On Wednesday, word trickled out that Prince Fielder was sent home by the Rangers to take part in a sleep study. Apparently, Fielder has joined the dubious list of players who have had sleeping issues while in Surprise in recent years.
While Yu Darvish was normally limited to a stiff neck, Fielder is suffering from severe sleep apnea. The Rangers will have him back in the lineup for Friday's game -- he now sports a breathing mask while he sleeps and is back with the team -- but it hasn't served to limit a certain uneasiness that fans feel after Fielder required neck surgery less than two seasons ago after hearing a "no big deal" prognosis.
Now entering his age-32 season, Fielder is coming off of a 2015 season in which he earned Comeback Player of the Year honors in the American League. He's now almost exclusively a DH -- he only logged 18 games at 1B in 2015 -- and Mitch Moreland figures to get the bulk of the work at 1B after starting 110 games there in 2015.
One of the dirty little secrets for the Rangers in last season's success story was that -- as unpopular as this may be with some -- Prince Fielder really wasn't all that valuable to Texas.
Now, while you pick up your jaw off of the floor, allow me to explain. Fielder's .305/.378/.463 triple-slash line looks good enough by itself. Even his wRC+ of 124 would seem to be solid. That's all on the surface, and we can see the aggregate results and our immediate reaction is to tick the check box and move along.
The biggest problem with this is that most of Fielder's offensive success in 2015 came during the first half of the season while Texas was slogging along at a .477 winning clip. He put up a wRC+ of 145 during that time with 33 extra-base hits (14 home runs). During the second half of the season, while Texas put up a .622 winning percentage to chase down the Astros for the AL West crown, Fielder put up a wRC+ of 98 with 18 extra-base hits (9 home runs).
Sure, you could make the argument that Fielder was a reason that the Rangers weren't worse in the first half of the season. His win probability added (WPA) of 1.41 would seem to back that up. However, a WPA of -0.47 in the second half would also seem to suggest that he tailed off, and whatever the reasoning, he actually hurt the Rangers at times in putting together a full-season WPA of 0.95.
Mitch Moreland, on the other hand, put up a first-half WPA close to Fielder's with a 1.02, and closed strong with a second-half WPA of 2.45 for a full-season figure of 3.47. That is, Mitch Moreland, through all of his contributions on the field, more fully contributed to the success of the Rangers in 2015 than did Prince Fielder. And at a fraction of the cost -- a salary of $2.95 million versus $24 million.
To be clear, WPA provides no predictive value and is only useful in looking back at past performance. It's merely one method of looking at that player's contributions to his team's win expectancy throughout the season.
At the heart of the issue is power. Prince Fielder, as a DH, is expected to provide middle-of-the-lineup power. 24 home runs doesn't seem so bad, but his isolated power (ISO) -- which measures a player's raw power and how often he hits for extra bases -- of .158 was the lowest of his career, if you exclude his injury-plagued 2014 season.
If we break that down even more simply: while he may have posted a BA of .305, 136 of his 187 hits were singles. The hits were the most in his career, the 72.73% singles rate was easily the highest of his career; even higher than his injury-shortened 2014 figure.
I suppose that, with teams using defensive shifts more often, it's not altogether surprising to see more singles and less extra-base hits. You just don't want to see it change so drastically. Not when you're also seeing a ground ball percentage of 46.2%, only lower than what he put up in 42 games in 2014.
If we're talking about hitting with men on base -- another non-repeatable skill -- Fielder grounded into 21 double plays, another career high. Walks? Another steep decline since his days as a premier offensive threat.
As I mentioned yesterday, there's going to come a time when the Rangers need to give some of the DH at-bats to other guys. Adrian Beltre for one. Josh Hamilton. Maybe even Joey Gallo. However, for now, Prince Fielder is strictly a DH-only player. He provides zero defensive value, and on the occasions that he does play a game at 1B, he's often a liability.
We can't mention all of this without taking a look at projections. Dan Szymborski's ZiPS projections have Fielder at a WAR of 1.4 in 2016; exactly the same, maybe a little worse than his 2015 season. Meanwhile, over at Baseball Prospectus, PECOTA projections have Fielder coming in with a WARP (Baseball Prospectus has their own WAR calculation) of 2.9, slightly better than his 2015 WARP of 2.3. So if you're inclined to lean more toward PECOTA, then there's room to believe that there might be a little something extra from Prince in 2016.
Perhaps there is some hope that not only can Fielder replicate his 2015 season, but he can build on it, but on the wrong side of 30, I'm not liking the odds. Not only do we have a downward trend dating back to at least 2013, but we have most of a 2014 season missed due to injury.
If you were to ask me to simplify this all into one statement, it would be this: Prince Fielder is a vastly different hitter than he was earlier in his career, and even than his last season in Detroit (2013). The underlying numbers play that out. With a contract that runs through 2020, there's just not a very good chance that things will get much (if any) better before they start to get worse.
And that's the real problem with banking on Prince Fielder: By the time this thing runs its course, it could be more than Prince losing sleep in Texas.