Several players in the Detroit Tiger lineup have had their struggles during the 2013 post season, but none moreso than Prince Fielder, the highest paid player on the team. With MVP candidate Miguel Cabrera seriously hobbled by an injury, Fielder is expected to at least partially pick up the slack, yet he is still looking for his first RBI after ten playoff games.
Fielder is batting just .243 with an on base percentage of .317 in the playoffs. Most troubling is that he has a slugging percentage of only .270, due to the fact that he has just one extra base hit in 37 at bats for the post season. Fielder has hit .286 .389 .527 in his career, averaging 35 home runs and 107 RBI per season. His numbers for the Tigers have been in that range during the regular season, but the power outage in the post season is a source of agony for Fielder and the team.
This is not new for Fielder, who has struggled in each of his four post seasons, two with the Milwaukee Brewers and two with the Tigers. Fielder hit just .173 .232 .231 with three RBI for Detroit in 52 at bats in 2012, capped by a one for 17 performance without an extra base hit in the World Series. All added up, Fielder has a career post season line of .197 .288 .343. In fact, his .243 batting average this season would be a career high for Fielder. With the Brewers, he at least had four home runs and eight RBI in 52 at bats over two post seasons.
Fielder has gone 72 post season plate appearances since driving in a run for the Tigers with a solo home run in game two of the ALCS against the Oakland A's. It hasn't helped that he has been hitting behind Austin Jackson and Torii Hunter, who are hitting .190 and .179 this post season, respectively.
Fielder actually has nine hits in the ten playoff games this season, but it sure doesn't seem like it. He ranks fourth on the team in hits, is tied for third with three runs scored, and tied for fourth in total bases. He has the same on base percentage as Cabrera, and one fewer strikeout. But Cabrera has driven in a team high and league leading 7 runs despite being injured. As Tiger bats have displayed signs of life over the past two games, Fielder's power outage continues, so Fielder is starting to draw the ire of the fans in Detroit. Fielder said to reporters about the boos
"It's definitely not pleasant,""But they're fans. That's what they do. They pay to come."
Part of Fielder's issue has been an inability to get the ball into the air. In his 41 plate appearances during the 2013 playoffs, he has struck out six times, walked twice, and has 15 ground ball outs with 8 fly ball outs to go with his nine base hits. In 21 plate appearances during the ALCS, Fielder has grounded out eight times and flied out three times. If he can't get the ball into the air, he's not going to have many extra base hits.
Tiger manager Jim Leyland, who juggled the lineup for the past two games, kept Fielder in the heart of the order. Leyland told reporters.
"When he steps into the box ... you keep waiting for it," Leyland said. "I still feel good something big could happen at any time. He's one of those electric guys."
It is apparent that opposing pitchers, the Red Sox hurlers being the latest, are keeping the ball outside to Fielder. But that hasn't stopped him from swinging away. Yet even with a shift that lines up three infielders between first and second base, Fielder pulls the ball consistently into the defensive alignment. To me, this is a sign of a hitter trying too hard to hit the ball hard.
Fielder's struggles are drawing the attention of the national sports media as well. ESPN's Buster Olney tweeted on Thursday night.
Prince Fielder has made outs on the first pitch on five of his last seven plate appearances.— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) October 18, 2013
The Tigers are one game away from elimination, but two wins away from making consecutive appearances in the World Series for the first time since 1934- 35. With a couple of Cy Young winners on the mound, it shouldn't take much in the way of run support to get them where they want to go, but they need to get some run support to get there. An end to Fielder's power outage would be a most welcome sight for the Tigers.