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Entries in Prince Fielder (25)

Wednesday
Feb262014

Prince Fielder Losing His Edge Against Righties

Texas Rangers manager Ron Washington is preparing well in advance for his team's opening day series against Philadelphia, telling Drew Davidson of the Star-Telegram last week that he "already has a set lineup." According to the report, Washington's batting order will look similar to this: Shin-Soo Choo, Elvis Andrus, Prince Fielder, Adrian Beltre, Alex Rios, Mitch Moreland, Geovany Soto, Jurickson Profar and Leonys Martin. If anything looks a bit out of place in his batting order, it undoubtedly is the placement of Fielder in the No. 3 hole -- a position that has occupied just 12% of his plate appearances to this juncture of this career compared to the 80% that have transpired out of the cleanup spot with Milwaukee and Detroit.

“Hitting in front of Beltre — that’s not a bad thing,” Fielder told Davidson. “That’s fine with me. I don’t have any problems with it. I’m excited. The top two guys [Choo and Andrus] have speed, and they can hit as well. I think it’s going to set the table for the rest of us, which is going to be a lot of fun.”

While I can say that hitting in front of Beltre will at least somewhat help Fielder's cause this season, and a hitter-friendly Rangers Ballpark to boot, his offensive regressions last season are concerning. Posting a .279/.362/.457 line and 120 OPS+ that are each well below his career .286/.389/.527 and 141 OPS+ marks, Fielder took significant steps back with the Tigers in 2013, mainly when we see his .071 point decrease in slugging percentage from 2012 to last season. Where did Fielder's power go last season? We need not look further then his lefty-righty platoon splits.

Comparing Fielder's results and averages versus LHP

Against same-handed (lefty) pitching last season, Fielder took steps forward in several respects compared to his numbers from 2008 through 2012, including (but not limited to) batting average, OPS and HR/FB rate even though he wasn't able to place better contact against those pitchers (.217 WHAV last season compared to .256 prior). Now let's see his splits versus righties...

Comparing Fielder's results and averages versus RHP

Fielder's success rate against right-handed pitchers went in the opposite direction last season, however. A .302 hitter from 2008-'12, Fielder's average dropped to .271 against them last season and his OPS plummeted by nearly .200 points. His HR/FB rate was essentially cut in half to a career-low 13.2% last season and his WHAV against righties dropped in similar fashion to that against lefties. Now that we understand the primary reason behind Fielder's drop-off last season, we need to figure out what contributed to his relapse.

Fielder's in-play rate vs. RHP relative to pitch location, 2012

Fielder's in-play rate vs. RHP relative to pitch location, 2013

As we can see, Fielder's in-play rates against right-handed pitchers have fluctuated significantly with respect to pitch location. In 2012, the majority of the offerings he put in play were located low-and-away, evidenced by a 51.3% in play rate to the lower and outer portion of the strike zone. Last season, however, his strength in that regard turned into a weakness, posting a 44% in play rate in that region of the zone. Conversely, the biggest chunk of Fielder's in-plays last season were in the upper-and-inner location of the zone.

So Fielder is putting different balls in play. Who cares, right? Wrong. The fact that Fielder is putting significantly fewer low-and-away pitches in play is particularly concerning because opposing right-handers are attacking this area of the zone more often, locating 39% of their pitches to this region of the zone last season compared to 36% in 2012 (and 33% in 2011). Now that right-handers are recognizing and attacking this weakness, it may only get worse if left unaddressed this spring.

Tuesday
Feb042014

Why Rick Porcello Will (Finally!) Break Out in 2014

Now a half-decade into his big league career, Rick Porcello has yet to become the stud pitcher the Tigers envisioned when the club made him the most handsomely-paid high-schooler in draft history. Porcello has been good for about 170 innings pitched per season, avoiding the injury pitfalls that claim many young arms, but those innings have been pedestrian. His career ERA, adjusted for park and league run scoring levels, is five percent below average. Not terrible, but not what you're hoping for from a guy who received more guaranteed cash than than any 2007 draftee not named David Price.

But don't despair, Tigers fans -- Porcello looks primed for a breakout in 2014. The 25-year-old will at long last get some defensive support from his infielders, and he now has a reliable breaking pitch that's missing bats and helping his fastball play up.

Goodbye Prince, Hello Jose Iglesias

As a ground ball-centric, pitch-to-contact starter, Porcello couldn't have been a worse fit for Tigers teams of recent vintage. Detroit basically punted infield defense over the past few years, tolerating the fall-down range of Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder at the corners in order to churn out as many runs as possible. Porcello suffered: He had a .263 batting average on balls in play on grounders last season, which was 23 points higher than the major league average.

In 2014, though, Porcello's infield D might actually do him some favors. The Fielder-Ian Kinsler swap transformed Detroit's infield, bringing in a superb second baseman, shifting Miggy Cabrera to the cold corner and jettisoning Fielder's iron glove. Kinsler was 11 runs better than an average player at the keystone in 2013, according to John Dewan's Defensive Runs Saved metric. Cabrera was terrible at third (-18 DRS), so replacement Nick Castellanos merely needs to show more range than a mastodon stuck in the La Brea Tar Pits to be an upgrade. At first, Cabrera should be less of a liability than Fielder (-13 DRS).

Porcello will also benefit from a full season of Jose Iglesias' breath-taking D at shortstop. The former Red Sock rated as an average defender according to DRS last year, but he was +7 in limited time in 2012 and has a sterling reputation. Plus, dude can do this.

Porcello's New Weapon

While Porcello should get far more support when he puts the ball in play, he's already helping himself by removing defense from the equation entirely. Porcello's strikeout rate spiked from 13.7 percent of batters faced in 2012 to 19.3 percent in 2013, which actually bested the MLB average for starters (18.9 percent). What changed? The righty threw fewer fastballs and made his curveball a vital part of his arsenal, equipping him with a quality breaking pitch for the first time.

Porcello used his fastball about 67 percent of the time in 2012, the third-highest clip in the AL behind Henderson Alvarez and Joe Saunders. He had to lean heavily on his heat, because his breaking ball of choice -- a short mid-80s slider -- pretty muched turned every hitter he faced into Miggy (opponents slugged .633 against the pitch).

In 2013, though? Porcello cut back on the fastballs (61.7 percent) and nearly shelved his slider in favor of a high-70s curveball (thrown 16.6 percent of the time). Porcello's hook got swings and misses 29.6 percent of the time, slightly above the 29.2 percent MLB average. While his slider got slaughtered, Porcello held opponents to a .303 slugging percentage with his curve. Porcello's curve might make his fastball more effective, too considering that he now has a less predictable pitch mix. He got a whiff with his fastball 15.9 percent of the time in 2013, up from 13.3 percent in 2012.

Still in his mid-twenties, Porcello has treaded water to this point in his career by displaying sharp command and preventing homers. Now that he's backed by quality defenders and can fan hitters with his curve, this former bonus baby is about to bust out.

Tuesday
Nov262013

To Justify Prospect Hype, Profar Must Solve Breaking Stuff 

The Ian Kinsler-Prince Fielder mega deal clears the way for Jurickson Profar to take over the keystone spot in Texas. The switch-hitter from Curacao, still a few months shy of his 21st birthday, ranked as the top prospect in the game according to both Baseball America and MLB.com prior to the 2013 season, showcasing plate discipline (a career .367 on-base percentage in the minors) and power (.449 slugging percentage) beyond his years at a premium position on the diamond.

Profar's tools and polish didn't immediately translate to the majors, however. The trendy preseason pick for American League Rookie of the Year posted a park-and-league-adjusted OPS that was 24 percent below average, ranking 20th out of 24 newcomers logging at least 300 plate appearances. Profar's struggles against curveballs and sliders are a major reason why he was outhit by fellow rookie middle infielders like Brad Miller, Jose Iglesias, Anthony Rendon, Nick Franklin and Didi Gregoroius. To start doing damage versus breaking stuff, the uber-patient Profar will first have to take the bat off his shoulder.

Profar did an excellent job of taking curves and sliders thrown outside of the strike zone, chasing those pitches less than half as often (14.3 percent) as the major league average (30.8 percent). Unfortunately, his "just looking, thanks" approach extended to breaking balls thrown over the heart of the plate.

Profar's swing rate by pitch location vs. curveballs and sliders, 2013

He swung at a mere 54.3 percent of curves and sliders thrown within the strike zone, well below the 61.6 percent major league average. Profar was particularly gun-shy when a pitcher missed his target: He swung at 47.4 percent of breaking stuff thrown to the middle of the plate. Typically, pitchers pay the price when they throw belt-high curveballs and sliders (hitters slugged a collective .459 last year). Against Profar, however, those mistakes still produced strikes.

By taking juicy curves and sliders so often, Profar rarely made loud contact when he did decide to swing. He slugged just .256 versus breaking pitches, nearly 80 points below the MLB average, and hit a grounder 68.2 percent of the time he put the ball in play.

Despite Profar's rough introduction to the big leagues, Rangers fans shouldn't despair. Other young middle infielders eventually became stars after flailing at the plate as rookies, including Hall of Famer Robin Yount (79 OPS+ as a teenager in 1974), Gary Sheffield (82 OPS+ at age 20 in 1989) and Alan Trammell (89 OPS+ as a 20-year-old in 1978). And, like Trammell, Profar has the defensive chops to play an up-the-middle position throughout his career (he'd be a standout at shortstop if not for the presence of Elvis Andrus).

Many rookies must learn to tone down their plate approach, limiting overzealous swings at junk pitches thrown in the dirt. But in Profar's case, he needs to be more aggressive. When pitchers hang a breaking ball over the middle of the dish, he has to make them pay.