What's eating Prince Fielder?
Fielder played in all 162 of Detroit's games, hitting .313/.412/.528 with 30 home runs, 83 runs scored and 108 RBI. He also provided ample protection for Miguel Cabrera, who got more pitches to hit with Fielder hitting behind him and ended up driving a career-high 44 of them over the wall.
For a mere $23 million, I'd say the Tigers got their money's worth out of Fielder. For now, they can breathe easy knowing that his contract isn't a Joe Mauer- or Barry Zito-level disaster.
It's just too bad for the Tigers that Fielder is also getting paid for whatever production he can muster in the postseason. And to this end, he's looking less like Barry Bonds circa 2002 and more like Alex Rodriguez circa, well, every year except 2009.
Fielder has been largely invisible during Detroit's playoff run, hitting just .205/.271/.273 with one home run, two runs scored and three RBI. He's grounded into three double plays, and only one of his hits has gone for extra bases.
At the rate he's going, the most memorable image of Fielder from the 2012 postseason will be him getting tagged out by Buster Posey at the plate in the second inning of Game 2 of the World Series. He never should have been in a position to be tagged out, mind you, but it was all too appropriate that he was the one getting tagged out in that situation given his struggles this postseason.
That's not quite what the Tigers had in mind for Fielder in these playoffs, and by now they have to be more than a little concerned about whether or not this is just who Fielder at this time of the year.
Fielder, after all, entered this postseason with a semi-long track record of being a liability in the month of October. He was just a .192/.317/.500 hitter through his first 15 playoff games. Now, he's just a .198/.297/.396 hitter in 26 career playoff games.
Should the Tigers be worried that they have the next A-Rod on their hands, or are there reasons for them to hope for the best where Fielder is concerned?
If you restrict your sights to this postseason only, it definitely doesn't look good. The raw numbers are unflattering enough, but what's even worse is that there are other numbers that confirm the conclusion of the eye test:
Fielder's lack of production is killing the Tigers. Or, at the very least, making it very hard for them to succeed.
There are two stats I want to fill you in on—though you can skip the filling in part if you happened to read my piece on Marco Scutaro and Pablo Sandoval, as I'm about to give the same tutorial here as I did in that one.
The first stat is called RE24, which Baseball-Reference.com defines as being the "Sum of the differences in run expectancies for each play the player is credited with." In layman's terms, RE24 is a stat that measures how many runs a player gives or costs his team in regards to the situations he faced.
The other stat is called Average Leverage Index, or aLI for short. Leverage Index is a stat that quantifies "pivotal" plays that have the potential to change win probability. In layman's terms, aLI is a stat that keeps track of how many clutch and/or pressure situations a player has faced.
Fielder's RE24 in the postseason is -4.53. Since zero is average, he's essentially cost the Tigers significantly more runs than he's provided.
Fielder's aLI in the postseason is 1.04. Again, zero is average, so Fielder has been faced with a rather high amount of pressure situations in the playoffs.
Put two and two together, and what this means is that Fielder has gotten plenty of chances to do damage in the postseason, and he's done no damage at all. In fact, he's done more harm than good.
It's unacceptable for any player to be as big of a drain on an offense as Fielder has been on Detroit's offense in the postseason. His situation is made worse by the fact that he's a run producer, and even worse by the fact that he's being paid handsomely to be a run producer.
But while Fielder is certainly deserving of scorn for the kind of postseason he's had, there's something else that the eye test can tell us about his lack of production thus far.
The question on everyone's mind: Is it just me, or has Fielder been really unlucky?
Yes. He has, actually.
Where the A-Rod comparison doesn't work so well is in how Fielder is making outs in this postseason. It's not like he's racking up strikeouts. In fact, he's not striking out that much at all.
In 48 trips to the plate this postseason, Fielder has struck out only seven times. That's a K% of 14.6, which isn't that much higher than the 12.2 K% he posted during the regular season. To put it in further perspective, A-Rod's K% this postseason was 44.4. His K% over his last 12 postseason games is an even 36 percent.
So at least Fielder is putting the ball in play. And as the Giants can vouch, really good things happen when you at least manage to put the ball in play.
Despite putting the ball in play the majority of the time he's come to bat, Fielder's BABIP this postseason is a mere .222. That's just about 100 points lower than the .321 BABIP Fielder posted in the regular season, which is as good a sign as any that Fielder's struggles are largely related to simple bad luck.
The balls that resulted in hits for Fielder during the regular season are finding their way into gloves during the postseason. No doubt a few specific memories come springing to mind. Fielder was robbed of extra-base hits by both Coco Crisp and Yoenis Cespedes in the Tigers' 2-0 loss in Game 3 of the ALDS, and Gregor Blanco took away what may have been a double from Fielder with a diving catch in Game 1 of the World Series.
Guys like Ichiro can alter their swings to hit 'em where they ain't on a whim, but Fielder's not one of those guys. He has excellent bat control for a guy who swings as hard as he does, but his priority is always to hit the ball hard rather than try to hit it in a specific place. When he does hit the ball hard, good results tend to follow.
Fielder hasn't changed his approach in the playoffs. What's changed is that fielders have been Johnny-on-the-spot more often than usual when he's put the ball in play. If Fielder doesn't get robbed of hits so many times, his numbers don't look all that bad and we're sitting here looking for someone else on the Tigers to blame for the predicament in which they now find themselves.
So despite the fact Fielder looks like he may be the next Alex Rodriguez in the postseason, I have a hard time bringing myself to believe it. He hasn't been good, and the Tigers have very much felt the struggles he's going through, but these struggles can be chalked half up to him and half up to the baseball gods.
The baseball gods owe Fielder a break or two at this juncture, and that's a scary notion for the Giants. They may make Fielder lucky again before the World Series is over.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
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