Over the next few weeks, I will review Tiger players by position and try to project, using modern day baseball metrics, their expected performance for the upcoming season. Like John Verberg’s Prospect Series, this should be a fun exercise that gives a nice overall view of the Tigers big league club, in their quest to win a world championship. I will be using an aggregate of fangraphs projections, which are typically pretty accurate. I will also be using fangraphs WAR formula. Fangraphs uses Steamer, Bill James, RotoChamp, ZIPS, and the fans projections, which are surprisingly accurate. Using an aggregate of these projection systems should us give a nice middle ground. Without further adieu, here we go!
682 PA 35 HR 113 RBI 15.22 BB% 17.2 K% .302 BABIP .249 ISO .284/.405/.533 .938 OPS -5 Fielding 5.5 WAR
Why he may exceed projection
After I finished dancing around my house on January 24 and came to the realization that the Tigers now had Prince Fielder, the first thing I did was look up his stats, just to make sure he was as good as I thought. Don’t worry. He is. Prince is an excellent all-around hitter, and will be for years to come. Even though he hasn’t put up eye-popping counting stats like 50 HR, or 140 RBI recently, he’s taken his game to an entirely new level. As I’ve stated before, the best indicators of good hitters are BB%, K%, and ISO. Those statistics, like fielding independent ones for pitching, are more probable to repeat from year to year. Other stats, like HR and BABIP, often have a decent amount of luck. Prince, however, has not seen much fluctuation in those two categories, which hover around .300 and 20% respectively. The difference has come in his actual batted balls, which correlate to isolated power. For instance, Fielder has seen a downtick in fly balls, and an increase in ground balls, which take his slugging percentage from an otherworldly .600, to somewhere in the mid 500’s. Tigers’ hitting coach Lloyd McClendon, who has been urging hitters to have a bit more of a fly ball approach, will probably have a word or two on the subject with Fielder this spring.
This year in particular could be Prince’s coming out party. He has taken a big step forward as a hitter, and it shows in the stats. For instance, he has raised his BB% to around 15%, while also lowering his K% to an all time best 15% last season. This comes with a decrease in his SWSTR%, or how often he swings and misses. For most of his career, he sat around 10-11%, but last season, that number fell to just 8%, extremely low for a power hitter of his caliber.
Why he may do worse than projection
Look no further than Tiger superstar Miguel Cabrera to see why switching leagues from the National to the American is difficult. Sure, for guys who are as talented as these two, it’s easy to say there won’t be a down tick in production. However, Cabrera’s worst season of his career was his first in the AL, and he posted a .292/.349/.537/.887 OPS, which looks quite pedestrian next to his 1.000+ of the past two seasons. It’s difficult for a hitter to face pitching he’s never seen before, even when you’re as good as Fielder. Prince has also had, albeit minor, an inability to put two really strong years in a row together. In his three best years (07,09,11) Fielder produced a monstrous .300 ISO and 980+ OPS, unfortunately he has followed that up with years in the .220 ISO’s and .870 OPS. It’s really difficult to find a concrete reason why Prince would perform at anything less than a .900 OPS, because he’s entering his prime. and seems to have found himself as a hitter. Milwaukee and Detroit are similar sized parks, both find themselves near the middle of the pack in park factors every year, so contrary to many writers opinion, there should be little concern about Fielder’s home/road splits.
It is a bit difficult to go from the senior circuit to the AL and although Prince will be hitting between Miguel and Delmon Young in the lineup, I believe that he’ll have a bit of trouble this season. It’s also difficult to go to a new team and a new city and produce like you always have. Nothing too serious, but I’d expect his OPS to be in the neighborhood of .900, and hit somewhere around 30 HR. Prince’s power numbers at home are a bit better than on the road, and it will take him a little while before he can capitalize on the jet stream that sends balls out to right field. I view next year as Prince’s break out year, once he gets comfortable in Detroit, the place he will call home for the next decade. I see Fielder at about 5 WAR for the season.