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Prince Fielder elevated his game during his first season in Detroit, but it seems likely there will be some regression in his production in 2013.
Free agent 1B Prince Fielder spent much of the last off-season wondering which uniform he would wear during the 2012 season.
Agent Scott Boras had set his sights extremely high in terms of his contract demands and the baseball world had seemingly yawned. Pundits questioned the strategy, considering the myriad doubts that existed with respect to Fielder's body type, and whether "Fielder The Younger" would be able to play the field (defensively) as the contract entered its later years.
So Prince waited, and waited, and waited.
Then Detroit 1B/C/DH Victor Martinez injured an ACL during his off-season workouts. Tigers owner Mike Ilitch determined the need to act quickly. Fielder was soon signed to a nine-year, $214 million contract. Boras was vindicated. Fielder became an exceedingly wealthy man.
He enjoyed an outstanding campaign in his first year in a Tigers uniform. In spite of the fact Comerica Park was a little less forgiving last season than Miller Park was in 2011, he compiled a .313 batting average (a career high).
He also managed to swat 30 home runs in a new league and playing at what was essentially the league-average park for home runs—this, in spite of leaving Milwaukee's Miller Park which yielded the highest ballpark effect for home runs in all of baseball.
It appears likely he'll struggle to equal last year's production in 2013; the question is how precipitous the drop off will be. It seems likely his batting average will regress considerably—back to the .290s. Otherwise, I expect his home runs to remain similar and his RBI production to regress somewhat.
In light of the questions surrounding Joey Votto's recovery from his knee injury, Fielder should still achieve production levels that allow him to remain one of the top-two fantasy first basemen for the upcoming season.
His batting average in 2012 was powered by a contact rate of 86 percent, which was nine points higher than his career norm and five points higher than his previous career high. Additionally, with the singular exception of 2009, Fielder has regularly produced hit rates between 29 and 31 percent, yet last year it was 33 percent. Furthermore, his BABIP last season was .321, compared to a career figure of .300.
Taken together, these peripherals help to explain how he managed to post a career high in batting average. Assuming that he will experience a regression to his prior career highs (81 percent contact rate and 32 percent hit rate), his batting average should slide back into the mid- to high-.290s. (see 2013 Baseball Forecaster)
His home run total dipped last year. I expect it will likely plateau at 28-32 home runs and remain there for the foreseeable future. I do not expect him to threaten the 40-HR plateau again.
While Comerica Park won't hurt him from the perspective of home runs, it will not help him (as Miller Park would have done). Over the course of the last three years he has hit an increasing number of line drives (up from 18 percent to 25 percent) at the expense of fly balls (from 40 percent to 33 percent). While some of those line drives will grab the first few rows of the bleachers, this development does not bode well for the accumulation of home runs.
Additionally, Prince has posted an odd-numbered / even-numbered split with respect to his home run rate, compiling rates of 22-23 percent in odd-numbered years and precisely 18 percent in each of the last three even-numbered years. So it is possible he will hit in the order of 32 home runs in 2013 and 2015, and 28 home runs in 2014 and 2016.
As far as run production is concerned, it's logical to infer that he will lose a dozen runs batted in to a couple of factors: fewer RBI opportunities (with Miguel Cabrera unlikely to equal his 2012 productivity) and putting fewer balls in play when runners are in scoring position (assuming the aforementioned dip in BA). Thus, it's quite likely he will end up with somewhere between 95-98 RBI.
Projection: .295 BA, 32 HR, 98 RBI, 80 R and 1 SB