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How Good Is Martin Prado?

Martin Prado will be starting at second base in the National League, thanks to the spot opened by Chase Utley‘s injury. There’s no question that Prado deserves the appearance – he has been a fantastic hitter this season by any metric, slashing .336/.375/.500, with a .378 wOBA and 137 wRC+. Prado plays a little bit of everything and UZR doesn’t seem to think 2B is his best position – he has a -8.7 career mark at the keystone – but he has a +2.5 mark this season, easily the season in which he’s played it the most. Prado is providing a tremendous amount of value for Atlanta, with 3.4 WAR in 395 PA.

Prado is, however, the type of hitter who may seem prone to regression, particularly on balls in play. He doesn’t walk much – in any stint with at least 100 PAs at any level, he’s never posted a walk rate above 10%. His power is solid, but not fantastic – his career ISOs range from .140-.165, with about 15-20 HRs in a full season.¬†The minimal power¬†doesn’t sound like the profile of a hitter that’s over 35% better than league average. It sounds more like the league average profile, with a little more power and less discipline.

The key is Prado’s ability, at least so far, to reach base on balls in play. In 1139 ABs so far, Prado has racked up a .344 BABIP. Given how long it takes for BABIP to stabilize, we have to assume that it will drop in the future. The longer Prado can keep it up, however, the more we have to figure that his ability to produce high a BABIP is real, and his excellent 20.9% LD rate is certainly evidence in his favor.

So, to answer the question, Prado is quite good. The fact that his playing time is way up and the fact that he’s played at an all-star level, however, lead us to another question. Is he getting better this year, at least at the plate?

Basketball has four factors for a team’s success – shooting, turnovers, rebounding, and free throws. I think that there is an excellent analog in hitting – walks, strikeouts, power, and balls in play. I’ve been using the Custom Dashboard to visualize this since its inception, using BB%, K%, ISO, and BABIP. Ideally, I’d prefer POW (XB/H) instead of ISO, but this does the job just fine. Here’s how Martin Prado has fared in the Four Factors of Hitting in his three seasons with more than 250 plate appearances.

His walks began around average and have been steadily slipping; his strikeouts are still far below average but climbing. The power has been steadily increasing to the point where, especially given the power drop across baseball this year, it can be called “above average.” Still, the key remains balls in play, which haven’t even seen much of a jump since 2008. It doesn’t appear that, really, in any of the factors, that Prado has really shown a significant step forward, and it shows in the wOBA/wRC+ numbers. The real step forward is the playing time that has opened up for him in the Braves roster, and he has jumped into his new role and is showing that he can be a great player in the Major Leagues.