Carlos Correa Is Going Out on a High Note

© Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

This is Davy’s first piece as a FanGraphs contributor. Davy is a writer and musician who lives in Brooklyn. He has previously written for Baseball Prospectus, where he contributed to the Too Far From Town series about the contraction of the minors. He bakes fancy cakes and plays guitar for The Subway Ghosts, a punk rock band whose other members are also baseball writers. Davy grew up in Falls Church, Virginia, and his earliest ballpark memory is of boos raining down on Glenn Davis at Memorial Stadium.

Carlos Correa picked a great time to turn things around. The 28-year-old is widely expected to opt out of his three-year contract with the Twins this winter, and he’s primed to hit the free agent market on an absolute tear. Correa is slashing .377/.438/.663 in September, good for a 216 wRC+. That’s the sixth-best mark in all of baseball and second among shortstops, behind only the red hot Bo Bichette.

Like Bichette, Correa faced a rough time earlier in the season. Where did things go wrong for the future former Twin? It’s time for some fun with 15-day rolling averages!

Correa soared in May despite missing time with a finger contusion, crashed and burned in July, and rose from the ashes in August. Hey, maybe he should sign in Phoenix. Let’s see if Correa’s just getting unlucky:

Well that was easy. He’s got a case of the BABIPs. Sometimes you just need to hit ’em where they ain’t, Carlos. Case closed, I guess. I’ll just check some monthly splits real quick and then we can knock off early:

2022 Monthly Batted Ball Splits – Carlos Correa

Month Soft% Med% Hard% Barrel% LD% wOBA xWOBA
April 18% 40% 42% 4% 20% .284 .292
May 9% 49% 42% 15.1% 19% .384 .409
Jun 12% 56% 33% 16.4% 23% .430 .411
Jul 15th% 50% 35% 10.6% 12% .267 .353
Aug 24% 46% 30% 8.8% 20% .345 .348
Sept 20% 40% 40% 13.3% 27% .468 .375

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Shoot. Back to work. Correa definitely experienced bad luck in July, but something else was going on as well. His barrel rate and line drive rate fell off a cliff in July, while his soft contact rate climbed to dizzying heights in August. Hey, maybe he should sign with Colorado.

It turns out that Correa’s batted ball profile changed drastically because his plate discipline changed drastically:

2022 Monthly Plate Discipline Splits – Carlos Correa

Month BB% K% Swing% Whiff% Z-Swing% O-Swing%
April 9% 30% 47.3 30.1 66.7 29.5
May 8% 18% 49.3 21.6 68.2 31.4
Jun 10% 21% 45.7 23.8 69.5 25.2
Jul 11% 17% 41.7 20.1 58.2 27.6
Aug 15th% 18% 37 18 52.5 21.9
Sept 8% 20% 48.6 18.8 70.3 27.5

This is where it gets interesting. Correa’s walk rate increased and his strikeout rate fell because he stopped swinging as much. Correa knows that’s a good thing. “The walks mean the plate discipline is there, and walking is a big part of today’s game,” he told the St. Paul Pioneer Press a few weeks ago. “It has a lot of value, it has a lot of projection – it’s a skill.”

Justin Choi taught us that swinging is generally a bad idea because pitches out of the zone are on the rise. In July, Correa didn’t stop chasing balls; he just stopped swinging at strikes. Then in August, he dropped his chase rate as well. During these months he specifically eschewed pitches at the bottom two-thirds of the zone. Time for some heat maps!

On the left is Correa’s swing percentage from April to June. On the right is July and August. He swung 3% more at pitches in the upper third, 15% less at pitches in the middle third, and 20% less at pitches in the bottom third.

Let’s find out of that was a good tradeoff. The three heat maps below cover Correa’s entire career. On the left is his slugging percentage on balls in play. On the right is his Runs Above Average per 100 pitches. In the middle, so it’s easy to compare, is his swing percentage:

Would you look at that? They line up pretty much perfectly. It’s a good policy to swing at the pitches you’re most likely to crush, and that’s what Correa has done for most of his career. He also did that for the first couple months of this season. Here’s what he swung at in July and August:

Yikes. Correa was lost at sea. As we know, he swung at a lot more pitches up. His swings outside the upper third of the zone were much more concentrated low and away, where he’s historically been the very worst. More walks and fewer strikeouts are great, but they came at the expense of Correa’s overall effectiveness on balls in play. He moved away from the spots where he does the most damage and his wRC+ quickly sank. Hey, maybe he should sign with Seattle.

Checking in on his batted ball stats, a few more patterns start to emerge:

2022 Monthly Statcast Splits – Carlos Correa

April 20% 100.7 18.1 .628 22% 94.5 41.7 .370
May 19% 102.8 14.8 .806 32% 96.3 36.1 .678
June 23% 94.9 16.4 .732 44% 94.2 35.5 .656
July 12% 100 15th .794 44% 92.2 37.6 .473
Aug 20% 87.4 16.1 .535 39% 93.5 34.7 .610
Sep 27% 95.0 14.0 .645 38% 95.1 37.1 .526

SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Correa’s line drive rate crered in July, coinciding with reducedness against changesups. Meanwhile, a drop in exit velocity made his fly balls much less valuable. He swung less against fastballs in August. While his fly balls got back to normal, he also hit more popups and his line drives lost all their exit velocity and much of their value.

The good news is that Correa is inching back toward his old ways. His increased aggressiveness at the plate is paying dividends. Here are the first two swing percentage heat maps we looked at, along with September’s:

And for good measure, here’s the fancy version of the swing percentage heat map for this month:

The swings are starting to trend down toward the middle of the zone. The even better news is that Correa’s still got room to improve. His hard hit rate, barrel rate, and exit velocity are still a bit below where they were in May and June.

Going forward, it might also be worth keeping an eye on Correa’s aggressiveness against changes in particular. Over the course of his career, Correa has swung at 44% of changeups, and he’s been excellent against them, ranking 22nd in pitch value since 2015. Since July, he’s swung at just 26.5%. As changeups are generally lower in the zone, this might account for some of the upward drift in his plate discipline stats. Though his hot September has come with increased aggressiveness against every other pitch, he’s swinging at fewer changeups than ever.

To go with his rejuvenated approach, Correa is seeing his wOBA outpace his xWOBA by nearly 100 points in September. All that good luck has very nearly balanced out the bad luck he faced in July. As the season nears its close, his totals are looking very familiar:

2022 and Career Average Stats – Carlos Correa

2022 21 11% 20% .288 .365 .467 .362 .365 140 4.1
Career Average 19 11% 20% .278 .357 .479 .357 .363 129 3.9

Correa is on track for the third-best season of his career by WAR and wRC+. Despite the dual nature of this season, it looks like his 2022 stats and his career averages will be pretty much identical. Hey, maybe he should just re-sign with Minnesota.

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