I and others wrote before about the seeming non-coincidence in timing between Prince Fielder‘s divorce proceedings and his midseason slump. The Tigers second-best hitter did quite well early in the season but very poorly in the middle of the season. For the Tigers offense to be what it needs to be in the postseason, it has to be a losing proposition to pitch around Miguel Cabrera. For the Tigers offense to be what it needs to be in the late days of the pennant race, the Tigers have to be able to score runs without Miguel Cabrera as they try to get the man healthy. While the fact that Victor Martinez has been hitting like the Victor Martinez of old goes a long, long way (as does the fact that Alex Avila and Andy Dirks have not been offensive black holes) the Tigers have needed and continue to need high-caliber hitting from Prince Fielder.
Luckily, that’s just what they seem to be getting right now. Frankly, I would not have liked the Tigers chances in the postseason with “midseason Fielder” batting cleanup – between May 23 and August 16 Prince Fielder mustered only a .249/.314/.383 batting line. Not at all unacceptable if he were Jose Iglesias or Don Kelly, but for a first baseman with a bad glove whose primary job is driving in Miguel Cabrera from First Base? No, no, no. Not to mention the fact that he hit into 12 double plays during that span (as compared to only 9 dingers).The assumption is that Prince Fielder’s troubles had everything to do with his difficulty in keeping his head in the game, however hard he was trying. The second assumption was that at some point, he’d work through this and be back to normal. What we’ve worried about is that it wouldn’t happen until next season.
Since August 16, when Prince Fielder’s OPS hit it’s low point, Fielder has been on something of a tear – especially in the first week of September. In the 20 games that he has played in over that span, Fielder has a mighty .373/.435/.573 batting line. A lot of that is BABIP driven, that’s true. His .387 BABIP over the past 3 weeks is much farther from his career norm than was his .276 BABIP during the slump. But… that’s far from the only reason for his success, statistically speaking. His strikeout rate is back down to about the (pretty good) level he was at last season. He’s hitting home runs at a rate of 1 every 5 games again, much closer to his career average than the 1 per 9 he was hitting during the long slump. He has “only” 1 GiDP. Though the Tigers as a team have not won at the rate that they had when he was slumping, his personal contribution to the team’s W-L ratio is much greater.
There’s still a very high likelihood that this season will be, as far as back-of-the-baseball-card stats go, the worst of Prince Fielder’s career and something he’d like to put behind him in 2014. BUT… the rest of the Tigers talented roster carried the team through that nasty slump and if – as it appears at the moment – Fielder has broken out of it there’s every likelihood that postseason success will help take that sour taste out of Prince’s mouth.