Prince Fielder Will Have to Overcome No. 3 Spot Woes to Win the AL MVP in 2014

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Prince Fielder Will Have to Overcome No. 3 Spot Woes to Win the AL MVP in 2014
Greg Trott/Getty Images

Prince Fielder has never won the MVP award in the AL or NL, but by the end of the 2014 MLB season, he might be up for consideration.

In a January article by T.R. Sullivan of MLB.com, Texas Rangers slugger Adrian Beltre endorsed Fielder for MVP. "He's going to be the MVP," Beltre said. "It's time. My job is to protect him." 

Also per Sullivan, "Manager Ron Washington is planning on using Fielder as his No. 3 hitter and keeping Beltre in the cleanup spot."

However, hitting in the 3-slot didn't bode well for Rangers' hitters in 2013. Here's what Gerry Fraley of The Dallas Morning News had to say about the particular lineup spot in a January article:

The Rangers used six hitters in the third spot last season. The Rangers were eighth or worst in the American League for average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, OPS and homers from their No. 3 hitters.

Behind the interchangeable spot, Beltre hit for a .315 batting average with 30 home runs while driving in 92 runs last year. Certainly Hall of Fame worthy numbers if done consistently. And, in fact, in 2000, the year before Barry Bonds went on a streak of four consecutive NL MVPs, San Francisco Giants cleanup hitter Jeff Kent hit for a .334 batting average with 33 home runs and 125 RBIs. Somewhat close to Beltre's numbers and Kent actually won the NL MVP that year.

Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Bonds, right, won four consecutive NL MVPs hitting in front of Kent, left.

One small difference in the comparison amongst sluggers is that Bonds and Kent had played together for several years whereas Fielder and Beltre will be teammates for the first time in 2014. So while Rangers hitters have recently struggled, history has shown that a left-handed slugging 3-hole can be successful in front of an MVP-caliber 4-hole.

So what about the woes and struggles that Fielder has faced in that 3-spot? Fielder is a career .252 No. 3 hitter.

In Fielder's second MLB year, he hit for a .222 batting average in 173 at-bats as the third batter in front of Kevin Mench and in front of Bill Hall. This was after Carlos Lee and Nelson Cruz were traded to the Rangers on July 28, 2006. Out of the cleanup spot, Mench hit for a .263 batting average and Hall hit for a .289 batting average. These players are not close to the caliber of Kent and Beltre.

David J. Phillip/Associated Press/Associated Press/Associated Press
Fielder, right, had more success hitting behind Braun, left, on the Brewers.

In 2007, Fielder had a .262 batting average with 13 home runs and 39 RBIs as the third hitter. This was again in front of Hall who hit for a .254 batting average as the cleanup hitter that year. With the emergence of Ryan Braun, Fielder made the switch to the 4-hole while Braun hit third.

In 2008, Fielder started off hitting third, but only saw 41 at-bats maintaining a .244 batting average in front of Braun. Again, the Milwaukee Brewers made the switch of lineup spots and Fielder then had more success. In 2010, Fielder saw extended time midseason in front of Braun and hit for a .275 batting average with 10 home runs and 19 RBIs.

Carlos Osorio/Associated Press
Cabrera, right, won consecutive AL MVPs with Fielder, left, batting behind him.

Then in 2011, Fielder found his permanent home as the cleanup hitter and Braun won the NL MVP. In both 2012 and 2013, when Fielder moved to the Detroit Tigers, Miguel Cabrera won consecutive AL MVPs with Fielder in front of him.

So that begs the question, should Fielder really hit fourth?

Sure, his home run production doesn't suffer, but his batting average does, which is what will need to be high if he wants to win the AL MVP. In 2007, Fielder hit 50 home runs with 119 RBIs, but his .288 batting average hurt his campaign as he finished third in the NL MVP voting. Jimmy Rollins won the NL MVP that year with a .296 batting average and only Alex Rodriguez in 2003 won the AL MVP award with an under .300 batting average at .298.

 

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So now Fielder has been given the keys to the 3-slot and Beltre, who is not far off from the Kents, Brauns and Cabreras of the world, will hit fourth. With Shin-Soo Choo and Elvis Andrus possibly expected to set the table for Fielder, the slugger should see better pitches resulting in a higher batting average with Beltre behind him. And as a left-handed hitter, the three-time Silver Slugger Award winner and two-time Home Run Derby winner surely won't lack in home run production with the short right field porch at the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.  

After batting behind an MVP hitting 3-slot for three straight seasons, Fielder once again has been given a crack at the lineup spot in front of an elite hitter. One question remains: Can he capitalize?

 

All statistics via Baseball-Reference.com

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