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Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The AL Central – A Prince’s New Kingdom

Prince Fielder agreed upon a 9 year $214 million deal with Detroit Monday, making an incredible splash for a Tigers team that was seeking to recover from the seemingly insurmountable blow of losing consistently excellent Victor Martinez for the 2012 season to a torn ACL.

Fielder will make his return to the field where he hit jacks during batting practice as a 12 year old and his father, Cecil, launched 51 HR for the 1990 Tigers. The Twins will be safe from facing all 3 of Detroit’s intimidating middle order for at least a season so it might be interesting to examine how what the Tigers lose without Martinez is offset by the acquisition of Fielder.

The Tigers now have a huge amount tied up in four players; Fielder, 9 years - $214 million, Cabrera, in the midst of a $153 million contract which expires in 2015, Martinez, 4 year and $50 million and Justin Verlander, 5 years, $80 million. The acquisition of Fielder puts the Tigers payroll at around $128 million (wouldn’t it be great to have an extra $30 million to spend?!) and while this is a truly elite nucleus this financial commitment may give the Tigers very little financial wiggle room in forthcoming seasons (having $78 million tied up in 4 players alone for at least 3 more seasons).

Fielder adds clout to a Tigers lineup already brimming with power hitters

In the short term the Tigers may move Cabrera back to his old stomping grounds with the team now known as the Miami Marlins, 3B and slot Fielder in at 1B. When Martinez returns however, it will be interesting to see how master juggler Jim Leyland handles his DH situation.

Let’s get down to brass tacks. In the last 3 seasons Fielder has averaged 161.6 games (yes, you read that correctly), while Martinez has been susceptible to the occasional injury riddled season, averaging just 109 games in that same span.

While Martinez provided an important option for the Tigers at catcher the emergence of Alex Avila as an offensive force has rendered that loss significantly less of a blow. Comparing Martinez and Fielder’s numbers over the last 3 seasons yield some intriguing results. Martinez is an outstanding hitter averaging a line of 323/379/490 with a 162 game average of 20 HR and 104 RBI. This compares to Fielder’s 286/409/546 line over the last 3 seasons with a 162 game average of 37 HR and 106 RBI. Fielder’s staggering OBP is due to his averaging 110 BB over the last 3 years. Fielder has also averaged 708 plate appearances so the Twins rotation will be seeing a lot of his substantial bat. Finally, Fielder’s ISO (isolated power or the extra bases Fielder averages per AB) is .260, compared to Martinez’ still solid but significantly smaller .168. Incidentally, according to the ZiPS projection system (as calculated by ESPNs Dan Szymborski, Fielder should experience some drop-off in his numbers from his last few monster-years at hitter friendly Miller Park, to the tune of a predicted 275/394/504 line next year, with 33 HR and 97 RBI.

Essentially, for at least the 2012 season the Tigers have replaced a 'for average' hitting RBI machine with a power hitting RBI machine. It will be interesting to watch this shifting dynamic as Fielder adapts to a new team, city, league and ballpark. With Gerald Laird providing at least adequate backup for Alex Avila at catcher, the addition of Fielder, at least from a power perspective, gives the Tigers a superior bat but production wise they are essentially a straight swap. Tiger’s fans, as Jerry Crasnick points out will not be worrying about future potential payroll issues and fielding positions, they will be looking forward to 2013, when their team will be fielding THE elite 3/4/5 hitting combination in baseball. Fielder gives the Tigers a good chance to compete deep into September year and perhaps beyond. One thing is for certain, if the Tigers can sure up the back end of their rotation, they could be a dominant force in a weak AL Central for the next few seasons.


  1. Looking at the Tigers current depth chart, the only notable question mark is 2nd base. Personally, Ramon Santiago should get the nod over Ryan Raburn for his superior defense in the offense oriented Tigers. I would also question the middle relievers too but with the power of that lineup, they might just be able to get away with an elevated ERA. The AL central may be over before you know it this year.

    1. I agree with your assessment of the Tigers depth chart. They have a loaded lineup that should feast on some pretty mediocre rotations in a weak divisions. If Fister can maintain his stretch form from 2011 and Scherzer can have an improved 2012 they should also have in improved rotation.

      Clearly the Twins have a huge number of question marks surrounding their injuries but sub-par pitching is still my primary concern for them, both in the rotation and bullpen.

      The Royals should be an interesting team to watch this year. With an solid lineup that includes Hosmer, Francouer and Alex Gordon coming off a break-out year and 4 of's top 50 prospects when some of their young arms make the show they should be an exciting team to watch