The Incorrect Lesson About Carlos Correa

Months ago – possibly sometime late July to mid-August – Bill James tweeted about Alex Bregman and Carlos Correa. The topic: that anybody who had preferred Correa to Bregman entering this season was a fool. James was talking in a real baseball sense, but I’m sure the thought would have extended to fantasy baseball.

In response, I took a quick peek at both players’ priors, ignoring their 2018 production altogether. I determined they were roughly four win players. So, this being on twitter*, I called out James with my evidence. In short, it was possible to prefer Bregman, but Correa’s longer track record and similar projection were seemingly favorable. James called me a dumdum in response – the worst kind of sphere-shaped lollipop. That was the extent of his rebuttal.

*One thing you gotta love about Twitter… I, a glorified blogger, can walk up to Bill James, a founding father of sabermetrics, and tell him he’s wrong. And receive a banal retort in response.

More recently, I’m seeing a growing tide of people lamenting the mistake of selecting Correa in the late-first round of 2018 drafts. His downfall, despite being caused by a new injury(s), was somehow predictable. As far as I’m concerned, my colleagues are drawing the wrong conclusion.

Ironically, I entered the season as one of those few who preferred Bregman to Correa. I’m a sucker for five category performers – especially early in the draft. I targeted both players around pick 30 which meant I was competitive for Bregman and never in the mix for Correa. I also liked Bregman’s combo of power, plate discipline, and high contact rate – even before he improved in all three facets. Lastly, third base was a position I struggled with in 2017 whereas I drowned in shortstops. All else equal, I wanted a third baseman.

But this is an article about Correa. He’d dealt with various nagging injuries in recent seasons which conspired to hold down his fantasy stats. Nevertheless, given his high-powered surrounding cast, a projection of about 600 plate appearances**, 105 runs, 105 RBI, 30 home runs, and an over-.300 average weren’t outside the realm of possibility. Those were the paces he posted in 2017. Over a full season, that’s J.D. Martinez minus a chunk of home runs.

**I rarely project any player for more than 600 PA. I think this is a separate industry blind spot.

Martinez was the fifth best fantasy player per ESPN Player Rater. The referenced Correa projection plus a full season of 660 PA – call it Correa-rosy – would have ranked in the 12th to 14th best player range. That’s an easy first round pick. Sure, Correa-rosy was a 75th percentile projection. You should have asked him for 600 plate appearances, 95 runs, 27 home runs, 95 RBI, and a .285 average. That’s closer to the 50th percentile. That would rank in the mid-20s which is the equivalent of a mid-second round pick.

The “we shoulda saw it coming” crowd undoubtedly will reference Correa’s spotty health record. In particular, he does seem to be the kind of player who 1) works through injuries and b) really sucks while doing so. That’s… less than ideal for us fantasy owners. Since unlike the Mets, the Astros are very good at managing injury news (i.e. hiding it), we’re often left with too little information about Correa’s health. So we lean into the slump waiting for a rebound.

That, I assume, is one of the main justifications used by those who regret their Correa pick. Absent information, I’m not sure we had any reason to believe Correa was more likely to sustain a major injury than Bregman or Mike Trout or Giancarlo Stanton or Mookie Betts. If we did, we’re talking small numbers. Like Correa might have been 1.5 percent more likely than Betts to suffer a performance hindering injury.

The lesson then, isn’t that everybody was wrong. Sure, even I felt Correa in the first was a little bullish, but early draft picks usually reflect 75th percentile or higher projections. And Correa’s seemingly fit in that 10th to 14th pick range. Using sunny projections is a mistake, but it’s not the mistake we’re talking about today. Somehow we were supposed to see that a future injury would break the projection. Instead, what happened is very simple – Correa rolled snake eyes. Reality supplied him with a 10th percentile outcome – and that always happens to some players.

We make enough mistakes without adding “failure to foresee the future” to the list. It’s not a fair critique.

We hoped you liked reading The Incorrect Lesson About Carlos Correa by Brad Johnson!

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As the old saying goes, “Never meet your heroes…on Twitter.” I’m still trying to reconcile my image of Baseball Stats Innovator Bill James and whoever that jerk is that pretends to be him on Twitter.