2012 ALDS: Why Prince Fielder Must Prove Clutch Gene for Tigers to Win the AL
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In nine plate appearances thus far, Fielder is batting .125 (1-for-8) with one walk, accounting for a .347 OPS. That one walk was important, of course, as the A's intentionally walked Fielder in Sunday's Game 2 (Oct. 7) to pitch to Don Kelly. Kelly hit a deep fly ball to right field for a sacrifice fly that drove in the winning run in a 5-4 victory.
The Tigers have a 2-0 series lead, putting Oakland in the very difficult position of having to win three straight games—even if they'll be at home—to win the ALDS. But it would certainly help Detroit in the ALDS and beyond if Fielder started hitting, especially in the "clutch" situations that he's excelled in.
Maybe it would be helpful to demonstrate the various ways Fielder has come through in the clutch for the Tigers this year. "Clutch" is generally understood as getting a hit in a key situation, perhaps when the game is on the line.
Coming to bat with runners in scoring position is certainly an important situation for a run-producer like Fielder. In those instances, the Tigers first baseman batted .338/.468/.563 with 12 doubles, one triple, seven home runs and 78 RBI.
When Fielder batted with runners in scoring position and two outs, his slash average was .304/.495/.507 with three homers and 25 RBI. In "high leverage" situations—such as having runners on with two out—Fielder batted .372/.456/.620 with seven home runs and 49 RBI.
It stands to reason that Fielder wouldn't have had the season he did—.313/.428/.513, 30 home runs and 108 RBI—if he hadn't gotten hits in clutch situations.
So what sorts of situations has Fielder batted in during the first two games of the ALDS, and how did he perform under those circumstances?
First at-bat, first inning: Fielder batted with a runner on first base and two outs. He flied out to deep left-center field.
Second at-bat, third inning: With runners on first and second and two outs, Fielder popped out to shallow center.
Third at-bat, sixth inning: Fielder batted with no runners on and one out. He lined out to left-center.
Fourth at-bat, eighth inning: With two outs and no one on, Fielder lined out to left field.
First at-bat, first inning: With a runner on second and two outs, Fielder lined out to left field.
Second at-bat, third inning: Fielder batted with one out and a runner on second. He singled to left, moving the runner to third.
Third at-bat, sixth inning: Fielder led off the inning and flied out to deep left-center field.
Fourth at-bat, seventh inning: After the Tigers tied the game on Coco Crisp's two-run error, Fielder batted with one runner on first base and two out. He struck out to end the inning.
Fifth at-bat, ninth inning: With runners on first and third and one out, Fielder was intentionally walked.
So Fielder has batted three times with a runner on second base. He got a hit in one of those three at-bats but wasn't able to drive in a run (perhaps because Miguel Cabrera was the runner on second when he singled). When Fielder had a runner on third, he was intentionally walked.
He's had just as many at-bats with no runners on base. He also batted twice with a runner on first, not considered scoring position.
Of the Tigers hitters who have gotten at least four at-bats during the first two games of the ALDS, Fielder has the lowest batting average. Yes, even lower than Delmon Young, who's hitting .167 (1-for-6) in six at-bats.
Looking at that, Detroit likely feels pretty fortunate that it has a 2-0 lead in this series.
But the Tigers' fortunes don't solely rest on Fielder's performance, of course. It's a team sport. A lineup is built with the intention of giving other players an opportunity to succeed, as well as give the middle-of-the-order bats a chance to produce runs.
Oh, and the likely AL MVP also bats in front of Fielder.
The Tigers will play at least one more game in this series, if not three. Fielder will get some opportunities to drive in some runners. Perhaps he'll do it all by himself with a solo home run.
Just because Fielder hasn't had a big run-scoring hit so far in the ALDS doesn't mean his time won't arrive soon. His history indicates he'll eventually come through in the clutch. It's difficult to imagine the Tigers advancing through the AL playoffs without him doing so.
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