In 2011, only five players saw a smaller percentage of fastballs than Prince Fielder, according to FanGraphs.com. Some of the players above Fielder see fewer fastballs because they are deficient in hitting off-speed pitches, and others see fewer fastballs because they are simply avoided by opposing pitchers. The latter is the case with Prince Fielder.
Fielder has long struck fear on the hearts of pitchers, but he actually saw fewer fastballs than ever before in 2011. Why is that? The answer has a lot to do with Fielder's improved discipline at the plate. He's always had the light tower power, but what makes a pitcher sweat even more is a more selective power hitter. He set a career high in the OBP department in 2011, and simply got better at picking out pitches to drive. As a result, he became a far more complete hitter.
On-base percentage, in general, is an underrated aspect of a player's power production. A more disciplined hitter is quite often a hitter that's picking out more high quality pitches to hit in his wheelhouse. And, that's what Fielder did in 2011 and likely will continue to do as his career progresses. He took a step forward from slugger to a hitter you have to pitch very creatively to in order to avoid his strengths.
Fielder's improved approach likely has a lot to do with the fewer fastballs he saw in 2011. Besides the obvious concept that power hitters typically see fewer fastballs, his improved selective nature at the plate contributes to that quite a bit.
"Fielder has been a star for a while now obviously, but I think he's taking it to an even higher level now," one scout said regarding Fielder. "He's making pitchers work a little harder and there's just not a lot of ways to get him out if he's sitting on the fastball. But, he gets himself in so many good counts to hit in."
In 2012, Fielder becomes a problem American League pitchers need to deal with, and it's not going to be an easy task. Pitchers realize what a lethal fastball hitter the Tigers' new slugger is, and the trend will likely continue towards pitchers turning to off-speed pitches to try to get him out. With his improved plate discipline, however, laying off these off-speed offerings will likely once again put him in some very dangerous counts.
"The new league is a non-issue for him," said another scout. "I think his biggest years are probably still ahead of him. He's still evolving and getting better as an all around hitter."
Fielder is indeed still evolving, and his style at the plate should allow him to thrive for many years. He's been smart enough to continue to improve his selectivity at the plate, and is a lot better at making adjustments than most people realize. And, clearly he has the massive power to strike fear in the hearts of pitchers just based on that alone. But, now that's he's forcing pitchers to go to their secondary pitches more often, he's making them fall behind in counts and eventually have to come into his wheelhouse.
That, in itself, is the definition of what it is to be a feared hitter in the big leagues today.