A Case For Prince as Leadoff Hitter

He’s big and mean and bad to the bone. He’s the Milwaukee Brewers Prince of Swat and he just might be a viable option as the 2011 Brewer’s leadoff batter.

In 2010 Prince Fielder led off an inning 134 times and banged out 44 hits including seven doubles and 14 homeruns. In comparison, with runners in scoring position, he came to bat 146 times and squeaked out a mere 34 hits with only two homeruns and four doubles, driving in 47 runs. This may seem like a one-year anomaly, but over the course of Prince’s five-year career, a definite pattern has emerged.






























































Only in 2008 did Prince fail to eclipse the 1.000 plateau in OPS when leading offf an inning.  Even more stunning is his homerun ratio of 67/711 or a homerun every 10.6 at bats!!


Other than his mammoth 2009 season when he hit an even.300 with RISP, he has failed to climb above .270. In 727 at bats, he’s hit 36 homeruns or a homerun every 20.2 at bats. His overall OPS of .880 with RISP has benefited from 189 walks. There’s no point in assigning adjectives or drawing conclusions from these figures other than raising a question. Should Prince Fielder bat lead-off for the Milwaukee Brewers?


The incumbent Rickie Weeks has proven his worth as a quality igniter getting on base at a .355 clip for his career. Weeks also steals bases with incredible accuracy. (82% success rate). The Brewers scored 750 runs last year, good for fourth in the National League. A shuffling of the batting order could very well generate even more runs.


Weeks hit an impressive .304 with RISP last year,  driving in 51 runs. As mentioned above, Fielder drove in 47. Walks, of course, played a big part in Fielder’s lower total.  But Weeks hit .245 leading off games with a frightening .303 OB% in 2010. For his career, however, his numbers rise to a .257 BA and a respectable.345 OB%.


Fielder has amassed a .385 OB% for his career, tops amongst active Brewers over that time span. And now that the Prince of power is also Prince of walks in ever increasing quantities (114 in 2010), his on base percentage may find a permanent place above .400.


But wait a minute! We are talking about Prince Fielder; the guy who who launched 190 homeruns over a  five year span; a total good enough for fourth best in baseball (2006-2010.) behind Ryan Howard (229), Albert Pujols (207) and Adam Dunn (196).


Prince can’t  bat lead off . He’ s a run producer, the prototypical clean-up hitter. Furthermore, this is the 2011 Brewers , the Run Roenicke Run Brewers. Prince batting lead off completely contradicts an up tempo, agressive running style or so the unoffical baseball bible says.


The traditional batting order always includes speed at the top of the order. What it fails to consider is that a lead-off batter loses his identity after the first inning. Before a game starts, a manager should really meditate on the fact that nine different batters could very well lead off the next nine innings.


The Brewers can still execute their aggressive, up tempo, run Roenicke run style throughout the game.  As ecocd discussed so well in his article earlier today, ”Why Weeks Shouldn’t Steal Second, but Gomez Should,” there is a time to steal and a time not to steal. Running may be a risk, but it is far less of one when the lower end of the batting order is at the plate.


With Rickie Weeks batting third or even fourth, he would be in prime position to build on his impressive 83 RBI’s in 2010 from the leadoff spot. He would also serve as a second leadoff batter, assuming he clears the bases. He could then re-ignite the offense as a baserunner, setting a second table for Casey McGehee. This would also provide Betancourt an opportunity to put the ball in play and drive in Weeks. For his career, Betancourt strikes out only once per 10 at-bats.


This type of experimentation would require Fielder’s full consent. Anything else and Roenicke will hear it from Boras, from Melvin or worse yet, run the risk of alienating Prince. The Brewers can ill afford to provoke the heart and soul of this team into a state of sabotage or moping around.


Of course, Prince is set to begin his last year before becoming a free agent, so he will undoubtedly be on his best behaviour to raise up the ante of free agent poker. This may or not be the time to tinker with what he’s come to expect…batting third or fourth day in and day out over the past five seasons. This contract cusp year is the one where players apparently hit the cover off the ball. The Brewers certainly can’t afford to remove any of Prince’s motivation.


But Prince Fielder is a gamer….one of baseball’s iron men having played in 327 consecutive games until a flu bug sat him down in September of last year. Contract year or no contract year, he’s gonna play hard…So, if and it's a big if.... Prince could be convinced of the overall team benefits in batting lead off, the numbers sure are tempting enough to give it a try.

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