The Tigers’ surprising signing of Prince Fielder has certainly sent shockwaves throughout baseball. It obviously makes Detroit that much more formidable in the AL Central, and there are myriad fantasy implications not just for Fielder, but for many members on the Tigers roster.
As far as Prince goes, he’ll certainly miss Miller Park. The rotund first baseman has an OPS of .965 there during his career (.896 on the road), and Miller Park is surpassed only by Coors Field among National League stadiums in terms of being hitter-friendly over the last three seasons (according to Baseball-Reference’s three-year park factors for batters). Twenty-four of his 38 bombs this past season were hit at home.
Comerica Park has been rather hitter-friendly in recent seasons, but that’s mostly been the result of moving the left-field fence in. Just eleven of Prince’s homers went to left field in 2011, so he won’t see a whole lot of the benefits from the shorter left field porch. Fielder will also have to figure out a new group of pitchers, which can sometimes require an adjustment period.
The bottom line is that Fielder is going to be an elite power hitter no matter where he’s playing. It might be wise to knock down expectations for him just a hair, though.
As far as the rest of Prince’s new teammates go, Miguel Cabrera’s fantasy value experiences an uptick. Cabrera will see more RBI chances if Fielder hits in front of him in the batting order, and if Fielder hits behind him, he should score more runs and also potentially see more pitches to hit. It also appears that Miggy will be adding third-base eligibility, which makes him even more valuable, especially since the third base position has been down in recent years.
Cabrera was already probably a top-five fantasy selection. You can make a case now that he should be bumped up to No. 1.
Also receiving a bump up in production due to a likely increase in run totals will be the Tigers’ No. 1 and No. 2 hitters, which will likely be Austin Jackson and Brennan Boesch. Jackson in particular could be in line for a bounce-back season if the recent changes in his approach at the plate lead to better results.
Obviously Brandon Inge and Don Kelly, who had been slated to platoon at third base, see their already-limited fantasy values take a nosedive. But while they were already hardly a blip on the fantasy radar screen, some members of the Tigers rotation are more prominent, and they’re not going to enjoy the huge defensive downgrade at third base.
Justin Verlander is predominantly a flyball pitcher whose career GB/FB mark sits at 0.99 (according to Fangraphs). While he, like all of the Detroit staff, will probably see a few more hits get through the left side due to the downgrade from Inge to Cabrera, it’s not going to be nearly enough to knock him from his standing as an elite fantasy hurler. Max Scherzer has a career 1.05 GB/FB mark, so we shouldn’t see a big difference in his value, either.
Guys whose fantasy value does take a noticeable hit are Rick Porcello and Doug Fister. Not only are they both more pitch-to-contact hurlers, but much of the contact results in groundballs. Porcello’s 1.73 GB/FB ratio in 2011 ranked 16th among 94 starters that qualified for the ERA title, while Fister’s 1.48 mark ranked 31st. The former’s AL-only value takes a hit, while the latter probably can no longer be considered as a possible top-50 mixed league fantasy pitcher.