Diamond Duels: Prince Fielder vs. Ryan Howard
by Nicholas Minnix and Ryan Dodson
on March 16, 2011 @ 03:39:48
Fielder's fantasy baseball player profile
- Ryan Howard has been a more consistent round-tripper manufacturer, save last season, when he missed about 15 games. However, the Philadelphia Phillies' big bopper has declining tendencies, statistically, in power production. His slugging percentage and rate of dingers per fly ball have fallen in each of the past four seasons, perhaps negligibly - until 2010 (.505 and 17.7, respectively). Even if you subtract August, when residual weakness from an injury still clearly impacted Howard after his activation from the DL, he slugged .529, a career low.
Fielder's slugging rate (.471) took a nosedive last season, so stop the press, right? He isn't exactly experiencing a power outage. He hit a few more "no doubt about it" homers than Howard did last season. Entering a prime-age movement, Cecil's boy is an excellent candidate to "rebound" in the power index figures, as he did in 2007 and 2009. He's not toast; he's just inconsistent, which creates market uncertainty.
Kingly rebound for Prince
- Howard has historically posted high averages on balls in play and is improving his strikeout and contact rates, if ever so slightly. These marks are still far from ideal. While he works on BA improvement, his walk percentage has been on the downswing in each of the last three years. In 2010, it dipped below 10 percent for the first time since his ROY season, 2005. The sum effect of his BA increase and base-on-balls percentage is an OBP decline - from .425 in 2006 to .353 last season. And how many jacks is he sacrificing? You buy Howard for bombs and RBIs, not the BA help.
- Southpaw splits? While Fielder's 2010 yield versus left-handers might trouble you, below the surface, he was stable and may be destined for an upgrade. He continued positive trends by upping his walk and liner percentages (crossing the 20 percent plateau in the latter for the first time). He's a .253 hitter, lifetime. Howard, despite his fortune last season, is a .232 career hitter. His walk percentage keeps falling. The numbers suggest that his BA improvement versus lefties is likelier to be irregular than reliable.
- Howard has been a top-notch slugger in the bigs for just six seasons, but he's 31 years old. While the average observer neglects to give him credit for his substantial upgrade in physical fitness and his improved defense, he's still on the wrong side of 30 and for most of his life has played in less than peak form. Twice in the past four seasons, injuries have robbed him of PT. Last season, an ankle sprain deprived him of time and, after he returned, explosiveness. The effects of playing with his body type are catching up with him, but they haven't begun to do so yet for Fielder, 26, who has played in 157-plus games in each of the past five years.
- In his career, Fielder (.279 BA, .547 SLG at home; .280 BA, .523 SLG on the road) hasn't been a Miller Park product anymore than Howard is a CBP product. These offenses weren't too far apart (22 runs), either. The Brew Crew's lineup is on the upswing, with a Ryan Braun also expected to bounce back and dangerous hitters throughout. How important was Jayson Werth, especially behind Howard? Although Philly's offense remains formidable, its question marks (Chase Utley? Jimmy Rollins?) are well-documented.
Closing argument: This argument is as much about what Howard may not be as what Fielder is. You'll probably be pleased with either player. However, Fielder's inconsistency makes him overpriced coming off outstanding campaigns - and an attractive buy after down years.
The environmental differences are trifling, but Philadelphia's possible holes raise concern. Howard is more at risk of being a burden in the BA category; he's not only more susceptible to exploitation, he's also in a lineup that may expose him to more of it. The Phils' occasionally banged-up first baseman is several years older, but Fielder has displayed more maturity at the plate. And if you need a tiebreaker, Fielder is in what amounts to a contract year.
Howard's fantasy baseball player profile
- Howard regressed a bit in 2010 after his elite first four full seasons in the big leagues. He averaged 49.5 homers and 143 RBIs from 2006-2009, but he hit just 31 homers and drove in 103 runs in 550 at-bats last season. This can likely be attributed to a sprained ankle he suffered Aug. 1 that forced him to the disabled list and caused him to struggle upon returning. Howard went 5-for-40 (.125) in the month of August and hit one homer, drove in four runs and struck out 17 times. Take away that month, and Howard would have hit .288 on the season. He was hitting .294 with 17 homers and 65 RBIs at the All-Star break, not long before his injury, so the numbers prove the injury and lost time contributed to his lengthy slump.
Howard is about as close to what we consider "money in the bank" as they come. He hit .288 and .313 in his first two seasons with at least 300 at-bats in the majors. His average dipped to .268 and .251 as pitchers made adjustments to him in 2007 and 2008. He has returned to respectability with .279 and .276 averages the previous two seasons. This kept him from being labeled as a player like Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam Dunn that will kill you in batting average in rotisserie leagues. Howard has a very hitter-friendly home ballpark, but he does just as much damage on the road. He hit .287-15-58 at home last season and .266-16-50 on the road.
Howard will still bop
- Wanna try the left-handed pitching argument? Howard hit .264-12-39 against lefties last year and .283-19-69 against right-handers. That's pretty respectable for someone that hit .207 against southpaws in 2009. Prince Fielder hit just .226-5-19 against lefties last year and .280-27-64 against right-handers. Fielder whiffed 58 times in 199 at-bats against the rarer handedness. The book is out on him.
- Sure, Fielder is in a contract year. So was New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter, who had one of his worst campaigns in his career last season. Baseball players, especially ones that play at a high level, are proud men. They don't need extra motivation of a payday to perform. Fielder simply isn't consistent enough to place in Howard's class. Fielder has hit 28, 50, 34, 46 and 32 homers the last five seasons. Howard has hit 58, 47, 48, 45 and 31 the last five years. Fielder's average has been shaky, too. He has hit .271, .288, .276. .299 and .261 in those seasons.
- There is a good chance that Fielder gets traded this season. Milwaukee has little chance of fitting him into their payroll after 2011. They figure to be a good team, but what happens if they falter? Starter Zack Greinke (rib cage) and outfielder Ryan Braun (oblique) have already suffered injuries in camp. Fielder could be traded to the American League, where he'll face pitchers he doesn't normally see, and your high draft pick could really come back to haunt you. Ask owners that drafted Matt Holliday two seasons ago, when he was with the Oakland Athletics, if you don't believe this could be a big concern.
- Howard strikes out often, and that can hurt you in leagues that count that as a category. Fielder matched his career high in whiffs last season with 138 as well. Howard is making an adjustment this season. He plans on standing closer to the plate, as it helps him cover the outside part of the plate. Sometimes Howard backs off the plate when he starts getting jammed. Covering the outside part of the plate better could help him improve his average and cut down on strikeouts.
Closing argument: Fielder and Howard have similar draft-day value, but it's clear that Howard is the safer option. Fielder is a hot topic this draft season because he's entering his 27-year-old season and is a free agent after the season. However, let the competition take the chance those two factors enable a bigger season than Howard.
Lastly, but importantly, Fielder was tied for second in the majors by being plunked 21 times last season. His big body hangs out over the plate, and he's susceptible to being hit. He tried to break into the Dodgers' clubhouse after reliever Guillermo Mota hit him a couple years ago and has already chased after an opposing pitcher in a spring game this offseason. Do you want to take the chance that he gets handed a seven-plus game suspension - or, worse, one of those bean balls breaks his hand?
KFFL staff verdict
Fantasy Baseball Diamond Duels
About Nicholas Minnix
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.
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