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Things Will Get Better, Martin Prado

Martin Prado was a fantasy darling in 2012. His positional flexibility has traditionally made him a popular late-round pick, but he provided much more than that. His .345 wOBA ranked fourth amongst qualified second basemen, eighth amongst qualified third basemen, and even top-35 amongst qualified outfielders. Not only was he providing premium positional flexibility, but he was also providing extreme value — especially at second base.

His successful season in 2012 led to a massive uptick in his average draft position (ADP). For the ’12 season, his ADP was 194. That jumped to 100 this year. Fantasy owners paid for a high batting average, double-digit home runs and even double-digit stolen bases.

This year, though, Prado has been nothing short of a disappointment. He’s hitting .248/.297/.340 with four home runs and just one stolen base. His .280 wOBA ranks 16th amongst qualified second basemen, and his 69 wRC+ is the worst of his eight-year career. According to ESPN, he’s been the 22nd-best fantasy option at second base — which ranks worse than Brian Dozier and Daniel Descalso.

Looking at his .267 BABIP this season, it’s easy to explain away his struggles as merely bad luck. Or as the narrative suggests, perhaps it’s a result of pressing at the plate, trying to replace Justin Upton in the Diamondbacks’ lineup. Whatever the reason, it’s disconcerting to glance at his 2011 numbers because they very closely mirrors his poor performance in 2013.

2011 .260 .302 .385 13 4 .302 88 .266
2013 .248 .297 .340 4 1 .280 69 .267

Fantasy owners should be aware that we’ve seen this level of performance before from Martin Prado. When he cannot post a BABIP around his career norms, the overall fantasy value is minuscule. The double-digit home runs are nice from a second baseman, but the remainder of his numbers are unusable in most formats, even deeper mixed leagues.

Though the BABIP numbers are eerily similar in 2011 and 2013, they’re not created equally. In 2011, Prado only had a 14.6% line drive rate and posted the highest ground-ball rate of his career (50.8%). That doesn’t generally lead to a sparkling BABIP. In 2013, though, his line drive rate is 23.5% — the highest mark of his career — and his ground-ball rate is back down toward his career average.

As simplistic as it seems, it appears Prado is currently a victim of bad luck that should turn around in the second half of the season.

He’s also uncharacteristically struggling in two distinct areas that should improve throughout the remainder of the season. Right-handed pitchers are handcuffing Prado. On the season, he’s hitting .235/.269/.344 against righties with a 4.1% walk rate and 12.4% strikeout rate. While the walk and strikeout rates are near his career norms, he has historically performed better against righties than lefties. His career numbers against right-handed pitchers are .294/.334/.422 with a .331 wOBA.

It’s tough to believe his skills versus right-handed pitching have suddenly fallen off a cliff. He does have a .250 BABIP against righties, though, so once again, perhaps that’s the underlying cause for his poor numbers.

However, one of the most significant surprises has been his lack of power. His .092 ISO is (by far) a career low. His previous career-low was his .125 ISO in 2011. And most of that power outage has come against left-handed pitching — .045 ISO vs. LHP — something completely out of character for Prado. For his career, he has hit for more power against lefties (.150 ISO) than righties (.129 ISO), so for his lack of power to come primarily against southpaws is especially surprising.

One can reasonably expect his power against lefties to increase, especially considering his home ballpark. Chase Field has posted above-average home run park factors in every season since 2003. Except this season. It’s tough to believe that will remain true throughout the entire year.

Fantasy owners should be frustrated with Martin Prado. He was one of the best second base options in fantasy last year, and this year, he’s been barely ownable. Owners should remain patient, though. His BABIP should come around, and his batting average should begin to climb in the last three or four months of the season. More importantly, though, his power can be expected to return once he begins hitting lefties as he has throughout his career.

The stolen base numbers don’t appear to be poised for a rebound, though. He stole more bases last year than he had in his previous six seasons in the big leagues, and he’s now on a team that ranks 26th in the league in stolen bases. That ship appears to have sailed. Still, if his BABIP can rebound and he can regain his power stroke against lefties, he should be plenty valuable in most standard categories. So, overall, his struggles are worth sticking out, at this point.