In some ways, Prince Fielder’s 2013 looked an awful lot like his 2012. In fact, depending on league type, he could have been nearly as valuable this year as he was last.
|Runs Batted In||108||106|
To those in 5×5 leagues, that’d probably look like a bit of a decline, and perhaps not even enough of one to draw statistical significance from.
But if Fielder’s October performance wasn’t indicative enough — 9 for 40 with just one extra-base hit — 2013 was certainly a down year. Especially by Fielder’s lofty standards (career .388 wOBA, .358 in ‘13).
That production was good enough for 10th overall on Zach Sanders’ first base rankings, but chances are nobody bid on Fielder with expectations that he’d finish behind Matt Carpenter, Michael Cuddyer, and Daniel Murphy with a season-ending valuation of just over $12.
Ostensibly, there were no health issues with Fielder, as he played 162 games for the third-straight year, and fourth in his last five. In fact, since 2006, Fielder has played in 1283 of a possible 1296 games (99%). The only malady that plagued Fielder this season was filing for divorce from his wife, for what it’s worth.
Some of the manners in which Fielder declined in 2013 would definitely be cause for concern going forward.
One of those ways was that Fielder saw his batting average tumble nearly 35 points, dragging down with it his OBP (-50), and SLG (-71). When batting average drops like that, it’s important to check a couple secondary factors. Fielder’s BABIP still remained within an acceptable range of a. sustainability relative to league and b. relative to his career marks.
The next thing I typically check is contact rates, and stats of the like. Fielder’s SwStr% spiked up 1.5%, but that simply brought him to right in line with his career norms at 9.8% (9.9 career).
In terms of raw contact percent, Fielder checked in at 78.0%. That’s below 2012 (80.7%), but right in line with career marks (77.5%). In terms of contact in the zone, however, Fielder saw a pretty big drop, as he tumbled down three percent from 2012, and almost five percent from 2011.
That might be the first spot to have a cause for concern, as Fielder is missing pitches which he’d be expected to hit. This, coupled with Fielder’s three-year-run of highly elevated out-of-zone contact percent (67.0%-plus, whereas previous career high was 60.1%) is sort of hard for me to reconcile. Why is he making more contact outside of the zone, and less than he is inside it? Especially when, compared to league average, he doesn’t chase many pitches out of the zone?
Even Fielder’s batted ball rates are in many respects better than his career marks. A few of the flyballs he redirected went into the popup classification, but a considerable number of those batted balls went to his line drive rate. That’s never a bad thing.
Steamer projects Fielder at .289/.392/.505 (.385 wOBA) for 2014, with 29 home runs, 105 RBI, and a nice uptick in runs scored (+16). It also projects him to steal one base for the fifth-straight season, so there’s that.
That would give him the third-highest projected wOBA for next season, behind NL stalwarts Joey Votto and Paul Goldschmidt. There isn’t a prayer he’ll be available at that $12 valuation, or anything in that neighborhood, but he still seems like he could be a relative buy-low heading into next spring’s drafts.
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