It may seem like an exercise in futility. Projecting a player with 217 plate appearances against a player with 4,210 plate appearances, three All-Star appearances, and 230 home runs. Set aside the massive $214 million contract Prince Fielder just got from the Tigers, the two players are surprisingly similar at first glance.
This is not to be taken as a suggestion that Yonder Alonso will become as productive and deadly as Fielder. If that were the case, the Padres would need to start grooming another first baseman now because Alonso would be gone to the highest bidder after a couple of seasons. Instead, we’ll simply compare what we know of Alonso and Fielder in an attempt to project Alonso’s possible productivity in San Diego. Interestingly, both players bat left-handed, but throw right-handed. Both are large first basemen, with Alonso standing a few inches taller.
As we profiled previously here, Alonso figures to be the type of player to hit to all fields. Rather than pull up spray charts for every ball park Alonso or Fielder hit in, we’ll compare their charts for their home ball parks.
Alonso’s Spray Chart:
Now, Fielder’s spray chart:
Obviously Fielder has more batted balls in the 2011 season, so we have a larger sample size for him. But his spray chart looks very similar to Alonso’s. Extrapolate Alonso’s batted balls at home and you’ll see a player who uses all fields, but does pull more balls just beyond the infield on the right side. Fielder does the exact same thing. Again, the sample size for Alonso is incredibly small, so all we can do is guess, but the similarities are there.
Beyond just the spray charts, the two players do not project to be above average defensive first basemen. We already know Fielder is not. Alonso, though, in his short time with the Reds seems to have a decent glove. According to Baseball Info Solutions (as displayed by Baseball Reference), Alonso was worth 27 runs saved per year at first base for the Reds. Fielder on the other hand has been worth -6 per year.
According to RotoChamp Prince Fielder is projected to hit .293/.418/.549 with 36 home runs next season. Of course these totals were based on him playing in Miller Park, a decidedly more hitter-friendly park than Comerica. Alonso’s projection by RotoChamp is a modest .281/.349/.448 with 19 home runs.
If we use the simple WAR calculator created by Lewie Pollis at Wahoos on First, we get an estimated WAR of 5.9 for Fielder. For Alonso, we get an estimated WAR of 0.7. Clearly there is a divide there, but we didn’t need a WAR projection to tell us that. Generally speaking, though, if a player hits 1 WAR, his value is thought to be worth $5 million. Obviously, the Padres are paying him far less than that, so if Alonso can average at least 1 WAR per season for the net few years, the team will be getting a bargain. On the other hand, the Padres need a first baseman who averages more than 1 WAR.
The Padres could never afford a Prince Fielder-like player. Fielder is making just under $25 million a year with the Tigers. That comes out to about 43% of the estimate 2012 payroll for the Padres. They simply can’t build a team around a player that costs that much. They can, however, try out young talent at first base like Yonder Alonso. If Alonso can average 2 WAR per season in his time with San Diego, he will be a success.