Before I start on my final thought, I wanted to take a moment to thank everyone that's helped out this week. I couldn't be happier with how Prince Week has turned out. If you missed any or all of them, go back and check out this week's other entries:
Monday: Chris Mehring of Rattler Radio shared some stories from Fielder in the Midwest League.
Tuesday: John Sickels of Minor League Ball looked back at Prince Fielder as a Brewer prospect.
Wednesday: Plunk Everyone looked at Fielder's relatively unique HBP skill.
Thursday: Larry Granillo of Baseball Prospectus had a post on his favorite Fielder home runs.
Friday: Jon Loomer of PastKast compared Fielder and Cecil Cooper.
Saturday: Noah looked at what the Brewers will need to do to replace Fielder's production.
Thanks again to all six of this week's contributors for helping out with this project. Hopefully this long look back has helped you to remember some of your favorite Fielder moments. Even after seven days, I'm still having a hard time coming to grips with the reality that Fielder is at best unlikely to be a Brewer next season.
At some point, though, we're going to have to start looking forward and considering how losing Fielder may impact this Brewer lineup. I think the change is going to have an interesting impact on Ryan Braun...and I'm not sure all of the effects will be negative.
Follow the jump for my rationale.
Let's start with the downside, and work our way to the silver lining:
I don't think Braun will get another chance at 200 hits. Braun has shown very good plate discipline over the years, but he's also been largely aided by the fact that opposing pitchers knew they needed to do everything they could to avoid walking him in front of Prince Fielder. Unless the Brewers re-sign Fielder, Braun isn't going to have the same level of impact bat behind him in 2012. With some of the fear of walking him removed, Braun isn't going to get the same kind of opportunities he's had in the past. He's going to have to show more plate discipline to get pitches he can drive, and he's probably going to be pitched around much more often.
With that said, if Braun can be patient then that shift could lead to this one:
Braun is going to walk more often in 2012 than he ever has before, and perhaps much more. Braun set a new career high by walking 58 times in 2011. That's not a low number, but it is low compared to what he could do in 2012. There's simply no hitter the Brewers have under contract at this point that they could put behind Braun and remove opposing pitchers' temptation to pitch around him.
To date, Fielder is the only Brewer that's ever walked 100 times in a season. I wouldn't be surprised if Braun becomes the second in 2012.
Here is, to me, the really interesting part. If Braun is going to trade some of his hits for walks, then he's going to be on first base a lot. And that could mean...
Braun is going to have more opportunities to steal than he's ever had before. In the past the Brewers have strongly emphasized the importance of staying put on the basepaths with Prince Fielder at the plate, and justifiably so. Fielder's power meant that anyone on the bases was already in scoring position, and the worst thing a teammate could do was take the bat out of Fielder's hands by making an out on the bases and/or vacating first base.
Next season, Braun might have no such limitation. He's already a very good base stealer, taking the extra bag on 96 of his 120 career attempts (exactly 80%). If he draws a lot of walks next season and he doesn't have to worry about Prince hitting behind him, then he could run wild. He already swiped 33 bases in 2011: A number near or above 50 in 2012 may not be out of the question. And if Braun could prove himself as a top flight base stealer, it might eventually remove some of the temptation to pitch around him.
Obviously there's a fair amount of hypothesis and conjecture here. None of this is certain at this point, and any of a handful of things could change and make all the above points moot. But if those things don't change, it'll be interesting to see how Braun and the Brewers handle the shift in the way opposing teams pitch to him.