Final Thoughts On Fielder/Kinsler

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Shortly after the release of my compelling and enlightening piece in regards to Miami Marlins outfielder Giancarlo Stanton was released last week here at SDI, the seemingly incredulous trade between the Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers which sent longtime second baseman Ian Kinsler to the Motor City, and the rotund slugger Prince Fielder to Arlington was announced. My initial reaction to the trade could best be described as flummoxed and for one of the few times in my life, lost for words. 
As I mentioned in the most recent episode of Diggin In’ with Peter and Bob, I felt the trade was out of character for a front office which is considered one of the more innovative and creative in baseball. Texas appeared to be chasing home runs and RBIs as they were acquiring a lumbering first baseman who turns 30 next year, and is one of baseball’s worst base runners and defensive players, while trading away an athletic player who manned the keystone adequately and was despite what many fans perceived, an excellent base runner.

After pondering and vacillating for the last few days whether I felt Jon Daniels and the front office should have pulled the trigger on this deal, I have come to the conclusion the deal can be considered zero sum. I do not think there is a so called “loser” in this trade as both teams should benefit from the exchange. I do like the deal more from the Tigers perspective as they will save close to $76 million dollars long-term, reserve some of the wear and tear on Miguel Cabrera’s body by moving him back to first base, and can move their top prospect Nick Castellanos back to his original position of third base. The Tigers could theoretically use some of the money they have saved to sign a left fielder such as Shin-Soo Choo or Curtis Granderson, and a relief ace such as former Rangers closer Joe Nathan. Extending 2013 Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer also becomes more of a realistic possibility for the Motor City Kitties.

Despite having the opinion the Tigers fared better in the trade, I felt the Rangers also improved their overall situation. If Fielder is able to yield the type of numbers he did prior to 2013, he will bolster the lineup in a way only one other slugger on the open market this year could have, and that particular slugger will be paid much more than Fielder will over the next seven seasons.

Since we are a Rangers centric domain, I thought I would discuss some potential positives and concerns I have in regards to this colossal trade. Again, I do not feel the Rangers lost this deal, but am still unsure if trading for Fielder was the right course of action. Confused yet? Good, so am I. Let’s proceed by starting with the negatives.

Concerns

Contract

After Detroit contributes $30 million dollars, Texas will be left with a seven year, $138 million dollar contract owed to a hefty 275 pound first baseman whose numbers declined in all offensive areas including AVG, OBP, SLG, and wRC+ in ’13. Fielder’s BB% decreased from 12.3% to 10.5% and K% increased from 12.2% to 16.4%. Plate discipline is a skill which is supposed to improve with age, but Fielder’s diminished slightly in 13.

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Fielder’s offensive struggles could be the result of a small sample size of failure, and off the field personal issues he suffered last season, but the numbers are still worthy of caution considering his weight and age. As the graph below signifies, players of Fielder’s ilk do not tend to age well. The following graph was obtained from Fangraphs, and is a couple of years old, but still significant in that Fielder did experience a down year in ’13 at age 29 much as the chart prognosticates. The y-axis displays how many runs below average the player becomes as he ages. After improving slightly at age 30, the chart displays an ominous trend for corpulent ball players.
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http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/how-will-prince-fielder-age/
Defense

The Rangers have stated Fielder will be their primary first baseman in 2014, but the team should be weary of Fielder’s defensive issues. While Fielder’s value is predicated on his offensive contributions, one would still hope he could at least be an average defender considering Fielder has played there throughout his career as a younger player, and not moved to first towards the end of his career similar to a lot of players who must move to first when they are no longer physically able to play their prior positions. Fielder is terrible in every defensive metric, but here is a daunting statistic I obtained from Fangraphs using the statistic Defensive Runs Saved. 

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To be fair to Sexson and Delgado, they did not play many innings at 1B during this time period. As one can tell, Prince Fielder is the worst defensive first baseman by 50 runs the last 11 seasons, and his first full season was not until 2006. While first base is an offensive first position, being such a defensive liability only increases the amount of value needed from Prince’s bat to be a productive player. There were a few affable moments in the ALCS displaying how atrocious his defense is.

Base running

One of the common complaints many fans would say about Ian Kinsler is he gets picked off too often, and costs his team too many outs on the bases. What many do not realize, or notice in regards to Kinsler’s base running ability is he would routinely take the extra base, score from first on a double, go from first to third on a single, or tag up on a sac fly. His aggressive nature would produce runs in ways some fans could not quite comprehend.

While Prince Fielder is picked off less frequently, he does none of what Ian can do on the bases. He is frankly one of the worst base runners in baseball. I have referred to the Fangraphs base running metric BsR in a few articles I have authored. Here is a list of the worst base runners in baseball since 2011.  

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Again, we see Fielder as being a liability doing something other than swinging the bat. Due to his body type, Prince will never be a base runner which is even close to average. If Fielder’s bat continues the downward trend in ’13 and not produce to 4-5 wins, his chances of being productive in Texas will be slim because his gloves and legs will cost the team two wins alone.

Second guessing

I do not want to give the reader the perception I was against trading Kinsler because I was not. The fact is the team had a log jam of middle infielders, and needed to move one of them. The Rangers did trade the oldest among the bunch, but a more prudent move could have been moving Kinsler and eating some of his remaining contract, while signing a more familiar first base option such as Mike Napoli. While Napoli would have cost the team a first round draft choice, he would have been much cheaper and actually provided the club with better defensive value as Napoli led the American League in DRS at 1B in ’13. There was also the option of hedging your bets on the more athletic player in Kinsler to be able to switch to another position to make room for Profar at 2B. While questioning the front office is easy coming from an armchair GM such as myself, one has to wonder if making such a high risk/high reward move was necessary.  

Positives

Contract

One might be confused as I previously listed Fielder’s contract as an area of concern, but allow me to explain myself. In the current free agent market where power is scarce, and a player such as Jhonny Peralta can score a four year deal for $52 million dollars, a seven year deal worth $138 million dollars for a potent slugger such as Fielder seems to be rather reasonable. If Fielder were currently in the market, one would expect Fielder to sign a deal very similar, especially with the lack of power on the market.

Fangraphs’ Dave Cameron wrote a piece today in which he discusses the value of a win in today’s market. http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/an-early-look-at-the-price-of-a-win-this-off-season/ The perceived value of a win in baseball is around $5 million dollars. Cameron described how instead of determining the value of a win using past contracts, he prefers to use the current contract, predict future value, and determine what the AAV (average annual value) of a win will be while the player is under contract. He performed some rather rigorous math and came to the conclusion a win on the free agent market is currently worth around $6 million dollars based on the Steamer projections, .5 win decline per year, and the AAV of the contracts.

Steamer projects Fielder to rebound from his disappointing ’13 season, and improve to 3.7 fWAR in ’14. If one decreases .5 WAR per year until his seven year deal concludes, and add up the total WAR, Fielder is projected to generate 15.4 fWAR during the remaining seven years of his contract. Meaning, each one of his wins will be worth approximately $9 million dollars. While this number is currently slightly over value, the market could be drastically different and make this number appear to be close to the going rate in two years. However, this is assuming Fielder improves and his ’13 season was an aberration. If he continues to decline, the contract will look much worse.

Profar

Trading Kinsler created room at second base for the top prospect in baseball heading into the ’13 season. Profar was used as more of a utility player in ’13, but he can now focus solely on one position. Trout, Harper, and Machado created unrealistic expectations for 20 year old players as all three had dazzling rookie seasons, while Profar’s age 20 season was mediocre at best as he yielded -0.4 fWAR during his time in Arlington. Profar turns 21 in February, and still has five years of club control.

The club has decreased the age of the starting second baseman by more than a decade, which could potentially benefit the club long term as second basemen do not quite age as well as the now famous prognosticator Nate Silver discovered in a piece he wrote for Baseball Prospectus back in 2005. One should notice the production from 21-25 year old second basemen and become rather giddy. Also, with Ian Kinsler turning 32 next June, one should look at the chart and feel relieved the Rangers traded their aging second baseman who was tepid about switching positions. Kinsler’s fWAR has declined the last three seasons from 7.3, to 3.0, to 2.5, and appears to give credence to Silver’s findings. 

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http://www.baseballprospectus.com/article.php?%20articleid=4464

Durability

While the aging curve for a player built like Fielder appears rather inauspicious, the portly first baseman has remained surprisingly durable during his time in the big leagues. Fielder has not missed a game since 2010, and has played more games than any player since 2006 with 1,283 games played.

During that same time period, Ian Kinsler has played 1,066 games. Fielder has played one and a quarter of a season more than Kinsler since their rookie years. When one takes into account their body type, and athleticism, the fact Fielder has played much more often is quite remarkable. Texas hopes Fielder can continue his impressive streak of sturdiness as one of the knocks against Kinsler was his proclivity to earn a trip to the disabled list.

Draft Pick/Prospects

Texas did not have to forfeit their first selection in the 2014 June First Year Player Draft, or trade any young cost-effective young talent to acquire a formidable slugger. Texas desperately needed to bolster a lineup starving for power as the team struggled to produce offensively at times last season. Rather than risk losing potential cost-effective young value by trading prospects or signing free agents and losing multiple draft picks, the club was able to acquire a robust bat and still hold on to their first pick and handful of high ceiling prospects already in the farm system. Texas could very well still forfeit their first pick if they choose to sign one of the players who declined qualifying offers, but had they needed to sign two, they would have lost their picks in round one and two. I mentioned earlier the club could have signed Napoli, but signing Napoli would cost the team their first pick as he declined a qualifying offer from Boston. The club continues to compete in the present, but still play for the future. As a fan, one really cannot ask for much more.

Conclusion

As previously mentioned, I am still unsure if trading for Fielder was the correct move. But, trading for Fielder was a gutsy move the front office felt was worth taking the risk as the reward could be massive if Fielder reverts to his old self. So, my criticism early on might have been a little unwarranted and irrational.

I thought I would conclude my piece by sharing some data I found while surfing Baseball Reference which might give some comfort to the Ranger fan. Here is the list of players who accumulated 285 or more home runs, slugged .500 or more, had an OBP over .385, and yielded an ISO over .240 during their age 21-29 seasons: Mickey Mantle, Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez, Jimmie Foxx, Eddie Mathews, Ken Griffey Jr., Frank Robinson, Miguel Cabrera, Ralph Kiner, and Prince Fielder. I would say that is pretty elite company.

Dustin Dietz is a Staff Writer for ShutDownInning. He can be reached at Dustin.Dietz@shutdowninning.com or on Twitter @DustinDietz18
Dustin Dietz
Dustin graduated from the University of North Texas with a degree in Radio/TV/Film, and a minor in history. He will often write about pitching mechanics and analytical baseball stuff. You will more than likely disagree with the majority of what he writes or says. In his spare time, Dustin time travels and plays at a replacement level in slow pitch softball leagues.

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