that power numbers are also influenced by luck even if a player’s “power” is steady and real. Whether it is more or less luck-influenced than BABIP or any other stat or tool depends on your measuring stick for variability.

        • spartynation1

          @ChrisHannum@MCBjohnverburg It is good to see luck freely included along with the hard data. Lost in all of the stats can be many balls that were hit hard, but right at someone, or as you mentioned, to the track. The only thing that bothers me is the 6 years of data, with every other year being down. Looks…trendy. I am going to hope it is just a set of crooked numbers because I am trying to stay positive about the upcoming season. Go Tigers! And nice post, Garret.