A.J. Pierzynski, repeating something I had heard earlier on ESPN Radio (Jonathan Coachman), who was probably quoting A.J. anyway, said that he wanted to bat in front of Prince Fielder because Fielder provided the best protection of any batter in history. In 2011, Fielder batted behind NL MVP Ryan Braun. This year, Fielder batted behind AL Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera.
That’s some compliment, huh?
In 2011, Ryan Braun hit .332 with 33 homers and 111 RBIs. Without Fielder, his triple crown stats were 41 – 112 – .319. I guess you might lose 13 points in batting average if Fielder left town… Granted, Braun had 15 intentional walks, as opposed to 2 the previous season. However, he struck out a lot more – 128 to 93 this past season, and his walk count actually dropped if you compare unintentional passes (61 – 48). If Fielder is no longer protecting Braun, why did pitchers seem to challenge him more?
Then you have the statistics of Cabrera. He may have won the triple crown, but if you compare the two seasons, the big difference was in walks – he walked 108 times before Fielder, but only 66 times in 2012 with Fielder providing protection. And, while he hit more homers (in part because he hit more fly balls than in 2011), Cabrera’s batting average fell from .344 to .330, and his OBP and OPS fell off a lot.
By the way, Cabrera has had plenty of great seasons as a hitter. In Florida, with nobody NEAR as good as Cabrera in the lineup, he once hit .339 smacking 50 doubles and having a higher OBP and a near match in OPS.
Fielder is just another really good bat in the lineup. He extends the power core of a team. But Ryan Braun is a great hitter, no matter where he plays and who bats around him. And Miguel Cabrera is going to the Hall of Fame as a hitter, no matter who bats behind him.