Wednesday, January 25, 2012

How many Wins Will Prince Fielder Add?

There have been a lot of emotional reactions around the internet to yesterday's shocking Prince Fielder signing.  Detroit fans, for the most part, are in love with the acquisition and do not seem to see any possible downside to the deal  On the other hand, many national fans and analysts are suggesting that the Tigers have made a mistake.  Most of their critique touches upon either the length of the deal or the move of Miguel Cabrera to third base or both.   Some of the opposing viewpoints have been listed at Bless You Boys.

So, who is right - the euphoric fans or the critical analysts?  If you have read my blog before, you probably guessed what I think - that the truth is in between the two extremes.  First, I am less concerned about contracts than most analysts.  Whether a contract is good or bad depends on so many different variables that you can't really answer the question with a formula.

In this case, some critics might not be understanding how Tigers owner Mike Illitch probably views the deal.  Illitch is 82 years old and wants to win a World Series badly and he wants it now.  I think this signing is a win now move more than a carefully calculated long-term deal.  I don't believe Illitch is concerned about what happens nine years from now or seven or even five.  For all we know, they might be under new ownership by 2016 and staging a gigantic fire sale. 

So, I think evaluation of the deal has to be made based on the early years of the contract.  In fact, there is so much uncertainty about whether Cabrera can handle the move to third and what happens next year when Victor Martinez returns, I am just going to look at 2012 for now.  What follows is my obligatory WAR analysis.

Last week, I tried to answer the question of how many games the Tigers would lose if Martinez was replaced by one of the lower priced free agents such as Johnny Damon.  I estimated that it was about two games.

This week's question is: How many wins do the Tigers gain in 2012 by adding Prince Fielder to replace Victor Martinez? This is not a simple matter of subtracting Martinez's expected WAR from Fielder's expected WAR.  There are moving parts which need to be considered - most notably Cabrera's shift to third.

What we need to do is compare the WAR totals of the old alignment (Cabrera at first,  Brandon Inge/ Don Kelly at third, Martinez at DH,) to the new set up (Fielder at first, Cabrera at third, some DH combo).  WAR Projections for the first group are as follows:

1B. Cabrera 7.0
3B. Inge/Kelly 0.5 (barely above replacement)
DH. Martinez 3.0
Total 10.5

Now, the second trio:

1B. Fielder 5.5
3B. Cabrera 6.5 (assuming about 20 runs below average defensively)
DH. Andy Dirks/ Ryan Raburn/ Don Kelly/ etc 1.5
Total 13.5

So, the Tigers gain three wins (13.5-10.5) by adding Fielder over Martinez.  Really? Just three wins? Yes, because Martinez is quite productive.  Also remember that three wins is actually a lot for team with playoff aspirations.

Fielder's three wins over Martinez and five to six wins over replacement does remind us though that one player generally does not make the huge difference that is traditionally believed.  Fielder is a tremendous acquisition, but he can only do so much.  A lot of things need to keep going right to assure another division title and hopefully a better post-season result - the pitching in particular.  But that's a topic for another post. 

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