It is safe to say that the Detroit Tigers' signing of Prince Fielder is working out well. Besides Fielder and Miguel Cabrera's astronomical numbers (in eight games a combined 18-for-57, 13 runs, 5 home runs, 13 RBIs, nine walks, nine strikeouts), they are acting like a wrestling tag team that knows all the moves each other has in his stable. If a pitcher survives pitching to Cabrera, he crawls back on the mound to face Fielder and that could make anyone look for another profession.
This is what the American League Central has to look forward to all season long. A one-two punch in the 3-4 hole, coming from the left and the right. It is enough to make any manager start to sweat, but then again, that was what it was like to face Fielder and Ryan Braun in Milwaukee, too. So, this has been seen already.
Just in case you forgot, here is what Fielder managed to do with Braun and the Brewers over the past five years. He placed himself in the top five in the following categories: home runs, RBIs and OPS. He has used his power game to not only hit homers, but to work counts, get on base and use the entire field when needed. By the way, Cabrera was also in the top five in the following categories -- second in RBIs and OPS and fifth in home runs -- and was sixth in wins above replacement.
People tend to get excited that Fielder has the potential to hit a ball out of Comerica Park at any given time, as does Cabrera. But we sometimes miss that hitting for distance is only a small part of their game. They are hitters who understand (and understood very early on in their careers as young stars), that power means nothing without control.
This has led both players to use the entire field and to take the walk, if need be. They have understood that they need to zone up a pitcher, make him work just long enough to make mistakes that they can drive. By no means are they robotic power swingers; they hit, they hit with a purpose, even when Fielder is coming out of his shoes.
I remember seeing this with Gary Sheffield. People used to marvel at how hard he swung the bat and how hard he hit the ball. With that kind of power generation, it would make sense that he had no idea where the strike zone would be. To swing that hard, your head must be flying out and you must have mechanical breakdowns. But then I saw Sheffield take batting practice, knowing whether it was a ball or a strike the split second when the ball left the pitcher's hand. Maybe more importantly, he knew whether it was his pitch to hit.
It was something I only periodically mastered as a player. I knew I was a high-ball hitter and wanted the ball at the letters, but it takes a master hitter to be able to work a sequence of pitches until you get that pitch more often than not. The pitcher then is in the position of walking you or leaving one in your wheelhouse and a pitch left in a power hitter's wheelhouse usually leads to runs or extra-base hits.
When I first saw Cabrera his rookie season in Florida, it was clear this guy was a hitter well beyond his years. He handled off-speed pitches with understanding. He stayed on the ball well. He used the entire field with power. And he did this from day one. As an opponent, his plate sense was much more impressive than how he could make a ball look like a small white pea with fire coming out of the back of it.
This is what makes Detroit so dangerous. It has two power hitters who will make pitchers work for every single pitch and even when they make good pitches, they can still be on the short end of the battle. After two times around the lineup, a lot of energy has been used up and a team may still have another two times to go around the lineup. Many hitters in the Tigers' lineup are free swingers, but nothing comes free with Cabrera and Fielder. In fact, opposing pitchers will not only pay, but they'll have to take out a mortgage to make it through the Tigers' lineup over the long haul of the season. Well, at least mortgage rates are good at this point.