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Martin Prado gets all the respect and no respect

Martin Prado has an unassuming, quiet skillset that leads him to be underrated for what he has been, even if the Marlins might think more of him for intangible reasons.

MLB: Miami Marlins at Philadelphia Phillies Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Miami Marlins really like Martin Prado. There is probably a reasonable contingent of Marlins fans who like Prado as well. But Prado also gets a fair amount of lack of respect as well. For some fans, Prado is the team’s token "veteran gritty guy," a throwback to guys like Casey McGehee, Greg Dobbs, Wes Helms, and Jeff Mathis, guys the Marlins pick up, fall in love with because of their leadership capabilities, and keep on the team for longer than is necessary. Owner Jeffrey Loria does like his gritty veteran types, and with Prado’s unassuming skills, one might be tempted to think of him that way.

That would be wrong.

Yes, Prado should be respected for being a veteran hand and leader in the clubhouse. There is some intangible value to having someone on the player’s side who can help fill a leadership responsibility. But more importantly than that, it would be even more beneficial if that leader was also an effective member of the team’s starting lineup like Prado. No matter how you look at it, Prado’s stint with the Marlins has been successful.

No-Frills Offense

Here is an example by Fish Stripes reader eskimoses1 about the problem with some fans’ perceptions of Prado and his offensive ability.

My issue with Prado is this...

He doesn’t produce runs – either knocking them in, or scoring. 3 HR this year? From a corner IF? That’s not good. He also, time and again, produces empty outs with runners on base. The latter is magnified by him hitting in the 2-hole.

Let’s ignore the fact that he is asking for essentially RBIs and runs scored as the measure of player performance, as readers of Fish Stripes know that is not how real conversations about player value are had. We have to speak the same language, and that language is going to be through batting lines, specifically the "triple slash" of batting average / OBP / slugging percentage and subsequent, wOBA, the total offense statistic FanGraphs uses for offensive value. These are context-neutral batting numbers.

The problem is with the premise that a corner infielder has a certain appearance as a hitter. The "classic" third baseman is always a hard-hitting power guy who drives in runs as a middle-of-the-order bat, or at least that’s what the perception has always been. If you hit well enough, people stop bothering figuring out whether your hitting profile is "good enough" for a certain position, but if your batting line is closer to the league average, the perception of a need for a "big bat" at third base becomes more prominent.

Except here is the issue: production is production, irrelevant of how it is done. It should not matter how a player produces offensive value, so long as he does. Yes, certain positions have more offensive expectations than others, but third base is one of the positions that is expected to be league average at the plate, along with second base and center field. That tends to fit the general theme around the league and what the numbers have said over the years. Initially, The Book Blog then FanGraphs adapted the positional adjustment charts for WAR that showed that second basemen and third basemen have the same positional value; that is, you should expect the same types of overall offensive/defensive performance between these positions. The old perception of third base as a "premium offensive position" is wrong; the league has not treated third basemen this way for a long time. Jeff Zimmerman of Hardball Times did a re-evaluation of the spectrum by comparing defensive players moving from position to position and league-wide offensive comparisons, and he found essentially the same thing. Defensively, third basemen are about even, and on average they are perhaps two runs better per season than second basemen and center fielders as a group. Essentially, these two positions have the same expectations.

So how well has Prado done compared to those positions?

Prado, Season AVG OBP SLG wOBA wRC+
Prado, 2015 .288 .338 .394 .318 100
Third Basemen, 2015 .260 .318 .420 .319 101
Second Basemen, 2015 .261 .315 .391 .307 93
Prado, 2016 .314 .364 .409 .334 108
Third Basemen, 2016 .266 .335 .452 .336 109
Second Basemen, 2016 .271 .330 .424 .325 101

You can see that Prado’s batting line, the conglomerate value of his hits, walks, homers, and offensive production, is even with the league average for players of his position. The difference is not in the total value, but how that value is performed. Players at third base garnered fewer singles but more home runs, spreading their value in a different fashion. However, that value is still the same when added all together, and that is important to recognize. Since Prado has been in Miami, he has been league average at the plate as compared to the average second and third baseman. He just does it with base hits rather than long balls, and that is OK. You cannot blame a player for what he does not do well without crediting him for what he does do well.

Consistent Defense

Here’s eskimoses1 again on Prado’s defense.

His defense is OK

He generally makes plays on balls he gets to (not tonight), but his range is hugely limited.

This is a perception of Prado because he is not an Adeiny Hechavarria-style athletic specimen. However, it is probably a very reasonable assessment of what he looks like he does best. However, this description, without numerical evidence behind it, is just words to describe his skills. How do those translate into numbers?

Since 2015, when Prado began spending nearly his entire time at third base, he ranks fourth in UZR among third basemen and sixth in DRS. This is out of 22 third basemen who have played at least 1400 innings at the position since then. That makes Prado someone who is in the upper one-third of defenders at his position.

How did he do it? Exactly as eskimoses1 described, by making plays on balls that he gets to. RZR is a measure of percentage of plays made inside a "zone of responsibility" for a player, an area on the field which is designated as fair ground for defenders of a given position. Since 2015, Prado ranks fourth among all third basemen in plays made within the responsibility zone of third basemen. He has caught and made plays on 74.5 percent of those balls, behind only a good defensive shortstop in Manny Machado along with Matt Duffy and Justin Turner. Part of that success comes from avoiding errors, as Prado has taken on the mantra of "no extra outs" by Perry Hill to the best of his abilities. Prado leads all third basemen since last year in runs above average on avoiding errors with eight runs in total. He has committed only 11 errors at third base in over 1700 innings, compared to 13 errors he committed in just 1100 innings in 2014.

In terms of plays out of the zone, Prado has been below average, but mildly so. He has made 68 plays out of his zone of responsibility, and the average third basemen would have made 73 such plays in the same number of innings. That may be in part due to Prado’s left-sided teammate Hechavarria, who is rangy enough to cover ground for the two of them as well. It could be because of his more limited range. But it is not a major detriment; those plays are in general worth less to a third baseman missing them (the responsibility is "shared" between the left-sided infielders more than the balls in the third base zone) and more to the third baseman making them.

So Prado is highly above average inside his expected zone of responsibility, does not make errors, and is a bit below average ranging outside of the area of usual third basemen. That makes him an above average defender, even if he is not making flashy Machado-like plays.It is again unfair to discredit Prado for what he does not do well without giving him credit for his skill and success.

Prado has never been a flashy player. His skills are so unassuming that it is easy to assume that he is replaceable. But he does a lot of things well that do not stand out but are visible in the numbers. An average hitter with an above-average defensive performance at second or third base is an above average player, and claiming Prado to have been anything but that in the last two years is wrong.