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The Scarlet & Black

The Scarlet & Black

Fielder vs. Pujols: Who will add more to their new team?

I cannot remember ever being as excited for a baseball season as I am about this upcoming one. Not only are my Washington Nationals poised to make some noise in the reloaded NL East, but there are several other intriguing storylines that I am eager to see play out on the diamond. The most interesting one, of course, is the relocation of two of the most feared hitters in the game: Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. Both men decided to test the free-agent market this offseason and they were rewarded handsomely. Fielder signed with the Detroit Tigers to the tune of $214 million over nine years, and Pujols will lend his services to the Los Angeles Angels for the mind-boggling sum of $240 million over ten years (and that doesn’t even include $40 million worth of bonus money that Pujols could earn if he produces).

The impact of these signings is massive; both teams instantly become championship contenders and completely change the landscape of their respective divisions. The Tigers now look to be the hands-on favorite to win the AL Central, a division that seemed to be very much “up-for-grabs” before the Fielder signing. The Angels, on the other hand, reside in the wild, wild AL West, home to the two-time defending American League Champion Texas Rangers. The Rangers look primed to continue hitting balls over fences and while they lost star-pitcher C.J. Wilson to the Angels, they paid through their nose to obtain Yu Darvish, widely thought to be one of the best pitchers on the free-agent market. Still, though, the Angels have one of the stronger teams in the majors, and several of the projections I looked at give them the slight edge over Texas. The question I want to address is:  “Which superstar slugger makes their new team better?”

In order to answer this question, we must first look at each team’s projected lineup for the 2012 season. The Tigers’ lineup packed a lot of pop before the Prince Fielder signing, but now it looks downright explosive. Even Tigers’ pitcher and 2011 AL Cy Young Winner Justin Verlander was quoted as saying that he would not want to face the lineup the Tigers will bring to the plate in 2012. Their leadoff hitter is Austin Jackson, not a particularly intimidating out and probably the most precarious part of Detroit’s lineup. Jackson simply does not get on base enough and strikes out way too much to be a solid leadoff guy. After him, though, it’s a veritable murderers row; Brendan Boesch, Miguel Cabrera, Fielder, Alex Avila, Delmon Young, Jhonny Peralta, Ryan Raburn, and Ramon Santiago. What stands out, obviously, is Cabrera and Fielder in the three- and four-spots respectively. In 2011, those two combined for 68 homers, 225 RBI, and an on-base percentage plus slugging percentage of over two (if you don’t know what that is, just trust me: that’s nuts). However, the Tigers have great power distributed throughout their lineup. It is not out of the realm of possibility that seven hitters will hit 15+ home runs and drive-in 60+ runs, and Boesch, Cabrera, Fielder, and Avila all have a good shot of slugging over .450. In the field, Prince is not as apt as his surname would suggest. Fielder does not play a particularly demanding fielding position, first base, but he still recorded the lowest fielding percentage of all first basemen in 2011 (.990).

The Angels’ lineup possesses some power of its own, particularly in the three-, four-, and five-spots. Erick Aybar will lead things off for L.A., a decent bat (though he could stand to get on base more) and an even better glove at shortstop. After Aybar comes 37-year old Bobby Abreu, who is well past his prime, but could still very possible drive in 50+ runs. Abreu could have a breakout year batting in front of Pujols, and the same can be said about the guy batting behind Albert, Torii Hunter. Pujols should get on base roughly 40% of the time, which should create a lot of RBI opportunities for the ageless Hunter. Torii could very realistically hit 20+ home runs and drive-in 80+ runs this season. After Hunter bats, Howie Kendrick, a rising star at second base, and a guy who hit 18 home runs, drove in 63 runs, and registered an OPS above .800 – numbers he is likely to at least replicate, if not surpass, hitting behind Pujols and Hunter. After Kendrick, though, there is somewhat of a significant drop-off in the Angels’ lineup. Alberto Callaspo, Vernon Wells, Chris Iannetta, and Peter Bourjos bat in the sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-spot, respectively. Vernon Wells was once thought to be one of the most promising young sluggers in the game, and while he can still hit for power, he hit a measly .217 last year and registered an OPS of .660, absolutely pathetic for a guy who is supposed to be one of the better hitters on the team. I can’t foresee Vernon having as poor of a season as he did in 2011, but I also can’t see Vernon tearing it up and driving in 90 runs. Wells will probably hit about 20 dingers, drive-in 60 runs, and maybe register an OPS close to .730 or so. Unlike Prince Fielder, Albert Pujols is one of the slickest fielding first basemen in the biz. His two gold gloves, the most recent coming in 2010, should be a real boon to the Angels’ infield.

So which first baseman will make more of an impact on his new team? All signs point to Pujols, and rightfully so. He is perhaps the best player in the league. The Tigers were going to score a lot of runs even before Prince joined the team, and while the presence of one of the five best left-handed hitters in baseball (Prince) in the lineup to protect one of the five best right-handed hitters (Miggy Cabrera) in baseball should prove to be devastating for opposing pitchers, the Tigers still have the pitching and ability to hit for power, even without Prince, to win the AL Central. While it would be a stretch to say that the Angels would be offensively challenged without Pujols, they certainly don’t share the Tigers’ luxury of another elite slugger in the lineup. The extra runs that Pujols will manufacture mean even more because of how good the Angels’ starting pitchers are – those runs will stand up! Pujols also brings a dependable glove to first base, unlike Prince, but most importantly of all, Albert brings the leadership and ability to perform under pressure that has allowed him to win two World Series rings with the St. Louis Cardinals.

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