With four short days left until Spring Training, we're getting into serious superstar territory. Some of these posts will be very nit-picky, others will be left with little else but to critique certain aspects of that particular players social life -- well, until Kurt deletes the Kate Upton pictures. Those will have to wait though; today, we're talking about Prince Fielder.
What happened last year?
If you operate by the "1 bWAR = $5 million" philosophy, Prince was overpaid by a cool million last season. However, I don't think any Tigers fans will be arguing over the fact that he was one of five players in the .300/.400/.500 club in 2012. His walk rate dropped by over 3% from 2011, but at 12.3% it was still the second-best rate on the team* behind Alex Avila.
The most surprising thing about Prince's success in 2012, aside from the amount of times Prince beat an infield shift with an opposite field single (/fires GWilson bat signal), is that Prince has decreased his strikeout rate by over 7% in the past two years. In case that doesn't sink in, consider this: he struck out 138 times in 2010 and just 84 times in 2012. That's an extra 54 at-bats in which Prince put the ball in play, a big reason why he was able to hit .313 last year.
*Danny Worth's 13 walks in 90 plate appearances excluded for obvious sample size reasons
What needs to happen in 2013?
OK, the longer version of Prince's to-do list starts with maintaining the lower strikeout rate that he has produced over the past two years. For example, let's continue the above example in which Prince has put the ball in play in 54 extra at-bats. At a .300 BABIP, we're talking 16 extra hits from 2010 to 2012. If you take away 16 hits from him in 2012, Prince hits just .285. As we saw with Victor Martinez in 2011, having a guy hit over .300 behind Miguel Cabrera paid huge dividends for a Tigers offense that can go quiet from time to time. If Prince keeps his strikeout rate down and his batting average up, those quiet phases will occur less often.
2012 stats and 2013 Bill James projections
The part where I predict pretty much the same thing Bill James does
Other than the 161 games played part of that projection -- seriously computers, WTF -- I'd take that kind of season from Prince in a heartbeat. Just as we saw with Miguel Cabrera in his first season in Detroit, most of Prince's home runs -- 18, to be exact -- came during the second half of the season. I think it's only reasonable to project a few more home runs for Fielder this year.