Prince Fielder Broke a Phone With a Home Run, But Can He Break Out of His Slump?
It's been a bad year for Prince Fielder. No big-leaguer wants to hold a .193/.265/.302 slash part way into June, especially when they're a former a former MVP candidate. But to take out the frustrations by smashing a fan's phone during Thursday's game? That's just uncalled for, man.
Oh, it was on a home run? Given what Fielder has done this year, that would have been one of the more unlikely scenarios for a phone-smashing incident, but I guess you can be forgiven, Prince.
As a person who may also use his phone a bit too much at games (these trash tweets ain't gonna send themselves, bruh), I empathize with this fan. More than anything, I'm impressed she was able to block the ball with her phone as I definitely would have whiffed and taken it straight to the face. Get her in the cage, and if she can swing a stick, maybe let her take over for Fielder at first because something may need to change there quickly.
In the interest of fairness, that was an impressive blast from Fielder, and he deserves accolades for that. But is it enough to turn around what has thus far been a nightmare season? Let's dig a bit deeper and investigate.
Fielder's Batted-Ball Struggles
To find the source of Fielder's struggles, we need not look further than his batted-ball data. His hard-hit rate this year is down to 27.3%, easily the lowest of his career outside of his injury-shortened 2014 season. Last year's mark of 32.3% was far from impressive, but he doesn't even sniff the big-league average of 34.6% for first basemen. This isn't luck; he has legitimately been bad.
However, batters do go through cycles throughout the course of an entire season. Fielder smashed that ball, and we shouldn't simply overlook that just because he has been rough early on. It requires us to keep looking to see whether or not there has been a recent shift in Fielder's abilities.
As of Friday morning, there were 175 balls in play in Fielder's 2016 Statcast profile. Only one of those balls (a groundout on May 3rd) had a higher exit velocity than Fielder's home run on Thursday. The 420.33 feet it traveled is the third-longest distance with the other two coming all the way back in April. That's encouraging at the very least.
If we're trying to find a logical spot where Fielder may have changed things up, we can look back to earlier this month when he rode the bench for a few games. He didn't play in the team's games on June 4th or 5th, giving him a two-game breather to reset. Has it resulted in improvements in Fielder's batted-ball profile?
The results here are pretty mixed. He has put 10 balls in play with 3 being hard-hit, 5 medium-hit, and 2 soft-hit. He has topped 100 miles per hour on his exit velocity four times, but the launch angle was negative on three of those. Thursday's massive tank was the only time he has been able to pair a positive launch angle with a truly well-struck ball, and that's not exactly what you want out of a power hitter.
That's the bad, but there's also a quick dash of good mixed in there, and it may be a bit more actionable data. The table below compares Fielder pre-benching and post in three fairly crucial categories: exit velocity, launch angle, and distance. If we were to see a significant change here, even though it's a small sample size, we could potentially start to buy in a bit more. This looks more promising.
|Timeframe||Exit Velocity||Launch Angle||Distance|
This small sample from Prince is actually better than the marks he had last year, in which his average exit velocity was 91.3 miles per hour with an average distance of 210.8 feet. That makes you think he'll regress a bit going forward, but this is a legitimate reason for slight optimism. Maybe this destruction of property could actually lead to a turnaround for the big man.
Even when Fielder starts making better contact, he'll have to address the fact that he's striking out much more this year (18.1% strikeout rate) than he was last year (12.7%). However, that total is still below the league average. Once the contact picks up, he should start posting respectable numbers again, and it's entirely possible we're seeing the start of that now.
Ideally, a guy with Fielder's reputation would be able to right the ship without smashing the phone of a devoted fan. But, if he can keep up his recent improvements in his Statcast data and start launching taters with more regularity, I'd bet Hope will be able to forgive him a whole lot more quickly.