The Miami Marlins have had a very bad season, and there are different reasons for that kind of bad year. The pitching staff, the injuries to Jose Fernandez and Giancarlo Stanton, and the underachieving play of Marcell Ozuna and Christian Yelich all did not help. One thing that did help, at least as we moved later and later into the season, is the play of Martin Prado. The third baseman was acquired in an offseason trade in order to be a stabilizing infield presence, and he has done just that despite a poor first half.
Prado has played about as well as Dee Gordon has in the second half of the season, and his overall season line is not far away from what was expected of him. Before the season started, here is what we had to say for Prado in 2015:
The overall expected batting line on average is .276/.324/.392, which corresponds to about a .318 wOBA. Prado has been a model of health as well over the last three years, having only missed more than ten games just once in that time frame. That came last year, when he missed 13 games after a bout of appendicitis, which naturally cannot reoccur and is not athletically-associated. It would not be unreasonable to expect 630 plate appearances and about three runs better than average at the plate.
Combine that with slightly above average defense and you have a winning ballplayer. You could expect a 2.5-win season from Prado given these numbers. Like clockwork, the expectation for Prado is exactly what you saw in 2013 and 2014.
How is that expectation compared to now?
We expected worse defense than Prado eventually provided according to the advanced metrics, but overall the batting line essentially matched expectations. In fact, the wOBA projection may have been off based on the preseason coefficients; by the naked eye, those batting lines look close to equivalent, and indeed the real 2015 line looks better than the preseason projection.
Meanwhile, we knew that Prado would provide above average defense at third base, since he has been an above-average defender at both of his regular infield positions. He has supposedly done more than that, providing eight runs above average according to the zone-based metrics. Even if you gave him only credit for two of those runs, presuming a line essentially similar to the ones he put up last year, you would still reach Prado's preseason expectations. At two runs above average, Prado would still be worth 1.8 wins, which would probably broach league average territory by the end of the season.
Prado has done this the same way he has played all of his career. He has the second-lowest strikeout rate (behind only Ichiro Suzuki) among the regulars on the roster, and he has posted an above-average BABIP once again. He is still lacking power, with just a .099 ISO that was expected given the move to Miami and its deep dimensions.
However, being unable to hit a lot of home runs is not a detriment to the Marlins and not a knock against Prado. Runs are runs, no matter how you produce them. Of course, defensive runs are less reliable than offensive runs, but with the eye test supporting Prado, we can at least say that he is on pace to be a league average regular with above average defense. Out of 23 qualified third basemen in baseball this year, Prado's 2.4 fWAR ranks 14th, ranking ahead of notable names like Daniel Murphy, Brett Lawrie, and Chase Headley.
The question is whether a league average season is enough for the Marlins in their context. The team is obligated to give Derek Dietrich a try somewhere in the starting lineup given his strong hitting in a broken 2015 season. Left field is a possibility, as is first base, but the most natural position given the roster would be third base. Prado has one more year on his contract at a relatively cheap price, but re-signing the veteran should not be in consideration given his age. And Prado did not necessarily bounce back entirely; his contact rate remained at the level it was last season at 89 percent after spending years at 90 to 91 percent. For a guy with a lack of power and a limited ability to draw walks, losing a little bit of contact can be disastrous, and at his age, it would not surprise anyone if he fell off quickly.
Prado as of right now is still a league average Major League baseball player, and he is not at fault for the Marlins' struggles in 2015. But should he play a role in a rebuilding 2016 squad? The Fish love his veteran leadership, but on a roster with question marks and with a talent-starved minor league system, it may be better if Prado's valuable contract was traded for much-needed depth.