Chat with Jayson Stark
There's nothing we love more, here in modern American life, than a young slugger. But in the totally unfair universe of Hot Stove Heater-dom, we have a problem. We only get to build our team around one young slugger -- Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard. Good thing there's no wrong answer, because this debate has been giving me a migraine for a week now.
The case for Fielder
The case for Howard
The choiceThis debate was so impossible that I had no choice but to survey a bunch of people around baseball, just to see which guy they'd pick. Turns out they are just as divided as the debate team inside my brain. The Fielder proponents basically take him because of his age. The pro-Howard camp argue that Fielder's round-mound body type neutralizes the age differential, because it means Fielder is no surer bet to be still whomping 50 homers in five, eight or 10 years than Howard. In general, though, these guys side with the player they've seen the most. In my case, that's Ryan Howard. So I'm taking him. But as I said up top, there's no wrong answer. So let's launch the debate. This could be the most fun one yet. Join the debate! Vote: Who is the best young slugger in baseball?
Archive: Hot Stove Heaters
Jayson Stark (1:03 PM)
Hi, everyone. Sorry I'm a couple of minutes late. Couldn't get into the site for some reason. But I'm ready for the most fun debate in Hot Stove Heater history -- or something like that. So let's get started.
I like Prince Fielder better ... he's younger, he runs pretty good for his size (inside the park homer), gets more extra base hits and ... for all the "too big" remarks ... he can always pull a Miggy Cabrera and slim down, ya' know?
Jayson Stark (1:05 PM)
Good points. But Prince's body is THE major issue here. And here's what's scary about him: He's ALREADY slimmed down. He weighed over 300 pounds in the minor leagues. So he's going to have a nonstop battle on his hands just to stay in the 200s.
Anthony (Brooklyn NY)
If Im building a team I take the guy that is younger and actually can make contact on the ball. Ryan Howard either strikes out or homers but I want my guy to put the ball in play. Also can we mention that Howard is the worst fielding first baseman I have ever seen. To me this is not much of a contest
Jayson Stark (1:07 PM)
He's the worst-fielding first baseman you've ever seen? Prince actually committed more errors than he did, and he's not nearly as athletic. Neither one of them is Keith Hernandez. But the consensus of guys I talked to is that they'd take Howard defensively, although not by much. The strikeouts would be another story. Howard has averaged 169 whiffs per 500 at-bats, Prince only 109. Big difference!
Steve (NY, NY)
Their defensive abilities are very similar, I want the guy that gets on base. Fielder does that more often than Howard.
Jayson Stark (1:09 PM)
You know what? That may SEEM to be the case, but it's actually incorrect. Fielder makes more contact than Howard -- a lot more. But he doesn't get on base more than Howard. Howard's career OBP is nearly 30 points higher -- .397 to .369,
Jason (happy valley, PA)
Don't discount the "Bonds" treatment Howard gets. Pitchers won't throw to him especially when he is hot.
Jayson Stark (1:12 PM)
Good point. That's a stat that tells us something about what other teams think of each player. Howard plays in a lineup with a scarier supporting cast, but he got intentionally walked a lot more -- 35 to 21. For some reason, teams seem to fear him more in a game situation than they do Prince, even though I'm not sure the numbers would indicate they should.
Nate (Minneapolis, MN)
While they may be even in terms of production, Prince is the heart and soul of that Brewers team. He's a natural born leader that plays with so much enthusiasm and dedication every day. That tips the scale towards Prince.
Jayson Stark (1:14 PM)
I think it does to some degree. Ryan Howard is a great player who has already won an MVP and rookie-of-the-year award. But he's NOT the leader of that team. The Phillies feed off Jimmy Rollins and Chase Utley more than they do off Howard. Prince has shown amazing leadership skills for a guy his age. So if you're building around one player, leadership ought to be a major factor.
Ron (Atlanta, GA)
I think we may have already seen Howard at his best, but Fielder still has room to improve. I also think that Howard's numbers are a bit inflated since he has gotten to hit in a lineup with Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins in his time, whereas Fielder has not had nearly as much support, and thus was hitting in much tougher situations. Lastly, I think the biggest stat is productive outs. Strikeouts cab be huge rally-killers and momentum changers, but solid contact can at least move up baserunners. Is there any way to get a stat for average men on base per AB for each player over the last 2 years?
Jayson Stark (1:18 PM)
The upside is THE issue in this debate, since we have to pick one of them to build around. One AL executive I talked to put it this way: "Prince Fielder had a better year in the big leagues at age 23 than Ryan Howard had in A ball at 23." And that gives us a lot to think about, doesn't it? At 28, Howard is already into his peak years. At 24, Fielder's peak should still be ahead of him. The question is how much of that age advantage he gives back because of his body. It may come down to this question: How long are you building for? Three years? Five years? Or 10 years? And even then it isn't clear-cut.
Jayson Stark (1:20 PM)
Oh, and as for your other point about lineups, the Baseball Prospectus site has a stat that monitors how many runners were on base for each hitter. I asked one of our ESPN researchers to look into that, so hopefully we can shed some more light on it before the end of the chat.
Matt (NYC, NY)
If his father's nmumbers are any indication of how many good years Prince has until his body breaks down, I guess we can count on seeing Prince until age 34 or so. (Assuming no future help in the form of HGH, Winsrol, etc). Year Age HR SO 1990 26 51 182 1991 27 44 151 1992 28 35 151 1993 29 30 125 1994 30 28 110 1995 31 31 116 1996 32 39 139 1997 33 26 139 1998 34 41 87 1999 35 13 111
Jayson Stark (1:24 PM)
His father makes for an interesting comparison, all right. But his father started declining rapidly in his early 30s. In fact, he stopped being productive after age 32. And Prince had a worse body than his father did at an early age. I talked to a scouting director who described Prince in high school as being "sort" and "almost fat." And he was a 300-pounder as a teenager. Nothing scares people in baseball more than that image and body type. An executive from an NL team said he'd actually be more willing to build around Howard long-term than Fielder, even though he'd take Prince in the short-term. I thought it would be the other way around. So it tells you what a complicated topic we have on our hands.
Todd, San Diego
Fielder's 300 pounds is not like a regular persons 300 pounds. He is a fine athlete for his size. How many 300 pound offensive and defensive linemen have played into their late 30's? And the age difference is huge, Fielder was hitting 50 homers in the majors at the same age Howard hit 23 in High A. Prince in a walk.
Jayson Stark (1:26 PM)
Sorry. It's not that simple. I agree that Prince is a really good athlete for his size. I love watching him run the bases, for instance. But that doesn't mean his weight and body type won't take their toll. One assistant GM said to me, "If his knees go, he's a different player." And this was a guy who took Fielder in the debate.
Nick (Endwell, NY)
Obviuosly both of these players are the at the top of the league but if I had to choose one I would have to go with Fielder. To me it comes down to the age, Fielder is only 23 and for a 23 year old to be in a debate as one of the best players in the majors, that is outstanding.
Jayson Stark (1:30 PM)
Ordinarily, you'd almost always take the younger player. But an official of one team said to me, "You do that with pitchers because the younger they are, the less mileage they have on their arms. But position players are different." And I agree. I used the Babe Ruth comparison for Howard in the intro, not because I expect him to turn into Babe Ruth but because they both finally got their chance to be full-time hitters in the big leagues at age 25. Ruth was still hitting more than 40 homers at age 37. So if Howard followed any semblance of that model, he could have 10 more good years in him. If Prince followed his father's model, he'd have nine more good years in him. So what I'm saying is, you can't just look at age alone.
Jayson Stark (1:32 PM)
Our researcher, Matt, wanted to make this point on the supporting casts: Yes, Howard has played with some nice guys around him. Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins combined for 52 HR and a .311 BA last year. But Fielder had talent around him as well. Ryan Braun and J.J. Hardy combined for 60 HR and .297 BA. Not too shabby either.
Dan (St. Louis, MO)
Re: the weight/fitness issue. Let's not kid ourselves - Howard is tipping the scales pretty well too! Going by ESPN's data, Fielder only has a 10 pound advantage over Howard (albeit at 4 inches shorter than Howard). Howard has the same concerns with his body as someone like, say, Frank Thomas, whose baseball skills may not wane, but whose overall playing health may take a big hit into his early 30's.
Jayson Stark (1:36 PM)
Thanks for bringing that up. Obviously, Howard isn't exactly David Eckstein, either. And he wasn't in great shape when he reported last year, which led to his own injury issues. But I talked to a lot of people about this body-type issue, because everyone brought it up. One guy said he viewed Howard as having more of a David Ortiz type build, in that he's just a big guy. But Prince he described as "just fat." Another scout I talked to said Prince's body reminded him of Mo Vaughn, a guy whose weight definitely blew up his career. I heard this over and over. I'm not making it up. So obviously, it's a major topic within the sport, not just in this debate.
I think Fielder is a more powerful power hitter. Howard has been consistantly powerful thus far, so we'll have to see how fielder does in the long run. I would take Fielder.
Jayson Stark (1:38 PM)
Bet you didn't know Prince hits the ball farther than Howard. I don't know how many of you have ever seen the Hit Tracker home run site, but it's a lot of fun. Prince won the Golden Sledge Hammer award last year for hitting the longest home runs in baseball (measured by average distance). He was at 408 feet per homer. Howard was 396.5. How 'bout that for a fun stat?
Michael (Tampa, FL)
Though I am a Phillies fan I think I can say with an unbiased opinion that Howard would be the better pick. Despite the strikeouts, Howard seems to be a more complete hitter and takes the ball the other way. I assume that Howard will make the proper adjustments this year and won't strike out as much. I think he has better hands and bat speed than Fielder as well. Fielder is really fat and there is no way that I would sink franchise player type of money into him long term.
Jayson Stark (1:42 PM)
It's amazing that a guy who strikes out that much would have a lifetime average of .291. And Howard always hit for a high average in the minor leagues. He led the Florida State League in hitting. And he was leading the International League in hitting (but NOT homers) when the Phillies called him up in 2005. Last year, he got way too pull-conscious for a while there, and pitchers took advantage of it. So he'll have to show he can adjust back. The fact is, despite the averages, the consensus of people I talked to is that Fielder is the better pure hitter, especially when you factor in that pesky making-contact issue.
Jayson Stark (1:43 PM)
Our researcher, Matt, just got back to me with this note, again relating to the supporting casts: Howard had 278 at bats with at least 1 base runner (12th most in NL) Fielder had 243 (35th most in NL)
Chris (Bellingham WA)
How much difference is there between the parks these 2 play in?
Jayson Stark (1:45 PM)
Excellent question. That Phillies park is a home run hitter's paradise. But Miller Park is a terrific lefthanded hitter's park. The ball flies out of there to right-center. So the ballparks aren't as big an advantage as you'd think. Plus, these two guys hit the ball so hard, they make the parks almost irrelevant. Check out the home-road splits on their homers: Prince 40 at home, 40 on the road. Howard 64 at home, 65 on the road.
Matt (Newark, NJ)
Since we are building around these guys, what are the salary implications w/arbitration and post arbitration figures?
Jayson Stark (1:48 PM)
I have a feeling they'll both make a few bucks before they're done. But Howard's contract implications are a more pressing matter because he's already entering his arbitration years. (Check my blog from last night.) So the Phillies are already at a point where they're facing major money battles every winter with him -- and they will until they either sign him long-term or he's playing somewhere else. This guy is off to a historic start to his career, and he expects his salaries to be historic. I expect this to be a never-ending mess. Prince hasn't reached that stage yet, so it will be interesting to see how his salary battles go.
MW (GB, WI)
Prince has every motivation to *NOT* turn into his father in more ways than one. And that includes eating his way out of MLB.
Jayson Stark (1:51 PM)
The whole tale of Prince and his father is so sad, I hated to even bring up his dad. There are certainly some things about Cecil worth emulating, but eating his way out of the sport isn't one of them. And obviously, the way he's led his life since he retired is another.
Grant (Hickman, KY)
I think that here Price Fielder is the better choice. he soen't strike out as often, has better speed, and is younger. Though still the best first baseman in the NL is Albert Pujols.
Jayson Stark (1:55 PM)
I've been getting Albert Pujols questions through this whole debate. So let's remind you guys of the rules. We're not debating three, four or five guys at a certain position. We're debating the two in question. In this case, it's which one "young slugger" you would build around. Yes, Pujols is younger than Howard. But Albert already made it into one of these debates (him versus ARod). We're onto the next topic. Now, as to which guy is the better baserunner, the Bill James book says that Fielder actually went first to third a lower percentage of the time than Howard did last year. Not that either one of them is Juan Pierre out there.
Bobsgarage (Los Angeles, CA)
Is there any way we could put a lineup with one at DH and one at 1B???
Jayson Stark (1:59 PM)
That would be one way to wimp out on this debate, huh? To be honest, they both probably have DH jobs in their future.
Jayson Stark (1:59 PM)
Sorry, gang. It's that time. Let's take one more.
Ryan Howard .337 average, 12homers w/ RISP and 2 outs. Prince Fielder .220 average, 1homer w/ RISP and 2 outs. take your pick....
Jayson Stark (2:06 PM)
That's an impressive stat, but does it really take in the big picture? I could find lots of numbers to make a case for either guy. But this argument is about projection as much as it is about production. I think both these players love the big moment. They can both hit the ball out of any park. And you can't go wrong with either of them. But I'll take Ryan Howard because I disagree with those people who think he's peaked. He just had a "down" year in which he hit 47 homers and almost led the league in RBIs. He's a special talent who I think is driven to be an all-time great. But if Prince is having 50-homer, MVP-calibre seasons at 23, it tells us that all the people arguing for him sure aren't wrong. Thanks to everybody who took part in this. Seeya down the road.
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