The DH Advantage: Prince Fielder
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
by David Wilson | Guest Writer |
There’s no denying Prince Fielder can hit. He posted a .981 OPS and batted a career high .299 last year. There’s also no denying that Prince Fielder can’t really field. Last season he had a -0.7 defensive WAR and -5.1 UZR.
The obvious reason to believe the Nationals passed up on one of the best hitters in the game is the presence of Adam LaRoche. Laroche is entering a contract season, as is Michael Morse, who is coming off a breakout season. Where would Fielder play if Washington trusts LaRoche?
In a way this leads right into my point; the National League’s lack of the designated hitter cost the Nats one of the game’s best power hitters.
The simple way to look at this is that the Nationals just don’t have enough positions to play everyone they want to, in addition to Prince. Signing the first baseman to a long-term deal would have numbered Morse’s days in Washington, or forced either Jayson Werth or Bryce Harper to move to centerfield. With Prince potentially playing first base in this situation, and an outfield consisting of Morse, Werth, and Harper, the Nats would have had one of the worst defensive lineups in baseball. Still, the Nationals were reportedly willing to offer up to seven years. That was a hard cut-off.
Fielder made it clear during his courting that he did not want to DH, that’s why Miguel Cabrera is moving to third base. However, it seems inevitable that he will have to move out of the field eventually. The prototype of the power hitter who can’t field nowadays is without a doubt David Ortiz, but Frank Thomas did it too, as did Vladimir Guerrero, although he was once an outfielder. They all became strictly DHs towards the end of their careers.
For this example we’ll use Ortiz as the comparison to Fielder, as he is the most contemporary. At 27 years old, Prince would have been locked to Washington until he was 34 with a seven-year deal. Big Papi hasn’t played more than seven regular season games at first since 2006, when he was 30.
This may be a bit of an extreme example as Ortiz is an especially poor fielder, but it’s not unrealistic to think that by the time Fielder is, let’s say, 32 he is essentially unable to play defense. Even then, Washington would have been stuck with one of, if not the, worst defensive players in baseball for two years. Two years they could have dealt with, but three or four? Maybe a bit of a stretch.
Pretty much since the advent of the designated hitter, the AL has been superior to the NL. For a long time the excuse of the DH has been that it allows the American League to bring in guys like Ortiz that simply can’t play defense every day, or that it allows great hitters like Thomas to extend their careers. However, rarely is it thought that AL teams can afford to offer these longer-term deals.
It’s not to say that if the NL had a DH then Fielder would be wearing a hat with a curly W, but Ted Lerner and Nationals’ management would have certainly had a different thought process. In this case, the DH not only continued to tilt the balance of power in favor of the AL, but also may have kept the balance of power in the NL away from one of the league’s rising clubs for another year.