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Collette Calls: Power Outage

Jason Collette

Jason has been helping fantasy owners since 1999 at RotoJunkie, Fanball, Baseball Prospectus and now here at RotoWire. He covers the Tampa Bay Rays at You can hear Jason weekly on many of the Sirius/XM Fantasy channel offerings throughout the season as well as on the Towers of Power Baseball Hour Podcast on iTunes. He was selected as the Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year by FSWA in 2013.

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.

2005 0% 2 1 0%
2006 27% 4 18 24%
2007 27% 2 15 22%
2008 23% 9 17 20%
2009 23% 5 15 18%
2010 24% 6 13 14%
2011 23% 6 15 26%
2012 21% 7 13 26%
2013 24% 5 22 28%
9 Yrs 24% 46 129 22%
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 9/27/2013.

What is ultimately hurting Fielder's ability to score is his decreasing ability to drive himself in via the home run. Fielder's home run to flyball ratio is in a three-year freefall from 21.8 percent to 17.9 percent to a career-low 13.6 percent this season. The change from Miller Park to Comerica Park was bound to have an effect on his home run production as Miller Park is historically more conducive to home runs than Comerica, particularly for left-handed batters. In reviewing his batted ball data from home games this season, I count 15 batted balls to left or center field that came between the warning track and the wall, only one of which became a hit.

The 13 home runs Fielder has hit at home this season is his lowest home total of the last five seasons by five home runs. The 13 home runs he has hit in 349 home plate appearances in 2013 is a drop from the 24 he hit in 341 home plate appearances in 2011 with Milwaukee. After hitting 64 home runs at home from 2009 to 2011, Fielder has hit just 31 over the past two seasons as a Tiger.

Until now, Fielder was pretty much a lock of 30 homers, 90 runs, 100+ runs driven in while you saw where his batting average ended up. Now, it is just the runs driven in that are a lock as long as Miguel Cabrera is on base as frequently as he is. The days of 90 runs are not going to return until the 30-plus home runs do because Fielder isn't getting any faster on the bases and the improving talent behind him has only helped so much. The declining home run to flyball rate can turn around, just ask Raul Ibanez who has defied age this season and has increased his rate for a third consecutive season even after trading in comfy home digs for a pitcher-friendly park.

Victor Martinez did his part to help plate Fielder more frequently but in 2014, Fielder is going to have to do more of his own work if he is going to return to scoring 90+ runs a season.