July 15, 2020

The Impact of Prince Fielder in Washington

January 20, 2012 by · 5 Comments 

Prince Fielder was always one of the impact players in this year’s free agent class, but he is still out there and according to the “industry analysts” the table continues to tilt increasingly toward Washington as his landing spot. This morning Adam Kilgore in the Washington Post summarized the case, saying he is “Washington’s to lose.” But ultimately the question is how good do the Nationals become with the addition of one bat, regardless its size and impact.

In the mind of the baseball everyman, or at least those committed to the NL East, the question is: “Does Fielder make the Nationals instantly into contenders?”

On the most superficial level Prince Fielder will add win shares to the Nationals lineup as few players could do in the NL. Equally important he will have significant positive spill over effects to others in the lineup that are relatively easy to calculate.

Prince Fielder was the fourth most valuable offensive force in the National League in 2011.  His Wins Above Replacement (WAR) of 5.9 was exceeded only by Matt Kemp, Ryan Braun and Jose Reyes.  His impressive six-year average slash line from Baseball Reference is .282/.390/.540–an average of 37 home runs and 103 RBI.

It is easy to calculate the aggregate WAR for each of the NL East teams for 2012 as they stand now.  With the Miami Marlins adding Jose Reyes to a starting lineup that already featured Mike Stanton–behind only Matt Kemp as one of the most dangerous hitters in the league–the Marlins become the most potent offense in the NL East, besting even Philadelphia.

If the Nationals can add Fielder he will help immensely, but a remake will need to be multi-dimensional.  In 2010, when the Nationals lineup featured both Adam Dunn and Ryan Zimmerman at its heart, the team managed only 4.04 runs per game compared to a league average of 4.33. They were the third worst team in scoring runs in the NL.

Yet in 2011, by subtracting Dunn and adding Jayson Werth, Danny Expinosa, Michael Morse and Wilson Ramos for full seasons, the Nationals raised their relative clout in the NL to closer to league average.  They managed only 3.88 runs per game but the league average dropped to  4.13.  All of those young hitters will be back and a little stronger.  Adding a hitter like Fielder will only help them. Another intangible is the pressure Fielder could take off Jayson Werth. A bounce back season for him would be a big addition.

One of the easiest comparisons for Washington fans will be between Adam Dunn and Prince Fielder. Both are prodigious sluggers and liabilities in the field. As MASN commentator Phil Wood argued on the Outta the Parkway Show several weeks ago, Fielder’s bat will do more than Dunn’s did because he strikes out less and makes better contact generally.  The difference can be seen in Dunn’s less impressive WAR for 2010 of 3.6 and Fielder’s much better lifetime batting average.

Regardless what happens to Werth and the younger Nationals hitters, the safest predictable side effect of adding Fielder to the lineup will accrue to Ryan Zimmerman. With Adam Dunn hitting behind the Z-man in 2009 and 2010, Zimmerman’s WAR of 5.2 was one of the best in the league. Last season, without that protection, it sank to a more pedestrian 2.3.  Raising Zimmerman back to his historic highs of 2009-2010 would add significant additional pop for the Nationals. IF Fielder can raise the offensive profiles of both Werth and Zimmerman, he can raise the teams aggregate WAR to within striking distance of the Phillies.

There is a down side. Fielder would be a defensive liability on a team that has prided itself on fielding. Most fielding metrics place Fielder in the bottom of the NL and his 15 errors in 2011 led the league for first basemen. He will have two fine defensive infielders to work with in Ryan Zimmerman and Danny Espinosa. Like Dunn, he is a large target to throw to at first base, but he will need to return to defensive performance levels like 2009 when he committed only four errors.

Assessing Fielder’s impact is a complex equation but one of the most difficult considerations is how good the other teams really are.  In 2011 the Philadelphia offense slipped markedly as Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins all had off-years. Is it the impact of age, too much time at the top, or a combination of the two?

Even if the Phillies can shrug off any complacency that may have slipped into their demeanor, they are not the same team as the one that scored 5.06 runs per game in 2009 to lead the National League.  They have been slipping every year. The aging trend cannot be reversed and the Philadelphia lineup will not return to its peak production when all is said and done in 2012.

If the trend line for the City of Brotherly Love is down, its opposite can be found in Miami. Jose Reyes should rebound in new environs and Mike Stanton is poised to have the kind of season that Matt Kemp had in 2011.  In slugging terms alone, Miami should take over as the beast of the East with Philadelphia and Washington somewhere just behind.

The NL East race will not be resolved solely on the basis of power. The Phillies still have the best pitching staff in the NL East and while neither Halladay, nor Lee is any younger, they have to be considered the best duo in the NL. Miami added Mark Buerhle and Heath Bell to one of the worst pitching staffs in the NL. Can they transform the Marlins staff? Ozzie Guillen has brought in Carlos Zambrano and the back end of the Florida rotation has real question marks, of which Zambrano is just one. Still the Marlins pitching should be good enough for the team to contend.

The Nationals added Gio Gonzalez to what was one of the better pitching units in the NL. The bullpen was the strength of the team and that will remain the case going forward. The Nationals finished strong in 2011 behind Stephen Strasburg who had six starts in September, 2011. Projecting roughly 170 innings for Strasburg and adding Gonzalez will make the Nationals rotation extremely formidable.

Regardless how it all shakes out, if the Nationals sign Prince Fielder, the influx of talent into the NL East will make it one of the best divisions in the game in 2012. The rise of the Nationals and Marlins will make the division one of the hardest to predict. The biggest losers are most obviously the Mets. The Braves have not done enough to bolster themselves to keep pace and could be looking up at the rest.

So, back to the original question. Does the addition of Prince Fielder make the Nationals into contenders? Yes it does, but not as a singular move. Only when evaluated as part of an emerging whole does Fielder make the difference. By placing Fielder into a young and developing lineup the impact is huge. Couple it with what could be the one of the best pitching staffs in the NL, and Washington is going to push both Philadelphia and Miami for the NL East title.

For a team that lost over 100 games in 2008-2009. that is about as good as it gets. If Prince Fielder is what pushes them over the top, he will be as popular a figure in DC as… Well, truth be told, Washington fans cannot remember back that far. But if Mike Rizzo and Mark Lerner can make it happen, it will be fun trying.



5 Responses to “The Impact of Prince Fielder in Washington”
  1. Dennis Pajot says:

    If the Nationals sign Fielder, I think you will be happy with the results. He is an very impressive offensive threat. And I don’t think his fielding is as bad as some suggest. He is not going to win any gold gloves, but I have seen him make some nice plays to save runs and runners. I am of the thought that 120 or so RBIs overcomes 15 errors. He should give any team a big offensive boost for a few more years. Will he do it for ten years? Probably not, but who will for sure.

    Perhaps not important to some, but a big plus to me, is he is not the kind of guy who is always in trouble and shooting off his mouth. Some of the stunts the Brewers do on the field are not to my liking, and Fielder was involved in these, but when it comes to being a role model for younger kids I think he fits the bill. I have no idea what that means in today’s sports world, but perhaps it should count at least a little.

  2. Dennis, I have become a believer. I think the only issue is the length of the contract he is seeking and the concern that his peak years will end prematurely as was the case with his father. The Nationals ownership feels bitten by the long term deal with Werth and reluctant to commit to even more for Fielder. Everything points to a quality young man, however, and that should be a big consideration. Hopefully he lands in DC.

  3. big o says:

    well written article , the point for which seems valid and logically presented .

    however this might be a bit of a stretch ==> ” …and Mike Stanton is poised to have the kind of season that Matt Kemp had in 2011.”

    very lofty expectations , indeed .
    kemp’s 2011 numbers don’t come around that often , and i’d guess that he’ll have a very difficult time repeating them in 2012 .

    but , to suggest that stanton will compete for (and , some contend , deserve)
    national league mvp honors is putting “too much sugar” in that kool-aid that you are drinking .

    if fielder could put the natinals in contention , then he’d be the better mvp bet , in my estimation .

    anywho , nice job , Ted .

    big o

    p.s. i greatly enjoy your pod-casts .

  4. Thanks for the kind words. Comparing Kemp and Stanton is what makes baseball fun. Stanton, in only his first full season, at age 22, hits 34 home runs with almost no cover in a weak hitting Marlins lineup. Kemp took several years to reach his peak at age 26 last season. When he was 22, his numbers were far less impressive. That said, projecting ball players is akin to asking Zoltar Speaks to tell you the future. But I like Stanton’s chances to have a big season in the future. He may never hit over .300, but Kemp’s .326 is an aberration, so you just never know.

    Fielder is more like Kemp at this point. He is money in the bank. You can be fairly certain he will produce at high levels for the next few years. When Big Daddy Fielder was 32, he dropped off the table like your mother’s favorite cut glass bowl. So the Nationals and every body else are playing chicken with Boras to keep the contract terms reasonable. The Angels are going to rue the day they signed Pujols to a 10-year contract at age 32. Maybe they got money coming in under the border or something, but there is no way he hits enough to justify that.

    Comparably speaking, Fielder for 7 years at around $150 million will look like a great deal if the Nationals can get it. Fielder in seven years is 34 and going down hill fast. But the Nationals should get some of his peak years before that happens. I will bet that if Fielder and Pujols are both healthy, Fielder’s contract will be worth more weighing dollars to performance (and I buy the donuts).

  5. big o says:

    @Ted Leavengood
    “Comparably speaking, Fielder for 7 years at around $150 million will look like a great deal if the Nationals can get it.”

    absolutely agree .

    plus , even after 4 or 5 years , when everyone expects Fielder to hit the skids, he’ll still have some ‘residual value’ , as trade-bait to an AL team .

    (see big poopi/beantown).

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