As part of SI.com's 2014 fantasy baseball preview, our experts Michael Beller and David Gonos will be engaging in a series of debates. For our fourth debate, they argue whether you should target Prince Fielder or Joey Votto.
Michael Beller makes the case for Prince Fielder:
This is a tough one for me. I'm an unabashed Joey Votto supporter. I love how he embraces advanced statistics. Ask most MLB players which stat they believe is most important, and many will say batting average. Some will say RBI. As our understanding of stats improves, some will even say OBP or slugging percentage. When asked this question recently, Votto said weighted runs created plus, and he's likely the only player who would give that answer. There are few hitters I'd rather have on my real-life team. Votto does so many things that contribute to winning baseball.
A fantasy owner has to be able to celebrate head and heart, though, and some of what makes Votto such a great real-life player detracts from his fantasy value. Votto will undoubtedly help your batting average and OBP. Unfortunately, fantasy owners generally look for big-time power numbers out of their first basemen. As much as Votto does for his owners, he does not bring the same power potential to the table as do his counterparts at the top of the position. Votto doesn't seek RBI for RBI sake. If he's getting pitched around, he's going to take the walk. Even if he isn't, he's going to make a pitcher work. Votto swung at just 67 percent of pitches he saw in the strike zone last year, which ranked 55th in the league. Votto almost certainly won't challenge for the league lead in homers and RBI. Given everything else that he does, that's fine for the Reds. It is not fine for fantasy owners.
Prince Fielder, on the other hand, is a perennial threat to top both of those categories. He admittedly had a down year in the power department last year, but he still carries a career HR/FB ratio of 19.2 percent. He doesn't get nearly the attention Votto does for his discerning eye, but he, too, is regularly among the league leaders in walks. His .362 OBP last year broke a four-year streak of .400-plus OBPs. Still, his walk rate was north of 10 percent. For his career, Fielder is a .286/.389/.527 hitter.
Despite his girth, Fielder is among the most durable players in the game. He has played all 162 games each of the last three years, and has played in at least 157 games every year of his career. That makes his impressive slash numbers even more of an asset for his owners. Votto has held up quite well over his career, but he missed 51 games in 2012 and 31 in 2009. He doesn't carry a huge injury risk, but it is greater than the near-zero risk presented by Fielder.
Fielder's home run totals have declined from 38 to 30 to 25, starting with his last year in Milwaukee through his first two years with the Tigers. While the 25 homers he hit last year were a career-low, Fielder was still hitting long fly balls most of the time he put the ball in the air. His average fly ball distance of 293.7 feet was in the top 35 in the league and right in line with his career numbers. He also had a career-best 36 doubles last season. Now that he's in the hitter's paradise down in Arlington I'm willing to bet that more of those doubles sail over the fences and he pushes beyond 30 homers this year.
Finally, Fielder has quite possibly one of the very best lineups around him. Shin-Soo Choo and his .423 OBP left Votto and Cincinnati for Fielder and Texas. He'll hit leadoff with the speedy Elvis Andrus behind him. Adrian Beltre is expected to hit fourth, and Alex Rios will hit fifth. There may not be a better one through five in the league, and Fielder is right in the middle of that.
Don't get me wrong, I'd be happy to be a Votto owner this season. But given what I'm looking for out of my first baseman, I'd prefer to have Fielder on my squad.
David Gonos makes the case for Joey Votto:
Without question, Fielder's one of the most prolific power hitters of the 21st century, with 285 home runs in his career. That number puts him 19th among active hitters, although, he's the youngest of all those that rank above him in home runs, at just 29.
Understand that he's coming off one of his worst seasons in a while, with the lowest batting average and fewest homers and walks in his career. He's leaving the hitter-friendly Comerica Park for a more neutral park, and he leaves a division that had just one park ranked in the bottom-15 for hitters last season.
It's not to say that Fielder is going to be bad, and I'll certainly take him more often than not when he's available to me. Fielder and Shin-Soo Choo join a formidable lineup, for sure, but will all those new parts gel with the old parts in the right fashion? How often have we seen a too-good-to-believe lineup stumble for reasons that don't have anything to do with balls and strikes?
Choo's coming off a career year (helping Votto) in a contract season -- will he keep those numbers up now that he got paid? How many times have we seen excellent free-agent hitters stay excellent in their first season with a new club? Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols are all examples of first-year free-agent signees that stumbled in Year One in new digs. And leadoff men, like Choo, are just as likely to trip up, considering the first years of Michael Bourn and Carl Crawford in new unis.
I won't even bring up the fact that the middle of the Rangers' lineup averages 31 years old.
Joey Votto might not have a home-run champion father, but he does have a dog named, "Maris," so that has to count for something.
Votto led the league with 726 plate appearances last season, which goes a long way in Rotisserie leagues (with a .305 batting average) and head-to-head formats (with 177 hits and a majors-leading 135 walks -- 20-percent more than the second place Choo with 112). Votto has led the National League in on-base percentage in each of the past four years and he earned a nothing-to-do-with-luck BABIP of around .365 over those four seasons.
While Votto loses Choo to Fielder's team, he does add the fastest prospect in baseball in SS Billy Hamilton at the top of the order. If Hamilton can learn to get on base and do his job effectively, there's no reason not to think Votto can't improve on last season's relatively modest numbers.
The early rounds of fantasy leagues are all about reliability -- and Votto has had fewer things change from his 2014 season than Fielder. In 2013, Votto beat Fielder in nearly every stat, except home runs and RBI. I expect that to happen again, although, Votto's RBI should come a bit closer while keeping his other stats above the line.
SI.com Fantasy Baseball Debate Series:
I. Robinson Cano vs. Jason Kipnis
II. Shin-Soo Choo vs. Alex Rios
III. Adam Wainwright vs. Stephen Strasburg
IV. Prince Fielder vs. Joey Votto
V. Evan Longoria vs. David Wright
VI. Carlos Santana vs. Joe Mauer