Prince Fielder: Another 50 Home Run Season Is Possible for Newest Detroit Tiger
With a wave of his hand, or should I say wallet, Mike Ilitch has dramatically altered the Detroit Tigers fortunes. With the signing of Prince Fielder, the cloud of despair that formed over the city when Victor Martinez went down has cleared.
The forecast for next season is sunny skies and plenty of victories.
It was surely one of the biggest, and most surprising, moves in Detroit sports history. It also showed how serious Ilitch is about winning. The addition of Fielder has made the 2012 season one of the most anticipated in Tigers' history.
The Fielder signing has all the trappings of a feel-good story of the year. Everybody knows the story by now. He was born in 1984—the last time Detroit won the World Series—and grew up as a Tigers' bat boy. He learned baseball from his father Cecil, who holds the Tigers record for most home runs in a single season
As Ilitch pointed out at this press conference, the Tigers just missed drafting Fielder. Milwaukee selected him just ahead of Detroit.
With all his connections to the city and the team, maybe it was fate that brought Prince back to Detroit. I'm sure the obscene amount of cash didn't hurt either.
With this signing, the Tigers are automatic American League favorites to go to the World Series and they should put up impressive numbers along the way.
As for Prince, he has the talent to supplant his father as the best Fielder to play for Detroit. The lore surrounding Cecil is great. He legitimately hit 51 home runs before everyone and their brother was doing it—before steroids took over.
But with his skill set, and playing on this team, Prince has a chance to have a special season. He has a chance to break his father's team record—51 home runs in 1990.
Here's why I think he can do it.
Plain and simple, Prince Fielder is his father's son. There's no question.
Cecil Fielder was known for his size and girth, and Prince looks like a shorter more powerful version of him. It's no surprise that hitting home runs is a family affair.
The "Fielder body-type" is not one that you'd look at and say, "now there's an athlete." But make no mistake, Prince is an athlete. That body type allows him to put tremendous power behind his swings.
Power is not enough though. Cecil had the instincts and hitter's eye to put together several successful season with Detroit. However, the rest of his career was mediocre at best.
Prince's ability goes above and beyond his father's. He hits for better average, walks more, hits more home runs, has a much higher OPS and rarely misses a game.
Prince not only has genetic advantages that make him a home-run hitting machine, he's improved upon those advantages.
He's Already Done It Once
Perhaps, the simplest argument for Fielder hitting 50 home runs this year is that he's already done it once. Everybody knows he's capable.
In 2007, Fielder reached the once magical number for home runs. Because of steroids, the 50 home run plateau has lost its luster. It's a shame because both Prince and Cecil deserve more praise for their accomplishment.
I don't think anyone is accusing them of using steroids.
This fact alone doesn't mean that Fielder can repeat the feat in 2012 though. Circumstances have changed. He's five years older, playing for a different team and in a different ball park.
These aren't necessarily bad things though.
He's in the Prime of His Career
Prince Fielder is 28 years old and no spring chicken by any means. On the other hand, he's not on the downside of his career either.
In fact, according to this article Fielder is smack-dab in the middle of the most productive six or seven years of a baseball player's career.
Ages 26-32 are considered the magical time frame in which hitters are the most productive. Considering that Fielder hit 50 home runs when he was 23 years old, this fact should be exciting for Tigers fans.
He'll be a Detroit Tiger for nine years. Five out of those nine years will be Fielder's "prime." When you consider his current per 62 game averages—162 hits, 37 home runs, 106 RBI and .282 average—it's down right scary to imagine him actually getting better.
This is why another 50 home run year is a realistic possibility.
Comerica Park isn't known as a hitter friendly park. In fact, it's vast outfield gives the impression that it's where home runs go to die.
True, when it opened it's doors in 2000, it was a pitcher's dream. Then, the Tigers' resident superstar, Juan Gonzalez, complained that the long fences might impact his power numbers. Which would then make his huge contract look ludicrous.
So the Tigers moved the left-field fences in. Long story short, Gonzalez still did poorly and the contract was ludicrous, but Comerica Park did start to see more long balls. It's not U.S. Cellular or Coors Field by any means. Those parks are launch pads.
Justin Rogers of MLive.com supports this idea as well and makes three great arguments for Fielder's success at Comerica Park in this article.
1. In 2011, Comerica Park was a middle-of-the-road stadium as far as home runs hit. It falls just behind Miller Park, where Fielder hit last year and where he hit 50 home runs in 2007.
2. The majority of Fielder's home runs last year, would also have been home runs in Comerica—31 out of 38 to be exact. Of the seven that would not have cleared the fence, each one was hit to a different part of center field. At 420 feet from home plate, I don't think Fielder would be targeting Comerica's center field wall that often.
3. Nearly 75 percent of Fielder's total home runs were "no-doubters." Meaning, that they would have been home runs in every MLB ballpark. The remaining home runs would have still been gone in over half of the ballparks.
The point is this, Comerica should not prevent someone like Prince Fielder—a true power hitter—from hitting a lot of home runs. Especially when he is able to adapt and primarily pull the ball to left field.
Look Who He's Hitting Behind
As Jim Leyland said, "Whoever hits behind (Miguel) Cabrera has a chance to have a hell of a year."
Just ask Victor Martinez. He had one of the best seasons of his career last year hitting in the Tigers' four spot. His average was 14 points higher than his previous best.
By itself, this doesn't mean Fielder will automatically hit more home runs, but it doesn't hurt either. Both players—Cabrera and Fielder—will benefit from batting next to each other. Both should have monster years.
Fielder will also benefit from having a much better hitter behind him. Whether it be Johnny Peralta, Brennan Boesch or Alex Avila, he will have better protection in the Tigers lineup.
Any one of those hitters is an upgrade from Casey McGehee, who hit a paltry .223, with 67 RBI and 13 home runs, while hitting behind Fielder last year.
Tigers Are the Cream of the AL Central Crop
Granted, anything can happen in major league baseball. We've seen teams picked to finish last only to have great years and make the playoffs. Just look at last year's Arizona Diamondbacks and Tampa Bay Rays.
That being said, if there was a time to join the AL Central Division, this was the year. Fielder will play a ton of games against inferior teams with inferior pitchers. In fact, no other division opponent even comes close to the Tigers pitching rotation.
In 2011, no pitcher from any of the Tigers' divisional opponents made the top 10 in any major statistical category.
Chicago let their ace, Mark Buerhle, sign elsewhere, but they still have the underwhelming Gavin Floyd and the broken down Jake Peavy.
Let's just say Fielder and the Tigers should be salivating over the prospects of facing the White Sox nearly 20 times.
The Cleveland Indians have the best lineup outside Detroit. WIth Ubaldo Jiminez, Justin Masterson and Josh Tomlin.
Outside of Cleveland, Fielder will be playing nearly 60 games against inferior teams with poor pitching staffs.
When you take all the facts into account, I think you'll agree, Fielder could have a truly special season for the Tigers this year.
With a little luck sprinkled in by the baseball gods, it's entirely possible that he could have his second 50 home run season and join his father in the Tigers' record book.