At least Prince Fielder is still getting on base, I suppose.
It’s the least that he could do for the Detroit Tigers, considering that the slugger is mired in a month-long slump that’s seen him to relatively little slugging. Aside from the fact that the Tigers’ cleanup hitter is batting just .243 over 123 PA in May, his 1-for-5 performance on Thursday marked the 19th straight contest in which Fielder has not hit a home run.
Should he fail to hit a baseball out of the park on Friday, his two home runs in May will be the lowest monthly total for the 29-year-old since all the way back in April of 2010.
So what’s going on with Prince?
Well, his not getting very much to hit, for one. Only seeing some 43.7 percent of pitches inside the zone, opposing pitchers are going after the first baseman at a six-year low rate. More problematic, however, is that where he’d adjusted to being pitched outside last season and maintained a good contact rate at 80.6 percent, that number has fallen to 76.9, a three-year low.
Now, the fact that he’s taking a more patient approach (swinging only 39.7 percent of the time, a career-low) might have something to do with that, but the 85.7 percent contact rate with pitches inside the zone (five-year low) and the nine percent whiff rate (three-year high) suggests that there might be some issues there.
In short, he’s swinging less, but still making less contact when he’s swinging, which may be indicative that there’s some work to be done about his bat speed.
This is somewhat reflected in Fielder’s splits for May. Now, Prince has never been much of a ground ball hitter, and though he’s seen a slight spike in that department (42.3 percent in April, 45.8 in May), the bigger issue is the fact that’s his already poor 13.3 percent pop-up rate has deteriorated further to 18.5 percent in the past month.
As expected, this has caused a dip in his BABIP from .328 to .284 even with an improved line drive rate, and could be a sign that Fielder is pressing at the plate and having some mechanical issues in trying to turn the ball around.
The good news, on the other hand, is that he’s been striking out at a lower clip in May (16.3 percent), suggesting that his struggles are with his swing rather than his batting eye.
Still, even with strong .366 OBP, a Prince Fielder that slugs .369 is a whole lot less threatening than the one that slugged .591 in April. With Victor Martinez still struggling, the Tigers are going to be looking for the second part of their dual threat at the heart of the order to turn the power switch on again soon — not that anyone should be worried about Prince being held back for long, anyway.