The Astros haven’t skipped a beat without Carlos Correa in 2022. They’ve won more games without him this year than they did with him in 2021. In the regular season.
While Jeremy Peña has been a quality replacement in his rookie year — ranking 12th in fWAR among all shortstops — he has yet to face his greatest challenge in the big leagues: playoff pitching.
As difficult as it is to face major-league pitching in general, it’s often harder come playoff time. It’s no secret why — the best teams are in the postseason, and the best teams typically roster high-quality arms.
This rarely was a problem for Correa during his six postseason runs in Houston. Across 334 career plate appearances, he’s hit .272/.344/.505 (129 wRC+) with 18 home runs. Only six players have hit more postseason home runs in the history of the game (José Altuve and George Springer being two of them). That’s not easily replaced, and it probably can’t be. Especially not this year.
Because Peña’s slugged 20 home runs and has stolen 11 bags in 13 attempts, it’s helped compensate for an OBP that is below .300. Overall, he’s registered an acceptable 96 wRC+. That said, a 4.1 percent walk rate coupled with a 24.1 percent strikeout rate portends trouble next month.
Even in their respective rookie years, Yordan Álvarez and Yankees superstar Aaron Judge struggled in their postseason debuts.
After annihilating MLB pitching during the 2019 regular season (27 home runs, .412 OBP), Álvarez was a borderline liability at the dish in the playoffs (79 wRC+), hitting just one home run while striking out nearly 33 percent of the time.
In 2017, Judge’s regular-season slash line was .284/.422/.627. Though his tremendous power output carried over into the playoffs, he hit .188 and more notably struck out in almost half of his plate appearances.
It’s self-evident why the Astros have consistently played deep into October the last several years: they produce. On top of timely pitching, they’re highly effective at the plate — only the Red Sox own a higher team wOBA in the postseason since 2017 (min. 400 plate appearances).
Not having Correa in the lineup this time around will be felt. Much of the Astros’ recent playoff success can be attributed to him. Aside from his remarkable numbers, Correa’s leadership seemed impactful as well.
In arguably no other setting are hitters’ weaknesses exploited more than in the playoffs. Peña’s plus-plus defense does ensure that he’ll make a positive impact in some fashion, but facing battle-tested hurlers in a high-stakes environment could yield a nosedive offensively.
Peña’s solid rookie campaign has made his predecessor’s departure easier to forget. It seems unlikely that sentiment will remain this time next month.