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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Previewing the 2011 Season: Prince Fielder's Final Season With the Brewers

Prince made history this year by pulling in the highest single-season salary ever paid by the Brewers ($15.5 million). At the same time he became the highest paid, arbitration eligible position player, beating Mark Texeira's $12.5 million paid in 2008 by the Braves. At age 26, Prince has put up some historic numbers in his first five Major League seasons. Prince is a special player, and will be paid as such come next winter. As Brewers fans we have enjoyed the privilege of watching Prince come of age these past five seasons. Unfortunately, the Brewers would cripple their ability to field a competitive team if they gave him the years and dollars he will demand once he reaches free agency after 2011. So, here is a look back on what Prince has accomplished thus far, and a look ahead to what will undoubtedly be his final season in Milwaukee.

Since joining the Brewers in 2005, Prince has amassed 826 hits, 192 home runs, 536 RBIs, and 459 walks in five+ seasons. In 2007 Prince became the youngest player to hit 50 home runs in a single season, at the age of 23, while also setting the Brewers club record (Richie Sexson, Gorman Thomas, 45 HRs).

Fielder also holds the Brewers' single season record for games played (162 in 2009, tied with Carlos Lee, Richie Sexson, Gorman Thomas, Robin Yount), RBI (141 in 2009), extra base hits (87 in 2007, tied with Robin Yount), walks (114 in 2010, breaking his own record of 110 from 2009), and intentional walks (21 in both 2007 and 2009).

He currently holds the Brewers' career record for on-base percentage (.385, barely edging Jeff Cirillo's .383). He needs twenty home runs in 2011 to move into second place for career home runs as a Brewer, second only to Robin Yount (251). He'll likely become the career leader in intentional walks this year; he needs twelve and his previous single season low is seventeen (2010).

Needless to say, the 26-year-old has already had an impressive career. 2010 marked a "down" year by Fielder's standards. He batted .261/.401/.471 with 32 HR and 83 RBI. Nearly given the Barry Bonds treatment, Prince found himself swinging at too many pitches outside of the strike zone. 2010 tested his patience at the plate, if nothing else. He surely learned to wait for his pitch, knowing that at times he might see only one quality strike per at bat, at the most.

Brewers fans can expect another big year from Prince in 2011. He'll probably fall short of matching his 2009 numbers (.299/.412/.602, 46 HR, 141 RBI), but certainly will fare better than in 2010. For whatever reason, he has thus far performed best in odd-numbered years. I don't think that means he's destined for a big season in 2011, but I do think he learned from his struggles in 2010.  He clearly lost some weight this offseason and I think he'll be especially motivated by the fact that he'll reach free agency after 2011 and that the Brewers should compete for the division crown all season after falling off so early in 2010. One thing is for sure: we Brewers fans should enjoy watching him while he's still a Brewer. Thankfully we'll have around 162 more chances to do so (and hopefully the Crew make the playoffs and give us more). Prince Fielder is a very good player, and in years to come he may even become a great player. I, for one, am thankful to have watched him play as a Brewer.

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