What to do with Prince Fielder?

I have been a fairly regular advocate of targeting injured players in keeper and dynasty leagues. To a team competing, they are no better than a prospect, but to a team building for the future, they are far more likely to pan out.

A few weeks ago, Prince Fielder was cut in the original ottoneu league and re-signed for $24. He is a free agent in the FanGraphs ottoneu Experts League. And I am in the midst of trade talks around him in a non-ottoneu dynasty league. And I am really not sure what to make of the Ranger 1B.

2013 was, by all accounts, a “down” year for Fielder. I put down in quotes because while it was undeniably not what we expect from Prince (his 125 wRC+ was his lowest since 2008), it was still pretty good. By wRC+, Fielder was 11th among 1B in 2013. For fantasy purposes, he was even better, as four of the 1B eligible players ahead of him (Brandon Moss, Allen Craig, Mike Napoli and Edwin Encarnacion) were likely used at other positions – only six guys you would have used at 1B ranked higher.

Yeah, this is a drop from a 153 wRC+ (ranked 1st among 1B) in 2012, but it isn’t bad at all.

This year, besides being a lost year, was ugly. He managed to stay on the field for 42 games, posting an 85 wRC+. He was actually walking more and striking out less than last year, but his LD and FB rates were way down, and Fielder isn’t the kind of guy you want beating the ball into the ground repeatedly.

But even if we are willing to write off 2014 due to injury, there are reasons to be concerned. Fielder will turn 31 early in the 2015 season, and while that isn’t ancient, it is not young either. It is not unreasonable to think that his 2013 performance was the start of a legitimate decline phase.

Let’s check out a couple other “bad body” first basemen from the past. The man from whom Fielder gets his genetics, Cecil Fielder, was never the hitter his son is, but his wRC+ from age 27-34 looked like this: 132, 116, 119, 111, 108, 106, 105, 89.

Mo Vaughn does not share any genes with the Fielders (at least that I know of), but here was his career starting at age 27: 139, 145, 150, 151, 115, 114, 115, 74.

Both of these guys were at their peaks around 27-29 years old and crumbled pretty fast. The elder Fielder had a slower decline but was not much better than a league average hitter pretty quickly after 30. Vaughn went from MVP thief (he was no where near the best candidate in 1995, and the Indians fan in me will never forgive him) to good-but-certainly-not-great almost overnight. Neither’s career lasted past age 35.

Of course, I cherry-picked those examples somewhat (although to be fair, they were the first two comps that came to my head). So let’s take another approach – according to the similarity scores at Baseball-Reference.com, Fielder’s most similar hitters through his age 29 season were Eddie Murray and Mark Teixeira.

Teixeira put up three straight years of 140+ wRC+ from ages 27-29, then went 128, 124, 116. He is at 120 this year. Murray went 153, 150, 145 from 27-29, then dropped, but had a very up and down end to his career – 136, 119, 134, 111, 156, 101, 114, 109, 81, 128, 85, 56.

Teixeira is still playing (and playing relatively well, when healthy) at age 34; Murray played through his age 41 season and was effective through 39.

None of this, however, accounts for Fielder’s injury. Having vertebrae fused is no small matter, and while Peyton Manning seems to have recovered well, Fielder is facing a relatively unique situation. The problem is, that could be good or bad.

Fielder’s body has always concerned scouts, and while he has always been durable, a 31 year old 1B with his body type could, now having missed practically a full season and dealing with a unique neck injury could be a recipe for disaster.

On the other hand, the recovery from this particular surgery shouldn’t be too problematic and the injury was causing pain and weakness in his shoulder – the type of thing that could easily impact line drive rates, power numbers, and more.

All of which is to say, if you target Fielder, you may be getting a rejuvenated, mashing 1B capable of hitting 50 HR in his new bandbox of a home stadium…or you might be getting damaged goods on his last legs.

My advice is to acquire him, cautiously. If you can pick him up as a waiver acquisition at a discounted price, go for it. The cost is only a roster spot (maybe not even that – he is on the 60-day DL so he won’t impact your roster in ottoneu leagues) and dropping your least valuable player.

But if he is rostered, be careful how much you give up in a trade. Fielder owners will likely point to his top-30 hitter rankings before the season, his monster numbers in the past, and want “fair” compensation for that. But even if Fielder does bounce back in 2015, you are still picking up his decline years. And considering the Vaughn and Cecil Fielder stories, that decline could be quick.




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16 Responses to “What to do with Prince Fielder?”

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  1. mario mendoza says:

    Thank you! I was just checking into FG to consider this very question.

    Would you rather carry the as-yet-God-awful Singleton or the spinally-impaired Fielder in an AL-only (OPS) keeper?

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    • mario mendoza says:

      And by “OPS” I pretty much mean OPS-only — no RBIs, runs, or other team-dependent stats. Errors are counted, too, and Singleton is really struggling in that department.

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      • Chad Young says:

        I think Prince will be better next year, but it could be close. Singleton has looked bad this year (check out Ben Duronio’s piece on Rotographs today) and his inability to make contact is extremely concerning, particularly in an OPS league, where a .300/.450 line with 30 HR is not going to do much for you.

        As for the errors, yeah, I have no clue what to make of those. My best advice on that is to change your league rules. Errors are a horrendous stat. Just as an example, among players with 400+ innings at the position, the best defensive 3B in MLB by UZR/150 is Josh Donaldson. The worst is Lonnie Chisenhall. Chiz has 13 errors. Donaldson has 15. On a per inning or per attempt basis, Donaldson looks better, but errors are a bad, bad stat. Singleton has been pretty bad defensively so far this year and Prince is about a scratch defender. But who will have more errors next year? Who knows…

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      • mario mendoza says:

        Thanks!

        What are the odds: I go to bed with a question and the first two RG articles of the day address it. Sweet!

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  2. Owen S. says:

    Nice piece. I’d love to see a follow up entitled, “What to do with Alex Rodriguez.” that discusses his value from a fantasy, Yankee, and baseball perspective. His case may be even more enigmatic, albeit in a much different capacity.

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    • james says:

      Prince in all likelyhood plays next year. Other players have come back from this type of procedure, and produced. We have all seen the writing on the wall for Prince, and i owned him in 3 leagues last year, and by the start of this seaosn, it was 1 (traded him in 2 dynasty leauges), mainly from expecting the bad body fall off (i think i got at least 80 cents on the dollar for him in those trades since i just wanted rid of him, now i look like i got too much).

      A-Rod was in major decline when he last played. He is significantly old, and hte steriods potentially kept him afloat the past few years. The decline could be mind boggling. I think he tries to come back, if only to try to strong arm the yankees into a buy out (at this point, a good thing for both sides, he is over paid and un playable, but for 25m a year i would at least show up).

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      • pogotheostrich says:

        What other players have had the surgery? The only other one I can remember is Chris Duncan and he was never the same.

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      • Richardo says:

        I believe the other player to have this type of surgery was Nolan Reimold. So between Duncan and Reimold I would refute Mr. James’s argument that players coming back from this procedure have produced.

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      • Chad Young says:

        I think A-Rod’s decline has been slightly overstated. He was not as good as Prince – A-Rod has not matched Prince’s 125 wRC+ in ’13 since 2011. But he was at 113 and 112 in ’12 and ’13, over a combined 710 PA. Now, he is days away from his 39th birthday and will be a full year removed from playing, but look at what Victor Martinez has done this and even last year after missing a full season.

        I’ll look closer at A-Rod, but I am at least semi-intrigued, particularly if he ends up with 3B eligibility (could see him as DH/util only). Yes, he was in decline, but when you are declining from where he started, you can fall a long way and still be useful.

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  3. jim S. says:

    Fielder is done.

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  4. Jcort7 says:

    In an AL only dynasty league that I was in last in I turned Longoria and Nelson Cruz in to Adam Jones and Prince. What are your thoughts on that?

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    • Kyle says:

      In a dynasty league you probably are going to end up better next year as long as we accept the assumptions that Prince is going to be a functional player next year and Cruz turns back into a pumpkin, or at the player he was last year.

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    • Chad Young says:

      I am not as confident as Kyle – Longoria could easily bounce back from a down 2014 (so far) and I am not sure why we would assume Cruz is going to fall apart. He should regress a bit, but that doesn’t mean becoming non-useful. I like Jones, but he has gotten away with a low walk, high K approach for a long time, and I am always a little worried the bottom will drop out. I don’t love the deal, but I don’t hate it either.

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  5. mario mendoza says:

    The good news is that his ZiPS ROS projection calls for a 126 wRC+

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  6. edwinblume says:

    In an ottoneu format, how much is Fielder worth? I mean grabbing him this year and holding him for next year. He was just cut in an Old School league of mine at $18. I’m not going to waiver claim him, but could start an auction for him at $9 (assuming no one else claims him). I’m not sure I’d want to go much more than $10, keeping in mind his cost will go up $2 for next year.

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