All rise! Court is now in session.
In our first case, we have the Plaintiff, Mr. Miguel Cabrera, vs. the Defendant, Mr. Prince Fielder. Mr. Cabrera claims that with an average draft position later than Mr. Fielder’s, he is being wrongfully treated and should be the second first baseman drafted in fantasy baseball leagues. We have Bryan Curley here arguing on the behalf of Mr. Cabrera and George Fitopoulos arguing on the behalf of Mr. Fielder. Let’s get it on!
If I’m sitting at a pick in the 6-10 range and these two guys are on the board, I’m taking Cabrera. In six full years split between Florida and Detroit, Cabrera has been the definition of consistency. He has batted .320 or higher four times, hit between 33 and 37 HR five times, driven in at least 112 runs five times, and has never played fewer than 157 games. As far as I’m concerned, Pujols and Cabrera are the only guys you can count on to hit 30-35 HR or more and bat .320. He won’t lead the league in HR (although he did lead the AL in HR in ’08 with 37 so what do I know), but that kind of balanced consistency is extremely valuable to your team.
It seems that after a brief, two-month adjustment period to becoming a vegetarian in 2008, Fielder has found that power he had when he knocked 50 homers as a 23-year old. Since June of 2008, Fielder has hit 7.2 home runs per month, which is a 43 per season rate. There is no question that Fielder is by far the superior power hitter (better in 2B, HR, RBI, SLG, OPS), and at just 25 years of age he is becoming a better overall hitter, which is a scary thought. His 15.7 percent (9.1% MLB average) walk rate shows that he is walking more and he is swinging at less pitches, which is evident by his O-Swing percentage of 25.8 percent (down from 27.9% in 2008). Look out world, because if he learns how to hit for average he will eliminate the only “weakness” in his game (other than speed).
There is no doubt that Fielder is the better power hitter. He has twice shown he can hit 40+ and flirt with 50, and only Ryan Howard can really compete with that. To be honest though, this case boils down to one stat: RBI. There are a few things we can count for certain here. Cabrera will hit 35 HR, and Fielder could hit 45. Cabrera will bat .320, and Fielder could bat near .300. Their runs and SB are about the same, so if Fielder really is going to be the better choice, he’ll have to out-RBI Cabrera. Even though he had 141 last season, is it really set in stone that he can reproduce that? When he hit 50 HR and batted .288 back in 2007, he only had 119 RBI. Going by year, these are the percent of his team’s runs that he has driven in:
2007: Fielder – 119, Milwaukee, 801 (14.9%)
2008: Fielder – 102, Milwaukee, 750 (13.6%)
2009: Fielder – 140, Milwaukee, 785 (17.8%)
That jump, while it seems minor, is huge. Compared to his 50 HR season where his average was still .288, Fielder drove in 21 more runs despite his team scoring 16 fewer runs. Ryan Braun, on the other hand, has been much more stable, accounting for 14.1 percent of Milwaukee’s runs in ’08 and 14.5 percent in ’09. Ryan Howard, Fielder’s best slugging comparison, has driven in over 140 runs in three of the last four years, boasting a 16.9 percent rate over that time span, and he has never topped 17.8 percent… ever. If Fielder did continue at Howard’s pace, that would be 130 RBI a season, but that’s a big “if.”
Cabrera had RBI totals in Florida just shy of 120 every season and then had 127 in his first year in Detroit. Had he not struggled in June and July to the tune of 20 RBI combined, he would have equaled that total again. For Fielder to be the better choice he’s going to have to be the absolute best RBI guy in the game (as compared to his RBI as a percent of his team’s total runs scored), bar none. Cabrera has a lot fewer questions surrounding his RBI production. He’s the guy you want.
First, I would like to respectfully disagree that Fielder has to be the best in majors to be a better value than Cabrera, but I will agree that the argument comes down to RBIs. However, let’s not be so quick to call Cabrera the hands down winner just yet. It’s true that he has been more consistent in his career, but that’s for one reason–he has played more seasons. Give Fielder three more seasons at around 115-120 RBI and we are having a different discussion.
To get a better feel for this discussion I took a look at their production from 2007-2009. It turns out that since Fielder’s 2006 rookie campaign, he has been the better RBI hitter with 362 RBI compared to 349 RBI. It’s not huge, but it’s a difference. Some of you might think that Fielder has benefited from an absurd 2009 where he posted a league-leading 141 RBI so I did a little experiment where I took out the outliers from the two players’ month-to-month totals and here is what I found out:
|Player||Lowest Total||2nd Lowest||Highest Total||2nd Highest||Remaining RBI||Monthly Avg.||162 Game Avg.|
After removing the “outliers” from both of these player’s stats, we see that Fielder has been slightly better at knocking in runs and hasn’t been helped by absurdly good months. In fact, Fielder’s lack of RBI production stems from his teammates not being on base when he hits home runs.
Out of his 160 career home runs, 90 (56.3%) have been solo, which is much higher than RBI-machine Ryan Howard who only hits solo home runs at a 45.9 percent rate (102-of-222). With the departure of Granderson, the Tigers will have a top of the order that consists of Ryan Raburn, Clete Thomas, and Magglio Ordonez, which should scare Cabrera owners as he already hits solo home runs at a 53.6 percent rate. He could be in line for a lot more, while the Brewers have guys like Casey McGehee, Corey Hart, and Ryan Braun hitting in front of Fielder. I think it’s very possible that Fielder will match and probably out-produce Cabrera in RBI in 2010.
Curtis Granderson’s departure should actually give Cabrera more RBI opportunities. Last season Granderson had an OBP of only .327 and hit 30 HR, both of which had a negative effect on Cabrera’s RBI opportunities (since Cabrera can’t drive Granderson in if Granderson has already driven himself in). Even the departure of Placido Polanco and his .331 OBP last season, due to absurdly low walk totals (only 36 in 675 PA), can be seen as a positive. Who’s likely to replace them? How about early AL Rookie of the Year favorites, Scott Sizemore (.383 OBP in the minors, .378 at AAA last season) and Austin Jackson (.356 OBP in the minors, .354 at AAA last season). And both guys are known for their 20+ SB potential.
So when you consider everything, it comes down to one real factor: risk. Fielder has already had the 140+ RBI season and Cabrera hasn’t, but consistency is Cabrera’s specialty. With my first round pick I want someone who I can count on, someone who I know exactly what I’m going to get from so I can piece together the rest of my team. You know Cabrera is going to give you around .320-35-120. Fielder? With such varying HR and RBI totals so far in his career, your guess is as good as mine.
For the past three seasons, Fielder and Cabrera have been pretty much on the same page, but the biggest advantages Cabrera had over Fielder were his third base eligibility and batting average. With Fielder’s batting average trending upwards, that gap is slowly narrowing and Cabrera is now exclusively a first baseman, which means what used to be great power for his position is now only average. If you truly believe that Fielder is becoming a better overall hitter, which I think he is, you will draft him ahead of Cabrera because you know that Fielder contributes the most in the power department.
And let’s be honest, when you’re drafting a first baseman, you are looking for pure power without a crippling batting average, and while Cabrera gives you an exceptional batting average at the position, his power is average at first base. Fielder has the opportunity to hit 50 home runs and bat over .290, which is a very rare combination in baseball these days. You can draft batting average at other positions, but nowhere else can you get power like Fielder brings to the table. Also, let’s not forget the fact that Fielder is playing for his first big contract of what should be a long, memorable career.
The decision is up to you. Are you ruling in favor of the Plaintiff, Mr. Cabrera, or the Defendant, Mr. Fielder. Let us know in the comments section!