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Recent Struggles Aside, Prince Fielder Is Still an Elite First Baseman

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | As hot as the Detroit Tigers have been since the All-Star break, much has been made about the struggles of first baseman Prince Fielder.

Fans have been asking what is wrong with the slugger who is on pace to post career lows in runs scored, home runs and batting average. While that may seem like a bad sign for Fielder, when looking at his numbers compared to the rest of baseball, he is still an elite first baseman.

After signing a nine-year, $214 million contract before the 2012 season, Fielder was expected to continue putting up the impressive numbers he compiled as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. Fielder was almost a lock for at least 35 home runs and nearly 100 RBIs as a member of the Brew Crew. Those numbers made him one of the most productive first basemen in the majors.

So far in 2013, those numbers look nearly impossible for Fielder to attain, but the secondary numbers suggest he is still a top producer. In all of MLB, Fielder ranks in the top 10 in hits, runs, doubles, RBIs, home runs, total bases and extra-base hits. For the sabermetricians, he is also top 10 in runs created.

Granted, his slugging percentage is way down, his strikeouts are up, and he leads all first basemen in grounding into double plays. Admittedly, the Tigers aren't paying him more than $20 million a season for top-10 production -- they're expecting him to be one of the top two or three in the game, but it's not like he is performing way below average, either.

And before anyone mentions his defensive metrics, no one is going to suggest Fielder is a defensive wizard and the Tigers didn't sign him to win Gold Gloves, they want Silver Sluggers.

So why is the slugger having trouble this season? Teammate Torii Hunter let it slip last week that Fielder may be going through some personal problems off the field. While that could be part of the problem, the numbers suggest that he has just been plain unlucky over the last two months.

Over his career, Fielder averages a home run every 16 at-bats, but this season he is hitting a home run every 24 ABs. His career batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is slightly more than .300, but in July and August, Fielder's BABIP is .247 and .278, respectively. Those numbers suggest that at some point his average and power should rebound and when they do, he will hit in bunches.

Manager Jim Leyland likes to point out that Fielder has been having good swings and making solid contact at the plate. That may sound like a cliché but when watching Fielder, that cliché is also a truth. Fielder has proven throughout his career that he can put up monster numbers and while the last two months have been rough, remember that earlier this season Prince jacked seven home runs and drove in almost 30 runs in the first month of the season.

The Tigers will need Prince's bat come October and while things haven't been so stellar lately, count on Fielder to turn it up down the stretch.

Stats courtesy of http://baseball-reference.com.

Matt Durr is a reporter from Michigan who has followed the Detroit Tigers his entire life. He has covered University of Michigan and Eastern Michigan University athletics for Annarbor.com. Follow him on twitter @mdurr84.

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