Fielder reached 50 home runs last season at the cherubic age of 23, besting names like Mantle, Foxx, Kiner and Mays, who were all 24 when they reached 50 home runs.
And, therein lies Fielder's inherent advantage over Howard – age, or in a better word, upside.
Five years Howard's junior, Fielder's ceiling hasn't been spelled out. Not only is he already on Howard's power level, but his contract rate at all professional levels suggest that Fielder should consistently hit for a higher average than Howard.
And, while time won't be kind to Fielder given his weight, nor will it be kind to a barge like Howard, who's packing 250-plus pounds – DL stints for a quad injury, like in '07, could become the norm for Howard. Fielder may be headed for a similar fate, but he's got more vitality in his legs at present, and is only a season removed from swiping seven bases – Howard has 1 SB in 410 MLB games.
It's true that Howard hits at the center of a fantastic Philly offense, No. 2 in '07 in Runs, but Milwaukee was 11th in the league in Runs and has the kind of youthful upside in players like Fielder, Ryan Braun, Corey Hart, J.J. Hardy, Rickie Weeks, etc. to be just as potent in '08.
I know what I'm gonna get at this point with Howard, and it's all good. But 50 HRs at 23? C'mon, that's ridiculous.
It's also a record.
If you owned Ryan Howard in a head-to-head league in 2006, this is a simple question of loyalty. It's not just that he hit 58 homers; it's when he hit them. The guy hit a bomb every Sunday. At the end of the fantasy week, when categories hung in the balance, Howard delivered. Again and again and again.
It was really the clutchiest fantasy season ever.
But if you didn't own Howard in 2006, loyalty probably isn't enough of a reason to draft him ahead of Fielder in 2008. So let's look at last season. Howard spent time on the DL and played in 14 fewer games than Fielder, yet he still finished just three HR shy of the NL lead. Howard also managed 17 more RBI than Fielder, as the Phillies outscored the Brewers by 91 runs.
True, he struck out more than anyone, but Howard is one of baseball's most selective hitters. He drew 107 walks last year (Fielder drew 90), saw 4.19 pitches-per-plate-appearance (Fielder saw 3.79), and his career OBP is .397 (Fielder's is .369).
The strikeouts are a byproduct of that selectivity, and so are the home runs. Experts often say that he can't possibly K so often and hit for average … but he always has. Howard hit .299/.381/.548 in the minors.
He plays his home games in a more power-friendly environment, and he's reportedly in better shape this spring, having dropped 10 to 15 pounds. It's close, but Howard's the pick.
And that's not just loyalty.