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Previewing the Tigers: Prince Fielder's adjustment to the AL

Prince Fielder is good, but can we expect a 40 HR year?
Prince Fielder is good, but can we expect a 40 HR year?

We're continuing our previewing of the Detroit Tigers player by player. Expect much of the bullpen and the bench players to be doubled up a bit during the final week before the season, but we'll goone a day until then, by uniform numbers. I reserve the right to go out of order either on purpose or by accident.

Prince Fielder #28
First base

I don't know what to think. Don't get me wrong, I think Prince Fielder is going to have a nice season. The Tigers have a nice lineup surrounding him, and he's been a great hitter his entire career. On the other hand, he will be coming to the American League and we've seen some NL players start a bit slow after making the leap to the junior circuit. And Comerica Park, some have pointed out, has a right-field distance comparable to Miller Park's but does seem to repress home runs a bit overall.

To begin, I'm not real concerned about a move to Comerica Park. Well, maybe "concerned" isn't the word. It's just that there are just so many moving parts that I feel like a model has to be a lot more complicated than park factors alone. I'm not saying the information is useless; it's not. But I do feel like it's not information you can simply "plug and play" to use. (By the way, if you did read the link above, the comments section features good debate.)

However, I do think Fielder will see better pitching in the American League, and I think it might take him a bit of time to adjust to pitchers he wasn't seen before. (You might remember, even Miguel Cabrera struggled at first.) Again, I think you have to approach this with some awareness that playing games in the AL Central means Fielder isn't necessarily stepping into the hardest division in baseball. The number of stud pitchers in the division has quickly dwindled; importantly for Fielder, he's playing on the same team as Justin Verlander and not opposing him. On the other hand, he'll still be facing every team in the AL for more than a handful of games. His exposure to superior pitching is likely higher for that reason.

Ultimately, I'm going to go a bit conservative on my Fielder prediction. I think he'll be a great batter still, but the adjustment period might cost a bit on his stats: .285 average, .400 on-base percentage, .525 slugging. I think he'll be closer to 35 home runs than 40.