Examining the Prince’s Reign in Texas: Prince Fielder and the 2014 Rangers

One of the offseason’s most talked-about moves was the trade that sent Prince Fielder to the Texas Rangers in exchange for Ian Kinsler and gobs of cash. While universally (and rightfully so) viewed as primarily a salary dump for GM Dave Dombrowski and the Tigers camp, the Rangers have gained a strong bat to place in the middle of their batting order alongside Adrian Beltre and Alex Rios.

Yet unlike the much-theorized David Price trade, the Fielder deal was not a pure salary dump. Fielder stumbled mightily in his production in 2013. In 2012, he posted a robust .313/.412/.528 traditional slash line, with an impressive .940 OPS and 153 wRC+. According to Baseball-Reference’s oWAR calculations, 2012 was Fielder’s third-most valuable year at the plate with a 5.4 mark. All of this stands in stark contrast to Fielder’s 2013.

Last year Fielder posted a much more pedestrian .279/.362/.457, .819 OPS, 125 wRC+ and 2.9 oWAR. While of course those are still above-average numbers, when attached to the name Prince Fielder and his ubercontract, Dave Dombrowski clearly had reason for concern. However, off-the-field issues are widely believed to have contributed to the dip in Fielder’s production, and natural regression may have also contributed to the fall from Fielder’s career-high traditional slash line. Fielder also enjoyed a career-high .321 BABIP in 2012, with his 2013 mark of .307 more in line with his normal marks.

So, the question presents itself; what exactly does Texas GM Jon Daniels have on his hands in the 2014 model year Fielder? There are a number of factors contributing to this answer. Firstly, while the batters ahead of him do not contribute to his slash line, they certainly do help counting stats such as RBIs. While RBIs are naturally an utterly useless stat when evaluating individual performance, men getting on base allow a hitter to create runs, and as runs are ultimately what win games, putting men on ahead of big bats such as Fielder is part of what goes into good team creation. Therefore, I will examine the clip at which we can expect there to be runners on base when Fielder bats for Texas as opposed to his stint in Detroit.

Secondly, I will also examine the impact Arlington itself will have on Fielder’s bat. Arlington has traditionally been a much more hitter-friendly location than Detroit. But how much exactly will Texas raise Fielder’s numbers?

The top of the 2013 Tigers lineup consisted of Austin Jackson, Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera in front of Fielder. Those first three hitters posted OBP’s of .337, .334, and .442, respectively. That averages out to a .371 mark, albeit an imperfect one due to Cabrera’s significantly higher individual mark (also, Cabrera hit a lot of home runs last year, and while that counts towards his OBP, that means the bases were empty when Fielder came to bat). We’ll refer to this average of the top of the order as tOBP, or “Top OBP” for the rest of the article for the sake of saving space.

The top of the 2014 Rangers lineup will be made up of Shin-Soo Choo, and either Elvis Andrus or Jurickson Profar before Fielder, who will bat third. There are a number of different projection systems we can use to forecast the upcoming season, for this article we’ll be using Steamer. Choo is given a .391 OBP, Andrus a .340, and Profar a .321. With Andrus in the lineup the projected tOBP is .365, with Profar it’s .356. So despite throwing his wallet at Choo and his obscene .423 2013 OBP, Jon Daniels in fact is giving Fielder less to work with in front of him.

Or is he? Part of the smaller (projected) tOBP in Texas is that Fielder simply won’t have the best hitter in the game hitting in front of him anymore. Also, one has to expect Fielder to be better at the plate this year. Steamer awards Fielder a substantial .290/.390/.516 line with a 142 wRC+ and 3.4 WAR, a major uptick over last year’s production. If we factor him into the projected Texas tOBP, with Andrus it’s a .374, and with Profar it’s .367. That’s something you like to see if you’re Adrian Beltre, who lead the league in hits last year and launched 30 homers.

And speaking of homers, Fielder’s move to Arlington will help him in that department. The newly named Globe Life Park ranked seventh last year in home runs with a total of 107 being hit there. Comerica Park, where the Tigers play, ranked fourteenth with 99. This helps Steamer award Fielder 29 home runs, up from 25 last year.

However, can we possibly expect Fielder to exceed these projections? As mentioned earlier, Fielder’s down year was contributed to by a number of off-the-field issues according to Hunter. A change of scenery will definitely do Fielder well, and he also seems to have lost some weight if the pictures and video coming out of Spring Training are to be believed. For that reason I’m willing to bump up Fielder’s numbers by a few slots, and I expect him to be even better than what Steamer predicts. Because baseball is a fickle mistress I could easily be wrong, but call it a gut feeling. All in all, Jon Daniels may have caught lightning in a bottle here with his rather expensive gamble, and if Texas manages to overcome their pitching woes they should be a very dangerous team with Fielder anchoring their lineup.

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Nick is a columnist at FanGraphs, and has written previously for Baseball Prospectus and Beyond the Box Score. Yes, he hates your favorite team, just like Joe Buck. You can follow him on Twitter at @StelliniTweets, and can contact him at stellinin1 at gmail.

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Good read! I do think Fielder is being undervalued but rightly so. I will be interested to see how the dynamic of pitching to Fielder with traffic that has speed is on base. How does the Globe play in year two since the modification, I think it certainly killed some HRs last year. This Ranger lineup is very interesting and if all clicks could be a machine scoring around 750 – 800 runs.