Yesterday, I watched ESPN’s A’s-Rangers telecast, and in it, they addressed whether or not Prince Fielder‘s struggles were physical. The announcers said Ron Washington told them he was physically fine, but also said that the organization itself has no worries about him. I assume that means they think his issues are mostly mental. Watching Fielder try a bizarre (and desperate) Ichiro-style delayed swing to filet the ball to opposite field so he could beat the shift, I have to agree. It does seem like pitchers have gotten into his head.
April 21, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder (84) bats against the Oakland Athletics during the first inning at O.co Coliseum. The Rangers defeated the Athletics 4-3. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports
But Fielder’s struggles cannot be blamed entirely on him trying to be a player he’s not. The mental funk Fielder is in could be impacting his swing mechanics, which may explain why, compared to the rest of his career, he’s topping everything off.
|2005||Brewers||1.25||37.2 %||34.9 %||27.9 %||16.7 %||16.7 %||6.7 %||0.0 %|
|2006||Brewers||1.08||18.4 %||42.5 %||39.2 %||11.9 %||15.8 %||2.1 %||0.0 %|
|2007||Brewers||0.76||19.3 %||34.9 %||45.8 %||8.1 %||23.9 %||1.9 %||0.0 %|
|2008||Brewers||1.02||18.8 %||40.9 %||40.3 %||12.8 %||18.2 %||3.2 %||0.0 %|
|2009||Brewers||0.94||16.2 %||40.7 %||43.1 %||5.5 %||23.1 %||2.7 %||0.0 %|
|2010||Brewers||1.07||17.9 %||42.4 %||39.7 %||11.4 %||18.3 %||1.6 %||0.0 %|
|2011||Brewers||1.16||19.8 %||43.1 %||37.1 %||6.3 %||21.8 %||5.4 %||0.0 %|
|2012||Tigers||1.24||25.4 %||41.3 %||33.3 %||11.3 %||17.9 %||4.8 %||0.0 %|
|2013||Tigers||1.13||22.9 %||40.9 %||36.2 %||13.5 %||13.5 %||4.8 %||0.0 %|
|2014||Rangers||1.79||17.3 %||53.1 %||29.6 %||8.3 %||8.3 %||4.7 %||0.0 %|
|Total||– – –||1.05||20.1 %||41.0 %||38.9 %||10.1 %||19.0 %||3.5 %||0.0 %|
I highlighted his career mark in green and this year’s in red. As you can see, its elevated.
First, I should be fair and make the essential, yet cliche, disclaimer about sample size. Yeah, its 26 games into the season. Yeah, that mark should come back to earth to some extent. But this post isn’t about whether or not Fielder will continue to struggle– it’s about what’s contributing to his slump.
Prince Fielder decidedly isn’t known for his speed, so most of groundballs will be outs, as he can’t outrun almost any throw. In fact, less than 5 percent of his groundballs have been hits in all but one season (IFH%). As/if that number regresses toward his career norm of 41%, he should see his average pick up to some extent as he hits balls harder.
That groundball spike would also, partly, explain Fielder’s anemic slugging percentage. At .316 (tied for 165th with Derek Jeter), Fielder has a lower slugging percentage than Ben Revere (who has never hit a major league home run) and Emilio Bonifacio (10 home runs in 2398 plate appearences). For a man paid to hit home runs, his slugging percentage suggests someone ill equipped to do so.
Apr 19, 2014; Arlington, TX, USA; Texas Rangers first baseman Prince Fielder (84) hits a home run against the Chicago White Sox during the fourth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
The groundball spike would not, however, explain his paradoxically more timid, yet more aggressive, plate discipline. His Z-Swing% (swings inside the zone) are down three percentage points from his career norm and is down almost 4 from last year. His O-Swing% (swings outside the zone) is up about 4 points from his career norm and about 2 from last year. He’ swinging at more pitches outside the zone but fewer pitches inside of it. Notably, he is making more contact when he swings at pitches inside the zone than his career average (88.8%-87.1%). His contact on pitches outside the strike zone is either a positive sign or a negative one, depending on which stat you focus on. His 61.5 O-Contact% is 1.2 percentage points above his career average but about 5.5 below his previous three year average.
As I see it, he’s topping more pitches off, which means he’s getting on base less and hitting fewer extra-base hits. This seems to have gotten to his head somewhat, so he’s compensating by swinging at less pitches in the zone as he tries to find something he can drive.
*IMPORTANT TO NOTE:
I did notice that Fielder’s BB% is higher than his career norm and his K% is lower. I have no idea how to definitively explain this, considering how he is swinging at more pitches out of the zone and fewer inside. Maybe it has to do with timing, in that he is swinging at more pitches out of the zone until he gets to 2 strikes, when he then shows much better plate discipline. But that’s just speculation. I honestly have no idea.