Don’t Sleep on Prince Fielder’s Speed

At two different points in yesterday’s Tigers-Blue Jays game in Detroit, it appeared the game could hinge on, of all things, Prince Fielder’s speed. The Tigers scored a run in the bottom of the first after Fielder beat out what looked like a sure double play ball. Later, with a two-run lead in the sixth, Fielder legged out an infield single to give the Tigers two on with two outs and a chance to blow the game open.

The Tigers didn’t blow it open, and the Blue Jays scored four runs in the seventh and went on to win 8-6, but this game was an example of something we’ve seen multiple times throughout Fielder’s career. Obviously, Fielder doesn’t have great speed — he has a minus-38.5 runs baserunning score since 2006, with only Paul Konerko worse (minus-44.4 runs). But this is partially a product of a brilliant .392 OBP and 4,868 plate appearances — only Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki have more.

It could be much worse. Fielder took the extra base in 26 percent of opportunities last year, per Baseball-Reference. His mark was well below the 41 percent league average, but better than quite a few players we’d expect to leave Fielder in the dust in a footrace, such as Will Middlebrooks, Michael Young, Justin Smoak and Ramon Santiago, to name a few.

We see it once or twice every year: an opposing first baseman will either forget or simply decline to hold Fielder on and he’ll build up a lead and go. Fielder stole a base last year for the seventh consecutive season, making him one of 82 players to carry a seven-year stolen base streak into 2013. Of first baseman with at least 1,000 plate appearances since 2006, 10 have been worse baserunners on a per-plate appearance basis: Casey Kotchman, Ryan Howard, Billy Butler, Justin Smoak, Paul Konerko, Ryan Garko, Kevin Millar, Michael Morse, Matt LaPorta and Kendrys Morales.

None of these players are burners, of course, but Fielder specifically scared teams away in the draft because of his body. According to his Baseball America draft report, “Prince is shorter and heavier than Cecil was at the same age, and Cecil had one of baseball’s all-time bad bodies.” Prince stole more bases in his rookie year (seven) than Cecil did in 13 seasons (two).

And players apparently forget about this sneaky speed. Look at how nonchalantly Jose Reyes and Emilio Bonifacio attempted to turn the double play which turned into an RBI fielder’s choice yesterday:

Credit to Fielder for running hard, of course, but as Tigers color announcer Rod Allen points out, there wasn’t much urgency from the defenders, particular with Bonifacio’s turn.

Infielders play based on the speed of the runner all the time, but Bonifacio took it too far. It was even more visible in Fielder’s sixth inning infield single. Only at the last second does Bonifacio realize he’ll need to charge the ground ball to throw Fielder out, and by then it was too late.

Fielder doesn’t have to get much out of his legs to be a great player. His bat always has and always will do the talking. But he squeezes every last drop of value out of those legs, and the means taking advantage when opponents take his speed too lightly, as Emilio Bonifacio did on a couple of occasions in Wednesday’s game.

How does he do it? Quite simply, when opposing players underestimate the speed his (listed) 275-pound frame can reach, he makes them pay.




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38 Responses to “Don’t Sleep on Prince Fielder’s Speed”

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  1. Bill Mulek says:

    Remember that Fielder also had an inside the park homerun in Minnesota at the Dome.

    http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=20070813&c_id=mlb

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  2. ettin says:

    Is it National Repeat Day? Repeat Day?

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  3. I think several paragraphs in this article were inadvertantly pasted in twice.

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  4. bosoxbro says:

    This article was so good I had to read it twice.

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  5. Derek says:

    Has anyone timed these home-to-first times? I got 4.0-4.1 or so, which isn’t really bad at all.

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    • Joe Table says:

      I got 4.5 or 4.6 from contact to first. Not sure what you were timing, but 4.0 would be one of the best in the league under my method. Still, this is faster than I would have imagined Prince Fielder running.

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      • adam smith says:

        Fielder can run 4.4 at times (and even 4.35 on a leaner,) which, although a couple tenths below average, is pretty good considering that he has a big swing and a false step out of the box. There are middle infielders that run worse.
        He also hustles all the time, which is better than most. His dad was still a 4.9 late in his career, when he turned sure doubles into singles. However ‘Big Daddy’ ran 4.35 when he was young.

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  6. ben says:

    wow. watching that video, i’m pretty sure prince fielder would actually beat me in a foot race.

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  7. Cory says:

    I’ve always been amazed at Prince’s athletic ability, if not out-and-out gracefulness, given his size and strength. Even better than Pablo Sandoval or his current teammate Miggy Cabrera, Prince is a good example of surprisingly nimble hulks. Obviously, Jose Canseco may have been the speediest of big guys, but current guys like Matt Holliday and Carlos Lee are also underrated.

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    • Jon says:

      I don’t know, it seems to me that Miggy Cabrera is the real burner on the Tigers these days. Triple and a stolen base today for the big guy today – maybe he was jealous of the love Prince is getting for his thunderous footspeed?

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    • guest says:

      Prince isn’t that fast–or at least it doesn’t help him in his speed score and in baserunning. He’s one of the biggest base-cloggers in the game.

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  8. Jake says:

    Jesus Montero should train with Prince Fielder in the offseason.

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  9. cnote66 says:

    And today Bonafacio is sitting for a “mental break” day — hmmmm…

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  10. Bab says:

    Imagine if Fielder dropped 40 pounds and committed to explosive weight training. All statistical categories would likely increase.

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    • guest says:

      I know! If he and Cabrera (yes, he is fat) lost a lot of weight and were muscular, they would be even more amazing. But we can only dream. :(

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    • Toasty says:

      Dude’s been one of the most durable players in baseball for his career. Presumably, he’s already doing much more than eating donuts to stay this healthy.

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      • guest says:

        He’s listed at 6’5″, which means he is really 6’4″. He’s also officially 250, I believe, which means he is 260 or 270. He IS fat. Even if he were an incredible muscular 6’4″, he wouldn’t weigh that much. He doesn’t get injured because baseball is much more skill-based than physical. With the exception of pitchers, baseball players really should not get injured much at all.

        He was fat enough (and is still almost as large now) in the past that fellow Venezuelan’s actually called him fat in public. For them to have done that, he has to have been super fat. He has a double chin, it’s pretty obvious.

        Are you really arguing that current body-type Cabera would be as good as him being much more muscular and with better speed? If so, I can’t argue with that.

        http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/news/story?id=2944052

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      • Shlum says:

        I get your point, but I’m saying that with *better* conditioning he would be more explosive at the plate and on the base paths. Obviously he’s plenty productive as a chunk. I wonder if there are any ‘physique clauses’ in these big contracts. If so, likely laughable.

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        • Toasty says:

          Yeah, getting more fit would definitely help, but I’d be worried about him hurting himself after changing his routine drastically.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I think people should stop making assumptions based on appearance.

      He’s a mega-star, productive, and durable.

      Just imagine how good CC Sabathia would be is he lost weight. See what I mean?

      Why don’t we say that skinny players would be much better hitters if they gained some fat?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Prince Fielder was something like 200 pounds at age 12.

      I don’t think we should assume that he could lose a bunch of weight if he wanted to. My guess is that he would be even heavier if he wasn’t as active/etc as he is.

      If Prince’s size is limiting his performance, I can’t detect it.

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      • guest says:

        No, he’s fat and has little restraint in his eating habits or isn’t working out enough. He’s a fine hitter but he’s obese, no if’s and’s or but’s about it.

        He’s about 5’10″ and 280 pounds. (real stats, not the “official ones”)

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        • The Party Bird says:

          Cabrera got pretty chunky over the last few years, but Prince has been this way for pretty much all of his life. Aren’t you discounting the possibility that he (as a professional athlete, with access to state of the art training facilities) may have some sort of metabolic condition that makes it extremely difficult to lose weight?

          Dude’s clearly not a slacker on the field, why should we assume that he’s a lazy slob off the field?

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        • Greg Luzinski Fan says:

          Talk about ignorance. It’s amazing how stupid some people are.

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      • Shlum says:

        Yeah, no one is healthy at 5’10 280 unless you’re an unusually dense hardcore bodybuilder. Even dudes in the NFL really only break 280 well over six feet tall and they still have to worry about running reasonably well

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  11. walt526 says:

    When Pablo Sandoval becomes a free agent, I’d love to see the Tigers pick him up just for the spectacle of a Cabrera-Fielder-Sandoval middle of the order.

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  12. Toasty says:

    I remember Prince bunting for a base hit in spring training a few years ago. There was a severe defensive shift on, so he just poked it down the line and hustled to first. Easily safe.

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  13. MGL says:

    So let me get this straight. He averages around -5 runs or a half win per season in base running value, one of the worst in baseball, but he is sneaky fast, you have to pay attention to him, he belies his weight and his body type, etc.

    O.K.

    That’s sort of like saying that Juan Pierre has sneaky power, you better not throw one down the middle to him in a crucial spot, so on and so forth. He has no power, period.

    I mean, you really can’t get much worse than -5 runs a year in base running “value.” Does anything more need to be said? An article praising his “sneaky speed?” or base running cunning? Seriously?

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    • eye-roll says:

      The point, as the Blue Jays infield demonstrated, is that opposing players seem (at times) to look at him and effectively assign him a base running value of -20 runs or so, and defend him that way. When he runs at his actual speed, it catches them by surprise (at times) and he picks up a base. So what’s being said here is that his real base running value may actually be closer to -7 or even -10 runs, but because he’s getting a bonus from fooling defenders from time to time his base running value is actually better than it should be.

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    • Al Dimond says:

      Haha, yeah.

      Maybe there’s something there, though, regarding weight and baserunning. Fielder’s weight surely affects his speed and acceleration… but lots of big guys with strong legs are pretty fast in a straight line. He’ll struggle particularly with direction changes (twice the total acceleration compared to a standing start) and body control in situations around bases. He’ll struggle keeping his speed taking turns without planning a wide turn in advance and he’ll need to be cautious since he can’t get to a stop and then back to a base as fast as other runners.

      On simple, one-acceleration sprints like running to first, or stealing second when the pitcher isn’t watching, he’s probably a little faster than his overall poor baserunning numbers suggest (many others with bad baserunning scores are just flat-out slow runners like Konerko). There’s an anecdotal suggestion that Fielder consistently runs out grounders hard, and is willing to take second base on a steal when it’s given, so it’s plausible those things would also help him overperform general numbers in those particular situations… which means that in other baserunning situations he’s probably even worse than his numbers suggest.

      So fielders should be aware they can’t sleep on his speed down the first base line since he might be close to league-average at beating ground balls, and a little attention paid to him when he’s on first could go a long way (if he’s uncertain about which direction he’ll have to go that will slow him down more than most players).

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