In a world where almost everything requires nuance and subtlety (or at least it should), once in a while we are treated to a relatively simple explanation. In 2018, Carlos Correa’s side and back injuries were very likely the cause of his poor performance and reduced offensive production.
After a 2017 season that saw Correa post a .315/.391/.550 line with 24 home runs, he saw his overall production dip to .239/.323/.405 with 15 home runs in 468 PAs.
When Correa first began missing time for a side injury in early June, he was slashing .264/.348/.464 with a 123 wRC+ and 10 home runs (through May 31). After moving in and out of the lineup while attempting to play through the side issue (which may have turned out to be an oblique problem), Correa began dealing with lingering back issues and was placed on the disabled list for six weeks beginning on June 28.
Correa was not the same player when he returned in mid-August, slashing .180/.261/.256 with only six extra base hits (2HR, 4 doubles) the rest of the way.
Correa appeared to be hitting the ball less authoritatively after his injuries cropped up – another indication he was likely playing at less than 100 percent. Through May 31, Correa’s average exit velocity was 89.1 miles per hour. This dropped to 85.9 when he returned from the disabled list through the remainder of the season. Prior to 2018, Correa had never averaged lower than a 90.4 mph average exit velocity in a full season. His soft contact percentage also increased – jumping from 16.9 percent through the end of May to 21.4 percent in August and September.
If there is a reason to be concerned moving forward, for the first time in his career, Correa appeared to struggle against sliders. Correa posted a .327 wOBA against sliders in 2017 but struggled this season – posting just a .203 wOBA against the pitch.
According Statcast and Pitch FX data, this resulted in a small increase in the amount of sliders he faced in 2018 (17.4 percent in 2017 vs. 20.9 this season). Correa has continued to see increased slider usage during the postseason, where 33 of the 90 pitches (36.7 percent) he’s seen have been sliders. He’s yet to get a hit. But again, Correa had little issue with sliders before 2018. A look at his fifteen game rolling wOBA averages shows that Correa struggled most at points in the season when he was confirmed to be at less than full health.
Given Correa’s track record, it’s still very likely that injuries are responsible for his struggles against the pitch. Without possessing any type of medical expertise, it certainly seems possible that a back injury would make it more difficult to handle a pitch that is most often thrown at the bottom or below the strike zone – something that looks to be reflected in Correa’s exit velocity by location changes between 2017 (left) and 2018 (right).
This is not the first time that Correa has seen his performance dip when dealing with nagging injuries, either. Eno Sarris pointed out how a sprained shoulder in September of 2016 lead to a drop in Correa’s launch angle and exit velocity, a problem that he was able to recover from in 2017.
Correa has acknowledged himself that he is not right and still dealing with the lingering effects of the back problem, that his back injury has affected his ability to swing the bat, and may continue to do so through the playoffs. We are very likely still not seeing a healthy Carlos Correa.
As a fantasy player, Correa may not have the home run and stolen base upside of other elite shortstops like Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story or Alex Bregman. He may have been miscast as a first round pick in standard leagues. Correa hasn’t run as much as he did early in his career and his 23 home runs in 2017 were aided by a 22.6 percent HR/FB rate. But his position in the heart of a strong Astros’ lineup means his ability to score and drive in runs should make up for valuable, if not elite home run and stolen base totals. Correa is also a strong player in points/OBP leagues that reward walks (10.8 percent for his career) and manageable strikeout rates (20.6 percent).
Because shortstop has become a source of so many elite contributors, Correa’s injuries and lack of production may lead to him flying under the radar heading into 2019. Betting on a healthy Correa to rebound could make him a lucrative target in drafts next season.
Nick thinks running a Major League or fantasy baseball team is incredibly easy. Until he is handed one of those coveted GM positions, his writing at RotoGraphs will illustrate how to do it properly. Fantasy baseball trade consultations and anything else can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweeted to @nickdika.