Prince Fielder has mostly been money in the bank for fantasy players following his rookie season. Over the past six seasons, Fielder has earned at least $25 in single-league formats four times. He scored at least 80 runs and hit at least 30 home runs in each of those seasons while driving in at least 100 runs in five of those six seasons. The only inconsistency in Fielder's statistics has been a batting average that has fluctuated between .261 and .313 during that time. Not only that, but he has also avoided the disabled list in each of the past eight seasons as he has never played fewer than 157 games after being called up in 2005.
As 2013 comes to a close (his age-29 season), Fielder has had his worst year in terms of OPS+ since his rookie season. Yet, Fielder will still earn AL-only players around $22 in standard formats when it is all said and done. What concerns me is his ability to score runs. Sure, he is a big guy, but he was rather big when he scored 94 or more runs in three consecutive seasons from 2009 through 2011. He scored just 83 runs last season despite playing in all 162 games and needs two more runs over the final days of this season just to match that total.
Last season, the Tigers were not exactly stacked behind Fielder but that issue was fixed in the offseason yet Fielder still was unable to return to his days of scoring 90 or more runs. What happened?
One thing that stands out with Fielder is the reduction in walk rate. Since 2009, Fielder has a 14 percent walk rate, but that rate has declined each of the past four seasons. After walking 16 percent of the time in 2010, that fell to 15.5 percent in 2011, 12.3 percent last season, and is currently at 10.4 percent in 2013.
Fielder has batted in the cleanup spot in the Tigers lineup in all but three games this season as Jim Leyland is a big believer in leaving guys in certain spots. Last season, Fielder spent the entire season in that spot in the lineup. While that did not change, the talent hitting behind him in the lineup certainly did.
In 2012, Delmon Young spent the most amount of time hitting behind Fielder as he hit fifth in 129 contests while Brennan Boesch, Jhonny Peralta, and Alex Avila filled in the gaps. The collection of Tigers that hit in the fifth spot in 2012 hit .252/.284/.387 in 683 plate appearances. That collective .671 OPS was certainly less menacing than the .936 that Fielder had so it is not unreasonable to believe pitchers worked around Fielder to get to Delmon Young's impatient bat at the plate (who could blame them!).
In 2013, Victor Martinez has taken 650 of the 697 plate appearances from the fifth spot of the lineup. While it took him a bit to get started this season as he hit .258/.314/.380 during the first half. Since then, Martinez has hit .364/.416/.504. Coincidentally, Fielder's walk rate was 11.8 percent in the first half of the season but has fallen to 8.1 percent in the second half.
Despite the change in walk rate, Fielder's production has been rather consistent as he had a .820 OPS in the first half and has a .823 in the second half of the season. The only difference is in his batting average as he is hitting 33 points higher now because he is seeing more strikes; 62.1 percent compared to the 59.3 percent he saw in the first half. While lineup protection is mostly a placebo effect for batters, pitchers do seem less willing to pitch around Fielder these days as Martinez has gotten better at the plate.
In reviewing Fielder's behavior on the bases, nothing has changed. Baseball-Reference uses a stat called Run Scoring Percentage to compute the percentage of times a baserunner eventually scores a run. The formula for that figure is (R-HR)/(H+HBP+BB-HR). For his career, Fielder scores 24 percent of the time, and is performing at that rate this season. Fielder has run into five outs on the bases this season (hello, TOOTBLAN), which is still fewer times than he has in each of the previous three seasons. In fact, Fielder has been extra aggressive on the bases this season as he has taken the extra base a career-high 22 times this season which computes to a 28 percent rate.