We all have our Brokeback Mountain players. Not that you have a physical desire for them — more that you “just can’t quit” them. Yes, Brett Lawrie has an eighteen pack and is more yoked than 95% of the players I’ve seen in a clubhouse, but the reasons I couldn’t quit him were more statistical in nature: he was young when he debuted, he had above-average results in terms of contact, power, patience, and speed early on. He had pedigree! And he was yoked.
By now, of course, I’ve managed to ween myself of Mr. FortyHands. Finally. He just got worse as time went on and never lived up to that pedigree. I’m hoping that the script for me and Carlos Correa goes differently.
Brett Lawrie broke in at 21. In a short but exciting rookie year, he showed power (a .287 isolated slugging percentage), speed (seven successful stolen bases out of eight), patience (9.4% walk rate) and contact (18.1% strikeout rate). Projections loved him going into 2012, when ZiPs had him down for a .275/.333/.498 line with 27 homers, 79 RBIs and 24 stolen bases. The world was his oyster.
Carlos Correa broke in at 20. In a slightly longer and more exciting rookie year, he showed power (a .233 ISO), speed (14/18 in stolen bases), patience (9.3%), and contact (18.1%). Projections loved him going into 2016, when our depth charts had him down for a .274 average with 23 home runs, 91 RBIs and 25 stolen bases. The world was his oyster.
Neither followed up the rookie hype with a spectacular sophomore season, but of course Correa’s followup was better than Lawrie’s. He managed to hit the projected batting average right on the nail, and he still hit 20 homers and stole 13 bases. Lawrie hit 11 homers and stole 13 bases. What scares me is that the sophomore year was probably Lawrie’s best fantasy season, and there are some parallels here, given their position on the middle infield, hype, projections, and followup.
But I’m telling myself it’s different this time.
For one, Correa’s real life second season was much better than Lawrie’s. He ended up nearly a five-win player, while Lawrie put up 2.3 wins. And it’s not all defense. Correa was a better hitter, 22% better than the league last year while Lawrie was 3% worse than average in 2012. That’s really important, because it shows that there’s a more competent hitter under the hood. And it showed up in fantasy, too. Lawrie was the 19th-best third baseman once 2012 ended, and Correa was the seventh-best shortstop last year.
Still, how much should we restrain ourselves going forward? He took a real step back in the power department during a year in which everyone hit 20 homers. His .177 ISO was only 9% better than league average!
Here’s the tricky thing. I think he played through some injury. Take a look at this chart of his rolling exit velocity over the year, and pair it with some words that he said, and you see two major injuries that cost him power over the course of the year.
I do want to compare this to someone who had a monster season and didn’t report any injuries, though, for good measure. Here’s Mark Trumbo’s rolling exit velocity for last season. Trumbo only had a day off for a back thing on September 18th all season.
Huh. Maybe the back thing lead to the downturn late in the season, but what happened in the middle of the season? Still, we have more injury notes for Correa, and we could say that it’s still possible that he’ll be underprojected in terms of power for next year, as Jeff Zimmerman found happens with players playing through injury.
But give Correa even 25 homers with 10-14 steals, and is he a first rounder? Without a spike in batting average or steals, he still would have been behind Xander Bogaerts and maybe also Corey Seager, so he would have only moved up to the fifth-best shortstop. Maybe a healthy, full exit-velocity season helps his batting average…
He did roll an ankle, too. How much do we think that changed his stolen base attempts? Let’s take a look.
On June 9th, Correa sprained his ankle pretty badly. He didn’t attempt a stolen base for a month. He attempted 11 in the first two months. If you give him five attempts a month with his current success rate, Correa would have stolen 24 bases. Give him a .274 batting average, 25 homers and 24 stolen bases, and he’d be up against Manny Machado (.294 batting average, 37 HR, 0 SB) for second-best shortstop in the game, and a regression season from Jonathan Villar from being in the mix for first or second-best fantasy shortstop next year.
I know, I know. I played all the same mind games I played with Lawrie when I tried to rationalize his seasons. It’s probably particularly rich that I’m using injury to faithcast Correa back into the stuff we projected for him going into this season, given how many injuries Lawrie has suffered since his rookie season.
But that Carlos Correa, man. I just can’t quit him.
With a phone full of pictures of pitchers' fingers, strange beers, and his two toddler sons, Eno Sarris can be found at the ballpark or a brewery most days. Read him here, writing about the A's or Giants at The Athletic, or about beer at October. Follow him on Twitter @enosarris if you can handle the sandwiches and inanity.