Two players that have seemed on similar paths are Ryan Howard and Prince Fielder. The question for today is: Which of these players will have the most impact in the next five years?
The current statistics seem to favor Ryan Howard and he just signed for a ton of money. Prince Fielder just signed an extension too, for good money, but less than Howard. Let's put them head to head on some categories for the last three years and go from there:
Ryan Howard - 153 homers, 431 RBI (a traditionalist's bonanza!), 579 strikeouts, 296 Walks, .277 Batting Average, .383 OBP, .594 SP, .977 OPS, 145 OPS+, 118.5 Adjusted Batting Runs, 45 errors, .990 FP, 9.30 RF, 82 total Win Shares (all stats from http://www.baseball-reference.com/ except Win Shares which is from http://www.hardballtimes.com/).
Prince Fielder - 112 homers, 303 RBI, 380 strikeouts, 233 Walks, .278 Batting Average, .364 OBP, .535 SP, .899 OPS, 131 OPS+, 84.6 Adjusted Batting Runs, 42 Errors, .989 FP, 9.05 RF, 68 total Win Shares.
As you can see from the last three years, which were very easy to compare since both stayed healthy and both played first base, Howard comes out on top on almost every category in both batting and fielding. So that clearly means that Howard will be the better player the next five years right?
There is one major caveat here. Ryan Howard is 29 years old. Prince Fielder is only 24. Howard, when he was Fielder's age, was just going into his first real taste of the majors where he hit 22 homers in 312 at bats. If you put Fielder on the same time line as Howard, there is no way (if he stays healthy) that Fielder isn't going to beat 23 homers.
So Fielder has all those three years ahead of him where Howard really blossomed. After five years, Fielder will be 29, Howard, 34. Which would you rather have? It's a good question that only time will answer. Baseball Prospectus tries to predict such things with their PECOTA projections. Here is their breakdown for the next five years:
OPS: .929, .913, .919, .893, .871
WARP: 4.4, 3.9, 3.7, 2.9, 2.1
OPS: .920, .911, .897, .912, .924
WARP: 4.1, 4.3, 3.7, 3.8, 3.7
So if the PECOTA projections are anywhere in the ballpark, Howard will be more valuable than Fielder for one more year and then the two will reverse in value. Interesting. It will be fun to watch.