BY ROB SHAW
The Tigers made a bold move this off-season when they responded to Victor Martinez’s unfortunate season-ending knee injury by acquiring slugger Prince Fielder.
Fielder is fresh off one of his finest seasons with 38 home runs and 120 RBI while batting .299 for the Brewers. The main complaint on Fielder is that his sheer size will eventually lead to some injuries, however, the same was once said of Miguel Cabrera when the Tigers acquired that star from the Marlins. While Cabrera has had some issues off the field, he is also one of the most consistent and dependable sluggers in baseball over the last five seasons. Similarly, Fielder ranks third in plate appearances since 2006 only trailing Ichiro and Derek Jeter.
Another statistic that should provide some confidence for Tigers fans is the fact that Fielder decreased his strikeout rate and total significantly last season. While Ryan Howard has been a minor disappointment with the Phillies since signing a major contract due to his free-swinging ways, Fielder is more of a contact hitter, which can keep innings and rallys alive.
Desperate for some offense, the Twins signed Josh Willingham during the off-season. The move seems to make some sense as Willingham is fresh off a career-high 29 home runs and 98 RBI and should help replace Michael Cuddyer in the lineup.
The problem is that Willingham also saw his average and OBP take a hit last season from .268 to .246 and from .389 to .332. These numbers are actually lower than Cuddyer posted last season.
The hope for the Twins is that Willingham posted respectable numbers despite the pitcher-friendly Oakland Coliseum and the A’s lineup generated very little protection, suggesting that he should surpass those figures this season. There is a problem with that logic, as Willingham actually performed better at home than on the road and the Twins Target Field is also a pitcher’s haven with a Twins offense that offered little production last season.
No question about it the Twins acquisition of Willingham carries some risk. We will soon find out if Willingham is a one-trick pony that specializes in power or if he can return to his previous year’s level of reaching base more consistently.
The Milwaukee Brewers are reeling right now as Prince Fielder left for the Detroit Tigers and MVP winner Ryan Braun may miss 50 games of the season with a suspension for using a performance-enhancing substance. The lone piece of good news is that the team did acquire Aramis Ramirez over the off-season, which will offer some stability at the hot corner.
In effect, Ramirez will have to replace Fielder as the slugger in the Brewers lineup. The main issue for Ramirez over the years has been his inability to stay healthy. In fact, Ramirez has managed to play 150 games just twice in his 14-year career.
Last year Ramirez was healthy and the result was 26 home runs, 93 RBI, and a .306 average. Ramirez is a solid all-around hitter who often puts the ball in play while also drawing a healthy dose of walks. The one statistic that showed Ramirez to return to form last season was his ability to hit the fastball. After hitting just .236 off the heater last season, Ramirez belted 13 home runs with a .302 average this season.
Ramirez should once again offer a solid bat with some power this season… assuming he can stay healthy.
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