Other Prince Fielders Have Left Before

It seems to be a foregone conclusion in Milwaukee that Prince Fielder is a goner. A rough estimate of the Brewers’ payroll might have them about $10 million short of 2011’s outlay once arbitration numbers are final, and $10 million a year is not enough to sign Prince Fielder. But baseball benefits from a long, well-recorded history. What can we learn from the other Prince Fielders that have left before?

First, we should probably define a Prince Fielder. He’s averaged more than four wins per season for the last five seasons, so that gives us a good place to start. And the 27-year-old Prince Fielder is leaving in Free Agency, which began in 1976. That gives us our time frame, and reminds us that age is part of this as well.

Here are some similar situations from the past thirty-plus years:

Adrian Gonzalez
The Padres traded their jewel a year before he hit free agency, but otherwise the parallels are strong. In an average offensive year for the Padres, Gonzalez hit 35% better than league average (Fielder 37%). In 2011, the tandem of Jesus Guzman, Kyle Blanks, Brad Hawpe, Anthony Rizzo and Jorge Cantu managed a wRC+ of 94. Which sounds okay until you compare it to other teams and realize they were third-worst in the National League at that position. The Padres? They went from scoring 665 runs in 2010 (with a 93 wRC+) to scoring 593 runs (89 wRC+) in 2011. They felt it.

Miguel Cabrera
Miguel Cabrera managed to make the four WAR / five year cut off despite one of his years being his half-season debut, that’s how good Miguel Cabrera is. He also put up offensive numbers that were 35% better than the league average, and his team also elected to replace him from the inside. The production drop from Cabrera to Mike Jacobs, who was worse than replacement in over 500 PAs the next year, somehow didn’t manage to hurt the Marlins as much as it did the Padres. In 2008, the Marlins were 2% worse than league average without Cabrera in the lineup. In 2009, they were 4% worse. Hanley Ramirez, Jorge Cantu and Cody Ross had their best years (and from Dan Uggla his second-best) without Cabrera, so that’s how they did that.

Mark Teixeira
Teixeira actually misses our WAR/year cutoff by a smidgen, and his inclusion on this list was also complicated by a mid-season trade. It’s hard to pinpoint the Rangers with and without him because of it, but he seems to make sense on this list. The 2006 Rangers were 3% below average offensively, the 2007 Rangers, which featured him for half of the year, were 5% below average, and the 2008 Rangers, which had Chris Davis and Hank Blalock at first base, were 12% above average. Milton Bradley coming in and giving them a 158 wRC+ on a cheap contract was maybe a big reason for that last jump

Jason Giambi
Giambi only needed the three years previous to his 2001 departure from the Athletics in order to rack up more than 20 WAR. So, yeah, he was good. Those 2001 A’s enjoyed his 38 home runs and 193 wRC+ to an offensive year that was 8% better than league average. The 2002 version got a 114 wRC+ from the position and the team rocked right along to a year that was 6% better than average at the dish. Young Eric Chavez and young Miguel Tejada made it work without their slugger, and the team found some guy named Scott Hatteberg to put up a 120 wRC+ at first. Maybe you’ve heard this story.

Mo Vaughn
In 1999, a large (and largely loved) first baseman ended a string of offensive seasons in which he did no worse than 33% better than league average for the Red Sox. And yet his final year with the team was filled with fear and loathing, and the team seemed happy to let the big man leave. The offense took a hit — the team fell from 7% better than the league to only 1% better — but it wasn’t all from lacking offense at Vaughn’s position. Mike Stanley and Brian Daubach split the position (along with DH), and both managed to put up more than two WAR and offense that was 20% better than the league. Oh and the 1999 Red Sox won two more games than the 1998 version and ended up in the post-season again.

Rafael Palmeiro
Palmeiro was 29 when he left the Rangers in 1993, but that seemed like late blooming at the time. The team dropped from 2% better than the average offense in 1993 to 1% worse in 1994, but they also got three WAR from (and a 136 wRC+) from Will Clark, so it doesn’t really seem like first base was to blame. Instead, maybe it was the 463 plate appearances with a 94 wRC+ from Juan Gonzalez that failed to give the team the boost they needed. The team went from ten games over five hundred to ten under, but again: don’t blame Will the Thrill.

Fred McGriff
Do you remember how good McGriff was, right off the bat? From his second season in 1988 to his departure in 1990, the crime dog managed just under 20 WAR and a 157 wRC+. In 1989, he walked 17.4% of the time. The Blue Jays felt his loss. Their offense had a .155 ISO and 108 wRC+ in 1990, and those numbers fell to .134 and 99 respectively. But some dude named John Olerud came in and gave them above-average work at the position (2.9 WAR and 114 wRC+). Oh and the team went from second place in 1990 to first place in 1991. So maybe it wasn’t so bad.

John Olerud
Speaking of John Olerud, his monster 1993 (8.4 WAR) snuck him on to this list as well. So the Blue Jays are used to losing their first basemen and moving on. Cause Carlos Delgado took those reigns in 1997 and had a 121 wRC+ and 1.9 WAR in his first season as a starter and never looked back. Sure, in the short run the team went from an offense that was 9% worse than average to one that was 19% worse, but again it doesn’t seem like first base was the problem. And the team was about the same – 14 games below even in 1996, 10 games in 1997.

Perhaps there’s no easy narrative to force these instances into, and focusing on a team’s record with and without a player ignores too many other changing variables. But it also doesn’t look like a Prince Fielder departure would be a nail in the Brewer’s coffin. Most of these teams on this list that were competitive with their slugger were competitive without their slugger as well.

After all, most slugging first basemen have already ridden arbitration awards to high salaries by the time they leave their original team. The Brewers had $16 million budgeted towards first base in 2011, and if they use that money shrewdly, they might just be able to play some more October baseball again next year.



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With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here or at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris.


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Chair
Guest
Chair

Am I the only one who thinks Fielder’s new deal could turn him into the next Ryan Howard contract wise? I just can’t see him being worth over 20 mill, if even that.

tdotsports1
Guest

Maybe, but Fielder is just a more advanced overall hitter.

Dave S
Guest
Dave S

and Howard is half a decade older than Prince.

Yirmiyahu
Member
Yirmiyahu

And there’s no hint of a decline yet. Best RC+ of his career. And he had more walks than strikeouts (first time of his career).

He’s averaged 5.10 WAR over the past 3 seasons; 4.42 WAR over the past 5 seasons. The problem isn’t the $20M AAV, it’s the number of years. That’d be fine for 5 or 6 years, but not for 7 or 8.

Chair
Guest
Chair

What about 25 mill per? To me that’s a problem

Mike H
Guest
Mike H

Overvalued, yes. But a better overall hitter than Howard and much younger, so I can;t see the contract ending up worse.

jake
Guest
jake

unless Prince gets like 8/200, and then completely lets himself go and balloons to like 350 lbs (or what New Yorkers call 1/2 of a Mo Vaughn).

Gary
Guest
Gary

I just don’t understand where all that comes from. People compare Prince to Mo Vaughn, but Prince walks wayy more, strikes out way less. In addition Vaughn was 32 when he signed his deal with Anaheim, Prince will be 27.

I think the only comparison you can make between Howard and Prince is that they’re black, hit homers, and play first base. Howard has a terrible batting average, strikes out far more than Prince, and weighs much less. Howard is also 31.

I think you’re not the only one that makes that comparison, but I just don’t see how the comparison fits.

jake
Guest
jake

He/she seems to have been comparing them contract-wise. If Fielder’s contract ended poorly, it would likely be for different reasons than Howard’s (aged poorly/got out of shape vs. was overvalued by old metrics). But, they could both likely end up in real bad contracts. That was the comparison, I thought.

Chair
Guest
Chair

What Jake said. Fielder’s a better player than Howard was, and Fielder projects to be allot better than Howard has been going forward, yet I still feel that he might not be worth 25 mill per for 6-7 years. If his offense degrades at all, along with terrible defense, he could produce seasons closer in production to his 2008/2010, in which case he would be massively over payed. I’m a Dodger fan and mentally I’ve been getting on and off the sign Prince Fielder wagon rather constantly. It’s definitely a huge risk/reward situation.

Chair
Guest
Chair

Fielder and Howard are also lefthanded hitters.

This is not a comparison of their present forms, obviously Howard is much older, the question is might Fielder be a similar player at Howard’s age?

Overall for their careers, they have been quite similar.

Howard 12.2 BB% 27.4 K% .285 ISO .324 BABIP .275 .368 .560
Fielder 13.4 BB% 18.5 K% .257 ISO .300 BABIP .282 .390 .540

So yes, Howard stikes out way more, but he has somewhat made up for that by hitting for more power and with a higher BABIP. Howard’s average has not been “terrible” as you say, it’s only beem 7 points lower than Fielder’s.

Overall they have had very close wOBA, .385 for Howard, .391 for Fielder.

They both rate very poorly on defense and the basepaths, however on defense Fielder has been worse, and as he ages can we not expect him to decline further?

All it has taken for Howard to go from a 4 WAR player to a 1.5 WAR player was a drop in wOBA from .390 to .360 and declining defense/baserunning. Something similar could happen to Fielder turning him from a 5-6 WAR player to a 3 WAR player, which along with a 25 mill salary would make his contract a very bad one. It might not happen until 3-4 years into the deal so that’s the saving grace. Still, Those last 3 years would be 75 mill for 9 WAR….

jake
Guest
jake

Wonderful explanation Chair. As far as chairs go, you gotta be among the brightest.

Agreed with everything you say here. And that;s not even factoring in Prince potentially letting himself go a little once he gets a crapload of money, something that we’ve seen many players do before.

AA
Guest
AA

Howard is a better defensive player. Doesn’t matter as much at 1B, but worth mentioning.

CircleChange11
Guest
CircleChange11

And that;s not even factoring in Prince potentially letting himself go a little once he gets a crapload of money, something that we’ve seen many players do before.

According to cots, Prince has already made ~38M over his career, including a 2.4M signing bonus.

Exactly how much more does he need to make to reach the “let yourself go” level?

What are the names of some 27yo superstars that have signed a major contract and then just let themselves go to waste, or waist as the case may be?

If Prince Fielder balloons up it’ll be due to a childhood of poor eating habits (SI reported he’d eat an 8-pack of raw hot dogs as a toddler), or genetics, or gaining the weight the way many of us err, I mean you have done after you turn 30.

CC Sabathia is another big guy that has gained weight after signing a mega deal.

This sounds like the scouts that say you can’t pay Latin prospects a lot of money because then they’ll lose their passion for the game and stop working hard at it.

B N
Guest
B N

I’ve always liked Fielder’s stroke better than Howard’s. Plus he’s way younger. In 5 years, I predict Fielder will still be hitting while Howard will be wiffing (if he’s still in good enough health to start).

Chair
Guest
Chair

That is totally irrelevant. This was never a comparison of Howard/Fielder to see whom was the better player. Any non idiot knows that Fielder is better. Youth also has NOTHING to do with it. The original comment wonder if Fielder signs a big contract similar to the one Howard signed, by the time he was Howard’s current age, would he be similarly in decline and overpayed?

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