Astros Analysis: What to glean about Carlos Correa’s performance against breaking pitches
The Astros need a healthy and productive Carlos Correa in 2019, if the club wishes to reach their full potential.
From 2015-17, the Astros‘ star shortstop, Carlos Correa, was worth roughly 13.7 wins per FanGraphs. Viewed as one of best young players in the game, Correa was once considered a possible MVP candidate for 2018. Houston’s hopes for another World Series title also partially hinged on their shortstop’s success.
Obviously, those hopes didn’t materialize, for neither player nor team, as a nagging back injury limited the former number one overall pick to only 110 games last season. The 24-year old shortstop finished a disappointing season with a .239/.323/.405 slash line with a 101 wRC+ — only one percent above league average — and only worth 1.6 wins above replacement. The injury, which was described as “lower back soreness,” was deduced as a (key) reason behind Correa’s offensive struggles at the plate.
It doesn’t take a doctor to understand why a back injury is troublesome for an athlete, especially one that relies on production from swinging a bat. Still there remain areas of interest to examine, even within the struggles. That area for me with Correa was his sudden inability to hit a breaking pitch (slider, curveball, knuckle curve, knuckleball, eephus).
Going back to 2015 through 2017, Correa posted a .315 wOBA against pitches classified as breaking. For context, the league average wOBA from 2015-17 against a breaking pitch was .263. Correa was clearly way above league average in this regard. Don’t forget that he was 52 percent better than league average in wRC+ in overall performance.
Fast forward to 2018, and Correa’s impressive numbers against breaking pitches took a mighty swing…downwards. Last season, he posted a dismal .207 wOBA against breaking pitches. The league average wOBA against breaking pitches was .265. Even by expected wOBA (xwOBA), Correa still posted a measly .204, which means that he slightly over performed based on his batted ball results. There was clearly an issue last season.
That said, let’s also take a look at other pitch classifications. Baseball Savant classifies all pitches into three categories: Fastballs, offspeed, and breaking. For the first two categories, from 2015-17, Correa posted a .393 wOBA and .374 wOBA. In 2018, those averages dropped to .356 and .330, respectively. In conjunction with his overall numbers, it is quite obvious to see that his back injury led to him see a noticeable drop in production against all pitch classifications.
At the same time though, the decline against pitches classified as breaking was a bit more startling as it dropped by more than a hundred points. The decline against other pitch classifications, albeit noticeable, didn’t take as much of a tumble. Based on the graphs presented at Brooks Baseball here, I believe teams started to pick up on this issue with Correa following his return. Opposing pitchers, for example, threw breaking pitches to Correa roughly 25 percent of the time back in April. By September, he saw an increase of roughly 8 percent of breaking pitches. On average for an entire season, again from 2015-17, Correa saw breaking pitches roughly 28.6 percent of the time. That figure, in 2018, rose to 31.6 percent, a 3 percent increase. Pitchers, in short, adjusted their approach to Correa, which didn’t help his offensive production while treating a troublesome back injury.
Going forward, it will be curious to see how Correa performs against breaking pitches. Well, honestly, all pitches in general. If the back injury is truly behind him, then I think we can see Correa make a case as a Comeback Player of the Year candidate. Do I even dare speculate a run as a potential MVP candidate in 2019? But teams may test Correa with more breaking pitches early in the 2019 season to see if this area remains an issue for him at the plate. For both the Astros and the young shortstop, let’s hope not.