Carlos Correa’s step back

Houston Astros LogoSometimes, expectations are just impossible to achieve. When you’re a first overall pick, you have attention and spotlights sprung on you non-stop until you’ve finally made it, or crashed. When you’re the first Puerto Rican picked in that spot, as well as one to graduate from high school in Puerto Rico, even more attention and expectations come. When you’re drafted at just 17 years young, there’s just no way for your future projections to be realistic. And when you start your major league career with 22 bombs and a 135 wRC+ in just 99 games, you better be prepared to repeat it.

What’s unfortunate for Correa is although his 122 wRC+ campaign in 2016 as a 21-year-old is fantastic given his age, considering everything else he fell short of expectations. Prospects like Mike Trout and Bryce Harper helped pave the way for young waves of prospects, not the usual “spend a year at each level” that organizations had become used to. And Correa fit the bill as a big framed infielder with plus power potential and with great draft pedigree. And while he’s hit the ground running overall the past couple seasons (he’s been a fantastic player relative to the league), fantasy owners and fans alike are wondering if he has the ability to transcend to that next level, where he begins to truly dominate. He’s shown flashes, but his consistency hasn’t existed yet.

One of the first things to notice about his drop in 2016 is that his power decreased sharply, with his isolated power going from .233 to .177, despite not much change in his batted ball profile. In fact, he also has been a little luckier in 2016, with his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) jumping from .296 to .328. Both his strikeouts and walks rose slightly, but only by two percentage points on each to bring them to 21.1% and 11.4%, respectively.

Part of the problem with Correa is how little he puts the ball in the air. His career grounder percentage is 49.5%, something you would like to see from someone who is a one-dimensional speedster, not a plus power and plus contact talent. To hit his 22 homers when he got called up in his short 2015 stint, he required a 24.2% homer to fly ball ratio. To put that into some context, last year only eight players had a ratio higher than that, and it includes sluggers Khris Davis, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz, and right above guys like Miguel Cabrera, Joey Votto, and Edwin Encarnacion. Not to say that Correa isn’t a fantastic player and doesn’t havethe talent to be ranked with these guys, but they are on a different level and tier than Correa is. Either the power is elite with lessened contact, or we are just talking about the generation’s best hitters (Cabrera and Votto). Exceptional company, but not sustainable yet. In 2016 we saw him drop back down to 16.5%, which is not far off of the major league average 12.8%. It builds up evidence that perhaps Correa’s power still needs to develop more, where his rookie surge was luck infused.

What’s promising despite the dampened power is that his contact stayed close to the same during his sophomore year. His batting average in 2015 was .279 and barely dropped to .274 in 2016. While batting average can be fluky and influenced by how defenses play you (this is why BABIP is a good stat), we saw peripheral numbers improve in a way to suggest Correa himself is still improving. His hard contact percentage rose from 32.9% to 37.9%, as well as starting to pull the ball more often (which is better for power and harder to shift against as a righty).

Something else of note is that pitchers have slightly raised their strike zone attacks against him, where his zone percentage went from 42.7% to 44.5%. Over the course of his 660 plate appearances this percentage comes to quite a few pitches, and it looks like Correa hasn’t been up to the task as some might have thought. His offensive contact rates have fallen from 70.3% to 65.0%, showing trouble to hit in the zone despite pitchers throwing him there often. As you can see in the image below, he’s had trouble hitting pitches low and away effectively, which has allowed pitchers to attack him in the zone without much threat for extra bases.

Carlos Correa’s step back chart 1

 

Carlos Correa had a magnificent start to his career, but some good fortune on homers and a lack of quick adjustments from opposing pitchers seems to have artificially inflated his short-term value. Correa possesses the tools to still become an elite player in this league at any position, much less the power dry shortstop spot. But his power has to still develop and he has a hole in his swing that needs fixing. Stay cautiously optimistic about him, but be careful not to overdraft as he still has a learning curve ahead.

 

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James Krueger
James lives in Tampa, Florida and is often one of the 10,000 people you can see at Rays' home games. He's a huge fan of prospects, loves analyzing swing mechanics, and will eat a "Top 100" list for breakfast. Dynasty leagues are his forte, especially rebuilding teams; building a farm system is the best part.