There's no question Prince Fielder hasn't played up to expectations this season. He's dropped off in just about every major hitting category and the patience of fans is running thin.
Believe it or not, Prince Fielder has not been bad this season. He might not lead the league in home runs. He might not lead the league in batting average. However, he has still been a very good hitter thus far.
I think the main reason so much disappointment has been placed on Fielder this season is his 'conventional' stat line. When fans go to the ballpark, they see this line for Fielder.
13 Home Runs
Those don't look like very good numbers for a cleanup hitter. One look behind the basics and it's easy to see Fielder has still been a very productive hitter.
A player really can't control his RBI count. There are just too many factors to consider. If the players in front of you don't get on base, it's tough to drive them in (see: Gomez, Carlos and his 25 starts batting second). If the players behind you don't hit, you're an easy target to pitch around. It's tough to criticize Fielder for something that he can't entirely control.
Although Fielder isn't leading the lead in homers, he still has left the park 13 times. Is it his fault that 11 of those home runs are solo shots? No. Despite popular belief, a player can't choose when to hit home runs. Anyone suggesting Fielder's inability to be 'clutch' this season, take one look at 2009.
Last season, Fielder hit 46 home runs. Almost half of those (22) were solo blasts. Fielder still had no problem driving in runs last season. He drove in 141 runs in 2009.
Fans really need to stop looking at RBI's as a huge indicator of personal success. Troy Glaus has been really good this year. He currently leads the NL in runs batted in. Here is a look at Glaus' 'conventional stats.'
Does hitting 20 points higher with one more home runs really mean a difference of 28 RBI's between him and Fielder? Glaus hits cleanup for the Braves. Hitting in front of Glaus are Martin Prado (.380 OBP), Jason Heyward (.383 OBP) and Chipper Jones (.391 OBP). If you put those number in front of Fielder, something tell me he would have more than 27 RBI's.
It's not the fault of fans for thinking this way. I grew up with the same ways to evaluate a player. There are just better ways to look at how a player is performing now.
Ok, now that I'm done ranting, let's look at Fielder this year.
Despite hitting just .260, Fielder is tied for second in the majors in walks with 48. That has lead to a .397 on base percentage, which is pretty incredible considering the relatively low batting average. Sure that is down from a .412 OBP last season, but it's pretty tough to penalize Fielder for reaching base at a near .400 clip.
The biggest concern for Fielder is from his .453 slugging percentage. Of Fielder's 66 hits this season, 23 have gone for extra bases (34.8%). That's pretty good for a major league player, but more is expected out of Prince. In 2009, Fielder had 84 extra base hits (177 hits total), meaning 47.4% of his hits went for extras.
So why is this happening?
One main reason looks like an increase in groundballs. Last season, Fielder's groundball:flyball ratio was 0.94. This season, Fielder's ratio has climbed to 1.06.
When Fielder is elevating the ball, it isn't with the same amount of force. Of Fielder's 78 fly balls he has hit, 13 have left the park. That means Fielder hits a home run 16.7% of the time when he elevates the ball this year. That's down from 23.1% from last year (46 HRs, 199 Fly balls) and his career rate of 20.1%. One reason for that could be an increase in infield popups. Fielder has seen his infield flyball percentage raise to 11.5%; up from 5.5% last season.
Sure Fielder isn't repeating his incredible 2009 thus far, but how can that be expected. I've never seen such criticism of a player who is still producing at a very high level. I fully expect Fielder to increase his power numbers and finish strong this season. Seeing as a trade is likely in Fielder's future, it's important for the Brewers he picks up his production.