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Transaction Analysis: Tigers Sign Prince Fielder

The mystery team struck again this week, as the Tigers agreed to sign Prince Fielder to a nine-year, $214MM contract in the wake of Victor Martinez's torn ACL. The move will obviously improve a team that won its division by 15 games last year, but just how much is an argument for another time. We're going to focus on the fantasy impact of the signing, which is far-reaching.

Park Effects

Miller Park is one of the game's most underrated hitter's parks, at least in the sense that it doesn't get talked about as much as Yankee Statium, The Ballpark In Arlington, Citizens Bank Park, or Coors Field. It has inflated home run production by 12.1% over the last three seasons according to ESPN's Park Factors, but we can be more precise than that. StatCorner provides park factor splits for left-handed and right-handed hitters for a variety of stats, and they say Miller Park has a home run park factor of 118 for lefties and just 103 for righties. That might be surprising since it's 356 and 374 to right and right-center fields but only 344 and 370 to left and left-center, but the orientation and physical shape of the ballpark creates a bit of jet stream out to right. If you watched the NLCS at all this past October, you know exactly what I'm talking about.

Fielder's over-the-fence power received what is approximately an 18% boost thanks to his home park in recent years. Comerica Park is much less forgiving though; the homer park factor for lefties is just 88, so it suppresses long balls by lefties approximately 12%. Now we can't just add the 18% and 12% and say that Fielder's homer total will drop 30% because of the ballpark switch, it doesn't work like that. Prince isn't your average home run hitter, he has arguably the most power in all of baseball, so it's not like he's just barely clearing the wall on his way to 35+ homers each year. Petco Park and Tropicana Field didn't stop Adrian Gonzalez and Evan Longoria from hitting all those homers, and Comerica is unlikely to do the same to Fielder. Heck, just look at his new teammate Miguel Cabrera, who still continues to rank among the league leaders in long balls every year. Park effects don't always apply to great hitters.

According to Hit Tracker, Prince's homers had an average standard distance of 407.5 ft. last season, more than 13 ft. and 3.5% greater than the 393.7 ft. MLB average. Furthermore, just ten of his 38 homers qualified as "Just Enoughs," meaning they cleared the wall by less than ten vertical feet or landed less than one fence height beyond the wall. Given their definition, Just Enoughs are the most volatile type of homer from year-to-year, which is part of the reason why Casey McGehee went from 23 homers (and 15 Just Enoughs) in 2010 to just 13 homers (and five Just Enoughs) in 2011. Slightly more than one-quarter of Fielder's homers last year qualified as Just Enoughs, so he's out of the danger zone when it comes to signficant drop-off next season. Prince doesn't just sneak the ball over the fence, he's fond of the second deck and 400+ footers, which plays anywhere.

Now that doesn't mean Fielder won't see some decline in his power numbers next year, just that it might not be as drastic as one would assume at first glance. Age-related decline isn't a concern at 27 (28 in May), though he will have to adjust to a new league and presumably DH'ing at least part of the time. I think we all have Adam Dunn in the back of our minds, who went from being one of the game's most prolific power hitters to unrosterable last year, but that's a rather extreme example. Similar players like Jim Thome and Vladimir Guerrero made the same switch a few years ago and showed no ill effects. It's safe to project another 30+ homers out of Fielder next year, but the days of 40+ might be a thing of the past. Then again, he's only topped 40 twice in his six full years, the last time coming in 2009.

The Trickle Down Effect On Cabrera

Manager Jim Leyland was emphatic that Cabrera will be his third baseman when Fielder was officially introduced on Thursday, which is wonderful news for fantasy owners. I don't know of many people that expect the experiment to work given his size and already subpar defensive skills, but as far as fantasy owners are concerned, it's a goldmine. If Cabrera -- who's already the best fantasy option at the most productive position -- manages to play enough games at the hot corner to qualify for third base eligibility, he has a chance to become the most dominant fantasy weapon since Alex Rodriguez in his heyday. We're talking a super-elite hitter at a premium position, even though his offense might take a slight hit given the transition. But still, he's starting from such a high production baseline that we'll barely even notice.

The Trickle Down Effect On Boesch

During the same introductory press conference, Leyland acknowledged that Brennan Boesch will bat second in front of Cabrera and Fielder, which improves his fantasy outlook a bit. The 26-year-old outfielder hit .283/.341/.458 with 16 homers in 115 games and 472 plate appearances before a thumb injury ended his season in late-August. That production alone made him valuable, but hitting in front of the two big bats should boost his runs scored total if nothing else. The effect of lineup protection is generally overstated, but in the case of elite hitters like Cabrera and Fielder, it can have a very real impact. I definitely have Boesch earmarked as a breakout candidate for 2012.

The Trickle Down Effect On Fister And Porcello

As wonderful as a third base eligible Cabrera would be, his defense at the hot corner figures to create some problems for a few members of Detroit's staff. The team will employ three below-average defenders on the infield in Fielder, Cabrera, and Jhonny Peralta (Peralta's +9.9 UZR in 2011 was based on his ability to avoid errors, not necessarily make more plays) regardless of who they play at second base. Both Doug Fister (career 5.52 K/9 and 46.5% ground ball rate) and Rick Porcello (4.84 and 51.9%) are pitchers that rely on their defense, so don't be surprised if they wind up with a higher WHIP and ERA than projected. Fister was already doomed to be overvalued on draft day given his dominance after the trade (five of his ten starts with the Tigers came against the lowly Twins, Athletics, and fading Indians), so don't fall into the same trap. That's not to say he won't be a solid option, but don't count on him repeating his second half numbers over a full season, especially now with the defense behind him. Porcello wasn't much more than a fringe roster candidate in standard 12-team, 5x5 leagues to start with, so I wouldn't blame you if you took him off draft boards entirely now.

* * *

Given his mammoth power and the fact that he's still very much in the prime of his career, Fielder will again be a top fantasy producer in 2012 even though he's moving to an unfriendly ballpark. Cabrera stands to gain the most out of the deal since he'll pick up third base eligibility, though Boesch should receive a boost as well. Some members of the pitching staff won't like the infield defense behind them, so make sure you don't get stuck depending on them for quality innings next year.




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