This past off-season, Atlanta went out and acquired the right-handed power bat it badly wanted in second baseman Dan Uggla. In response to that move, the Braves decided to move Martin Prado from second base to left field as he had played it in winter ball before.
When the move happened, much of the worry was about Prado's defense in the outfield, and not his offense. Defensively, he was decent enough with a +3 defensive runs saved number. Offensively however, was a different story.
For the first 61 games of the season that he played in, Prado batted .277/.324/.438 which was passable enough to work out in left field. But then, on June 7th, Prado was injured by a ball striking his left knee on a throw and sat out a couple of games. Three days later, he was diagnosed with a staph infection in his other knee and was put on the disabled list.
Prado didn't return to the Braves lineup until July 15th, so he missed over a month of the season due to the staph infection. When he returned, he just wasn't the same player. Prado struggled the rest of the way, not looking like the player Braves fans saw in 2009 and 2010.
From July 15th to the end of the season, he put up a triple slash line of .244/.283/.339, which is indescribably bad. When the Braves lineup struggled toward the end of the season, Prado was looked at as one of the main culprits and it's hard to argue with that.
After the jump I take a look at his plate discipline to try and figure out what went wrong at the plate for Martin Prado.
Prado during the season was considered an ultra aggressive hitter and a free swinger, due to his extremely low walk rate, but the numbers show that may not quite be the case. With a strike zone rate of 53%, Prado saw more strikes than normal, which makes sense thanks to a very low swing rate (42%). When he did swing though, he made contact at a 90% rate, which is very high up there.
His swing judgment number shows that 69% of the pitches he swung at were in the strike zone, right at league average. He didn't go out of the zone more than average either, as 28% of pitches outside of the zone were swung at, right at league average.
The biggest difference in the metrics between Prado and the league average is his passive rate. His 46% passive rate was good for 25th in baseball, meaning he was way too passive inside the strike zone taking pitches compared to the league average.
So what went wrong for Prado? Well, it appears his low walk rate was partially due to taking too many pitches inside the strike zone instead of swinging at too many outside of the zone. One big thing that sticks out to me is his strikeout rate, which dipped from 13.8% in 2010 to 8.8% in 2011. The lack of strikeouts led to more contact (weak contact) and hurt Prado at the plate.
Going forward, Prado needs to not be afraid of striking out a little more, and instead focus on hitting the ball with more authority instead of attempting to make contact with everything.
No matter where Prado could have lined up this past season, his offensive performance as a whole (.260/.302/.385) with a .296 wOBA and a 85 wRC+ wouldn't play well anywhere, but it could be better tolerated at second base than left field.
What Atlanta has to figure out is if this season was an outlier for Prado, or something bigger. Was his bad second half of this season due to the struggles of recovering from the staph infection? No doubt it had an impact, but it's hard for anyone but Prado to know how much. His isolated power dropped significantly as well, which could have also been partially due to the injury.
The drop in BABIP from .335 in 2010 to .266 in 2011 is easily noticeable, so was he just plain unlucky? Probably a little bit, but that doesn't explain everything. He's got to make some changes to his approach in order to get back to where he was the last couple of seasons, and his on-base average needs to jump up if the Braves plan to use him in the top part of the order.
Projecting Prado for next season is a tough thing to do. I don't expect him to be as bad as he was this past season, but he'll still most likely offer less than average production in left field compared to how he would be valued at second base.
Unless Frank Wren goes out and gets an outfield bat and uses Prado in more of a super utility role, the Braves will have to deal with that until he eventually moves to third base whenever Chipper Jones retires.
The bottom line is that the Braves can't afford another horrific season at the plate from Prado.