Speechless? Indeed. As dominant as Fielder is at the plate, as durable as he's been in the field, he's still a one-dimensional player. Yes, it's quite a dimension, but a guy who can't run and who doesn't play a premium defensive position with much acumen just signed the fourth-biggest contract in baseball history, behind only the two deals signed by Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols' $240 million deal this offseason with the Angels.
Sure, this deal wouldn't have been on the table had Victor Martinez not torn up his knee last week, knocking him out for the season, but let's take a quick look at what this might mean for the Tigers in 2012.
It's obviously not quite so simple to just make a direct head-to-head comparison on 2011 numbers. Martinez didn't play as much as Fielder and didn't spend all his time at DH. But while other Tigers designated hitters weren't as good as Martinez, the backup catchers in 2012 won't be as good as Martinez was in 2011. So we'll just call all that a wash and consider Fielder versus Martinez.
2011 Victor Martinez: 91 runs created, 389 outs made, 6.34 runs per 27 outs (595 PAs)
2011 Prince Fielder: 130 runs created, 423 outs made, 8.29 runs per 27 outs (692 PAs)
If we extrapolate Martinez's 2011 season to 692 plate appearances, we get:
In sabermetric analysis, every 10 runs is roughly equal to one win. So Fielder created about 24 more runs while using up 29 fewer outs. That's an extra game's worth of outs for the Tigers, or roughly an additional five runs. So under this very rough cut (leaving aside ballpark effects and so on) we're talking about 29 runs -- or three wins.
That spread may dampen some of the joy of Tigers fans, but Martinez was very good in 2011, hitting .330 with a .380 on-base percentage. Fielder certainly brings more power (38 home runs in 2011 versus Martinez's 12). One word of caution: Fielder did have a sizable home/road split in 2011, with 24 of his home runs coming at Miller Park; he had a 1.046 OPS at home versus .869 on the road. His splits haven't always been so severe, but he has hit better in Milwaukee and it's certainly plausible that the actual spread between Martinez and Fielder is even less than 25 to 30 runs. Anyway, here's how the Detroit lineup now shapes up:
The nice thing about Fielder is he maintains a lefty/righty balance through the first seven spots in the order. The other big positive is it may cut down on the intentional walks Cabrera receives -- 22 last season. I imagine Cabrera and Fielder will split time at first base and DH. According to Baseball Info Solutions' defensive runs saved metric, Cabrera was minus-6 runs in 2011 while Fielder was minus-1. In 2010, Cabrera was minus-8 and Fielder minus-13. Neither of these guys is exactly Keith Hernandez. And, no, Cabrera cannot play third base like he once did with the Marlins, so get that out of your head.
Yes, this situation will create a logjam in 2013 when Martinez returns with two years and $25 million left on his contract. But I don't think Tigers owner Mike Ilitch cares one bit about 2013 or how much Fielder will weigh in 2020. The contract is certainly excessive and likely to be an albatross by the end of it, but if Fielder helps deliver a World Series title to the Tigers in 2012, I'm pretty sure Ilitch will take your criticism and stuff it inside the crust of one of his pizzas.