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Pitchers are throwing Carlos Correa more strikes, and he is making them pay for it

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Controlled aggression has the Astros shortstop off to his best start in years.

MLB: Oakland Athletics at Houston Astros Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Carlos Correa is healthy and feeling sexy. After a lackluster regular season in 2020, he is again a dangerous hitter for pitchers to face. This is a fact that’s seemingly unbeknownst to the pitchers themselves.

Through his first 20 games (88 plate appearances), Correa is seeing pitches in the strike zone at a rate just north of 51 percent. Its highest point prior to 2021 was 46.6 percent, in 2016.

Against pitches in the zone, Correa’s wOBACON is .443, which is not only substantially better than last year’s figure (.386), but is also much higher than the current league average (also .386).

In terms of making consistent contact in the zone, Correa is connecting with pitches at a rate that almost matches his career-best mark. What adds to Correa’s strong batted ball data is his plate discipline.

Despite pitchers’ aggressiveness in the zone, the former No. 1 overall pick has remained selective. It might appear inversely given Correa’s meager 5.7 percent walk rate, but thus far, his chase rate is the lowest it’s ever been. Additionally, his swing percentage on middle-middle pitches (91.3) is far and away the highest of his career.

Hitting the ball to all fields is something Correa’s long excelled at. After a pull-happy 2020, he’s returned to his all-fields approach in 2021, and it’s paying dividends. After routinely rolling over on ground balls last season, there’s a renewed emphasis on hitting the ball the other way. Against pitches in the zone, Correa’s opposite field wOBACON is a stellar .489.

Correa’s ability to stay in the zone and pounce on hittable pitches has yielded a solid .284/.330/.481 slash line. His expected numbers indicate that line is light, as evidenced by his .324 Expected Batting Average (xBA) and .501 Expected Slugging (xSLG). Moreover, a reduced strikeout rate of 15.9 percent will only serve to enhance the star shortstop’s production.

Small sample sizes be damned, Correa’s looked awfully impressive just from an eye-test standpoint. Sooner or later, it’s likely that pitchers won’t be throwing him as many strikes, and at that point it’ll be interesting to see if there will be any significant change in his output.

Regardless of the perennial fear of injury, Correa appears to be putting everything together offensively. He’s making more contact while still hitting the ball hard, he’s improved his eye at the plate and he’s optimized his batted balls by lifting them more often.

It might be a few months before various numbers can be assessed with relative legitimacy, but the Astros’ impending free agent shortstop’s current performance certainly falls in line with his talent. That’s great for the team right now, but it won’t be in several months when they have to contend with others in free agency.

If only the club had an opportunity to extend him.

The data in this article was compiled via Baseball Savant