A Tale Of Two Powers: Despite Constant Comparison Mo Vaughn and Prince Fielder Are Completely Different Players
To the naked eye and well-studied sports analyst, the sizeable left-handed presence of Mo Vaughn and Prince Fielder are an easy (and popular) comparison. They have dominated and been heralded storylines in their respective eras, but the similarities fizzle when discussing anything beyond waistline, position, batting hand and their placement in opening day lineups.
Prince Fielder: Height: 5’ 11”, Weight: 275 lb.
While Vaughn maintained a reputation as a valuable player and silver slugger throughout his 12 years in the majors, Fielder’s legacy has yet to be completely understood by the media, statisticians or himself. However, if he wants to steer clear of eternally being compared to the “other lefty who was big and hit a lot of homeruns”, his postseason apathy at the plate must end soon.
Mo Vaughn: Height: 6’ 1”, Weight: 225 lb.
An expert in the field of statistics asked me what baseball player from the 1990s Prince Fielder, a fellow Eau Gallie High School alumni, reminded me of. I drew a blank, shuffled through my limited archive of players from a time when I was in elementary school, and blurted out “Barry Bonds”. What were my prerequisites for this answer? “Who is a slugger that doesn’t have a ring?” Not a very sophisticated analysis, but as I look at the film now, Fielder and Bonds have much more in common at the plate than I gave myself credit for. The bat movement prior to the pitcher’s wind up, a small double-shuffle of the right foot as the ball is released, and the tomahawk follow-through when they know they’ve hit one over the fence. Regardless, when I asked the expert whom they were thinking of as Fielder’s 90s equivalent, he responded, “Mo Vaughn”.
Fair enough. But how similar are Mo and The Prince when drilling into the numbers that never lie?
Looking beyond batting averages, homeruns, and MVP awards, Fielder is the superior hitter, has better plate discipline and is a much more respected fielder (no pun intended). Although he’s been in the league three years less than Vaughn was by the end of his career, Fielder is on pace to eclipse intentional walks and total bases by the end of his 11th year in the league. The story the numbers paint is that Fielder is more versatile, consistent and will stay healthy enough to overtake Vaughn’s stats at the first base position by the conclusion of the 2015 season.
The key here is that Fielder remains as healthy as he has been in the last three seasons in which he has played all 162 regular season games. Vaughn never played a 162 game season, although he came close in 1996 and 2000 when he started in 161. For pace sake, Fielder is averaging 15.3 intentional walks per season. Keep in mind the fact that he’s been followed in the lineup by the likes of Rickie Weeks (career BA .247) and Victor Martinez (.303). With the move to the Texas Rangers, Fielder will more than likely assume the third slot, batting in front of cleanup hitter Adrian Beltre (.282), so it’s all but expected that he will reach the benchmark of 15 intentional bases on balls, passing Vaughn by the end of 2014.
Averaging 277 total bases a season, Fielder is projected to pass Vaughn’s 2,894 total bases collected throughout his 12-year career by the All Star break in 2015. That will be Fielder’s 10th in the league. Both of them fall short when it comes to postseason glory, but Prince has seen the postseason twice as many times as Vaughn, with two different teams (Brewers and Tigers). Perhaps the most telling stats when defending the stance of the sluggers as apples and oranges are WAR, offensive WAR and Total Average.
WAR (wins above replacement) combines offense, base running, and defensive value in runs into one statistic that gives scouts, fans and sabermetricians an overview of a player’s worth. Simply put, how many wins does this player add when in the lineup versus Player X? Offensive WAR essentially removes the defensive aspect of the calculation and looks solely at a player’s contribution from an offensive perspective. Based on the table above, Vaughn appears to be the superior teammate. What you can’t see in these averages are the numbers per season, not combined or diluted. Prince Fielder has never been worth an oWAR below zero, in comparison to Mo Vaughn who finished -0.1 in 1991 and -0.2 in 2003, his first and last seasons in the majors, respectively. As for WAR, Vaughn was below zero in four of his 12 seasons, versus the lone season of 2006 which saw Fielder average a WAR worth -0.7.
The total average paints a clearer picture in respect to offensive efficiency. According to Baseball-Reference.com total average takes “bases and outs while considering hits, walks, HBP, CS, SB and GIDP…A simple calculation is bases/outs.” And although Fielder has seen a decline in nearly all power hitting metrics (ISO, OPS, HR), the probability he will positively impact a team on both sides of the ball is higher than Vaughn’s ever was.
Batting average aside, Prince already has The Hit Dog’s number in the modern era. With advancements in medical technology improving athlete’s longevity, and the move to Arlington’s hitter-friendly ballpark (ranked second in Runs Index in the league behind Coors Field), Fielder is perfectly setup to overtake his left-handed first baseman comparison. After all, even though his postseason batting average (.182) left little for Detroit fans to miss, Mo Vaughn finished with just 31 postseason at-bats for his entire career.
Fielder? Four times as many.
Sources: Baseball Reference