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Deep Dive: Carlos Correa - The Good, the Bad and the Exceedingly Strange

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Trying to make sense of Carlos Correa’s 2020 season

League Championship Series - New York Yankees v Houston Astros - Game Two Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

The knock on Carlos Correa for years has been his durability. He’s played a full big league season just once since he debuted in 2015, and that was back in 2016. The most games he’s logged in a single season post-2016 was 110, in 2018. In a season that has seen an abundance of players suffer injuries, Correa had managed to avoid them this year, until last night when he fouled a ball off his left ankle and had to be helped off the field, with the subsequent prognosis being a bone bruise. It would be demoralizing if this were to result in yet another premature end to a season for Correa.

Either way, his 2020 has been a peculiar season, to say the least.

Basic Overview

In 182 plate appearances this season, Correa has hit .274/.346/.396 with 4 HR. He owns an 8.8% walk rate and a K rate of 21.4%. His wOBA is .323 and his wRC+ is a slightly above-average 106. For the most part, these are mediocre numbers for a player of Correa’s ability. His career wOBA of .356 and career wRC+ of 128 confirm that notion. Furthermore, it could be argued that Correa has yet to peak. His career numbers in general are at least somewhat lite from my perspective, making his 2020 numbers look even more disappointing. Yes, I’m labeling numbers that include a solid .346 OBP ‘disappointing.’ Correa’s talent justifies that statement, in my opinion.

The Good

I would be remiss if I did not mention Correa’s contributions in the field this season. While this article will exclusively focus on his production at the plate, I have to shine some light on his defense. Correa has always been a high-quality defender, but it seems as though he’s entered the Gold Glove conversation. His elevated play at SS came at a great time, given the issues with the pitching staff.

As far as Correa’s hit tool goes, it’s been steady. He’s a career .277 hitter. As mentioned above, he’s hit .274 this season. He hit .279 last season in 321 plate appearances. What is Correa’s career xBA? .283. His 2019 xBA? .288. This year? .286. Seems to check out. Now, let’s go a bit deeper.

Correa’s 2020 hard hit hate rate is 42.7%, which is above his career average and significantly above league average. His xwOBACON is .419 — the league average is around .380. While Correa’s middling .323 wOBA is nothing special, his xwOBA of .352 suggests he’s due for some positive regression. His weak contact rate — batted balls with an exit velo of below 60 mph — is a mere 1.6%. The league average is over 3%. Not too shabby.

The Bad

As I mentioned in my piece about the Astros’ lack of power production, Correa’s barrel rate plummeted this year to 6.5%. While that percentage is roughly league average, his career barrel rate coming into 2020 was around 9%. In 2019, it was a fantastic 13%. Frankly, I think anything below double digits for Correa on this front is underachieving.

His solid contact rate — the second best kind of batted ball — is markedly down from last year. It appeared that he had fixed his problem of topping (pounding the ball into the ground) too many balls in 2019, but this year that percentage is back up around its normal, below-average rate. Naturally, his ground ball rate has regressed and is below-average once again.

Another concerning development this season is Correa’s numbers against non-fastballs. Pre-2020, his career wOBA against those pitches is .313, with an xwOBA of .328. In 2020, his wOBA is .291 and his xwOBA is .299. He’s most notably had trouble dealing with offspeed pitches (changeups and splitters). Pre-2020, his wOBA and xwOBA against them is .374 and .369, respectively, with a whiff rate of 27.9%. In 2020, his wOBA is .134 and his xwOBA is .203. The whiff rate has skyrocketed to 40%. It’d be fair to think that this specific issue is mainly due to a relatively small sample size and is not indicative of a legitimate trend. Time will tell.

Based on watching Correa this year, it seems like he’s expanded the zone more often than usual. His chase rate backs up the eye test. It’s over 30% for the first time since his rookie year, and is fairly well above his career rate as well. His swing percentage has also increased to the tune of nearly 47%. That isn’t ostensibly good or bad, but his career rate is around 43%. I don’t know if there’s a correlation between his underwhelming numbers and his higher swing percentage, but it’s an interesting tidbit nonetheless.

The Exceedingly Strange

*cracks knuckles*

This is where this deep dive approaches hardcore nerd stat levels, assuming I haven’t already breached that threshold.

We need to talk about Correa’s pull percentage. He is pulling the ball a lot. His career pull percentage is 33%. In 2020? It’s nearly 48%. Now, modern baseball wisdom says that pulling the ball more is generally a good thing. It usually unlocks more power for players and increases their output. That could not be further from the case here.

To begin, using a handful of metrics, we’re going to look at Correa’s data on all pulled batted balls and compare and contrast his numbers from 2015-2018, 2019 and 2020.

2015-2018:

  • Launch angle: 0.8 (yikes)
  • Average distance: 132 feet
  • Average exit velo: 90.5 mph
  • wOBA: .487
  • xwOBA: .453

2019:

  • Launch angle: 5.9
  • Average distance: 151 feet
  • Average exit velo: 88.7 mph
  • wOBA: .492 (league avg. for right-handed batters: .456)
  • xwOBA: .465 (league avg. for right-handed batters: .421)

2020:

  • Launch angle: 5.6
  • Average distance: 121 feet
  • Average exit velo: 89.8 mph
  • wOBA: .393 (league avg. for right-handed batters: .444)
  • xwOBA: .467 (league avg. for right-handed batters: .433)

You’re probably thinking that this is irrelevant since Correa’s xwOBAs are all similar and his 2020 wOBA is obviously low and should be higher. Well, you might be right. Before passing judgment, however, consider this data detailing Correa’s numbers on pulled hard hit batted balls:

2015-2018:

  • Launch angle: 9.6
  • Average distance: 195 feet
  • Average exit velo: 103.6 mph
  • wOBA: .855
  • xwOBA: .762

2019:

  • Launch angle: 12.3
  • Average distance: 223 feet
  • Average exit velo: 104.7 mph
  • wOBA: 1.045 (league avg. for right-handed batters: .788)
  • xwOBA: .830 (league avg. for right-handed batters: .706)

2020:

  • Launch angle: 10.5
  • Average distance: 174 feet
  • Average exit velo: 101.6 mph
  • wOBA: .621 (league avg. for right-handed batters: .759)
  • xwOBA: .651 (league avg. for right-handed batters: .696)

If there’s a smoking gun here, that’s probably it.

I actually could have taken this another layer deeper by adding the shift to the equation, as teams have shifted 35 times against Correa this year, compared to 19 the prior four seasons combined. However, the data indicates that teams have done Correa a favor by shifting this year, as his numbers against the shift are better than when the shift is not in place. He’s been much more willing to go to all fields when the shift has been on, which is likely why his numbers have been better when it is implemented.

Conclusion

As with the Cristian Javier article, the 2020 season being shortened means the data from this season isn’t going to be terribly proficient from a sample size standpoint. What I’ve written isn’t meant to give an explicit answer one way or the other as to why Correa’s 2020 numbers are the way they are. In any case though, I think what‘s laid out above is pretty fascinating. Correa turns 26 in less than a week, and despite the injuries, I think it’s still reasonable to expect superstar production going forward whenever he’s on the field. He is that talented.