Carlos Correa is a process-oriented guy. That’s one of the things that attracted him to the Minnesota organization. Under Derek Falvey, the Twins have morphed into a process organization. This mindset, focusing on the process that goes into generating outcomes, instead of only looking at outcomes, is fundamentally about understanding the things that are most likely to lead to success. Over time, if you consistently do the things shown to contribute to successful results, you should find successful results.
It’s never been easier to unpack the process of playing baseball, thanks to Statcast and the ever-growing list of available measurements and statistics. Understanding that data and analyzing what it means is increasingly being used to help players not only improve their games but also understand the efficacy of things they’re already doing. As Correa told Aaron Gleeman in 2022, today’s analytics help him “know how to go about my business.”
Carlos Correa explaining wRC+ is excellent https://t.co/yFOMyFIYIW— Mike Petriello (@mike_petriello) October 14, 2022
That mindset and the underlying process metrics are largely what allowed Correa and the Twins to keep the faith as he struggled at the plate for most of last season. A year after producing 40% above league average offensively, Correa fell to a below-average 96 wRC+ for the first time in a full season in his 9-year career.
A Slow Start
That full-season mark was an improvement on the way the season started. Correa’s numbers at the end of April were just .202/.283/.351, good for a 76 wRC+ (or 24% worse than the league average).
Still, there were a lot of reasons to believe things would turn around, because of the soundness of Correa’s process. I wrote at that time that I expected Correa to turn things around. His walks were a little down, his strikeouts were a little up, and he was popping out more frequently than usual. However, all of those data points were consistent with previous Aprils. Of greater concern was Correa’s inability to pull pitches, especially inside pitches, and most especially inside fastballs.
the biggest separator between this year and last is just the inability to pull the ball with any juice pic.twitter.com/NaizQYbtrr— parker hageman (@HagemanParker) May 10, 2023
Esteban Rivera dove into Correa’s slow start for FanGraphs a few weeks later and pointed out that Correa’s batted ball quality and plate discipline metrics were more or less in line with his past performance. He was hitting the ball about as hard as usual, and he was choosing to swing and avoid chasing out of the zone at similar rates to the past. Rivera also noted Correa’s inability to pull the ball with any regularity or authority and pinned that on Correa’s bat being at a flatter angle at contact than in the past.
Rather than suggest a subtle swing change as the culprit for that, Rivera suggested Correa was making contact deeper in the hitting zone (i.e., further back toward the catcher and something we don’t have public data for, yet), which led to the increased opposite field balls in play and popups and fewer pulled line drives and fly balls.
Turning the Corner (Into Another Obstacle)
Things looked more promising throughout May. Correa’s pull rate was back up above 40%, his popups were back down around 5% (both in line with career norms) and he was again producing at an average or slightly above average level (102 wRC+ for the month). Correa was still struggling with fastballs, but things were looking up.
Near the end of the month came the plantar fasciitis injury in his left foot, which Correa would battle with and through for the rest of the season. The impacts of this painful foot injury were most noticeable in the field and on the bases, but they were also likely a factor at the plate where just the smallest deviations can make the difference between a home run and popup, line drive hit or ground ball out, or foul ball and swing and miss.
Correa battled through the summer and managed to give slightly below-average production in June (98 wRC+), July (96 wRC+), and August (87 wRC+). He avoided the injured list, despite the injury, but clearly was not anywhere close to 100% physically.
His best month of the season was September/October when he hit a much more typical .296/.377/.463 (136 wRC+) in partial duty (he finally relented to the injured list as the Twins coasted to the division title), and that carried into the playoffs. He sizzled on October’s stage, slashing .409/.458/.545 in 24 playoff plate appearances. Perhaps the consistency of the approach finally started to yield results.
Consistent with the Past
By the end of the season, nearly everything in Correa’s underlying process profile looked more or less the same as it always has. You’re welcome to squint at these numbers for a while if you like, but I don’t see much that looks very indicative of a major skill or approach change that would explain his challenging year.
It’s remarkable how similar these stats are to his career norms:
There were a few more strikeouts and whiffs, but he’s had higher rates in previous seasons than he did in 2023. Those contributed, certainly, but likely don’t portend the beginning of a decline or fully explain why he struggled so much last season. He even got back to performing against fastballs and hit .308/.379/.483 (.372 wOBA) against them from July onward.
Sub-Optimal Contact Types
One number that’s not on this chart, that seems indicative, is his .272 batting average on balls in play (BABIP), which was the lowest of his career and well below his .312 career average. Pitcherlist’s hit luck metric suggests Correa had nine fewer hits than he should have based on the pitches he put in play and how he hit them. (Add those, and his BABIP might have been .296, assuming none were homers.)
With that data point, it’s instructive to look again at the batted ball type data above. A slight increase in ground balls and popups (the least productive batted ball types), and a commensurate decrease in fly balls and line drives (the most productive). That’s all reflected in the 2.4% decrease in Sweet Spot%, which measures how often batters hit the ball on the most productive angles (between 8 and 32 degrees).
Put simply, Correa did a lot of things right from a process perspective, but that goodness was held back by the fact that he put the ball in play sub-optimally more often than he had in the past, which allowed more of those balls in play to be turned into outs.
That is illustrated nicely by these charts of Correa’s batted ball profile from Pitcherlist’s Kyle Bland. You can think of the vertical axis as the launch angle and the horizontal axis as the field of play from foul line to foul line.
I overlaid Correa’s 2022 profile with last season’s, and you can clearly see how he hit the ball on the ground up the middle and the opposite way more often, at the expense of the far more productive line drives and fly balls toward the center of the diamond.
As a result, when Correa hit the ball straightaway (the middle 30° of the diamond) he had just a .271 wOBA, far below his .424 in 2022 and his .366 career average. That’s also how he hit into a league-leading 30 double plays last season (not being able to run without stabbing pain in his foot didn’t help).
I think the gist of all of that is that Correa’s process should lead to better results in the future. It always has in the past. But, he also seems to be in need of an adjustment to elevate the ball more consistently. Whether that’s due to the bat angle at contact being too flat (or too deep) like Rivera suggested, the injury, or some combination of the two, we probably can’t know. In either case, it’s likely fixable.
Perhaps that adjustment has already taken place. Last September and in the playoffs his line drive rate surged above 40%. (A small sample blip, surely, but it’s perhaps indicative of an implemented tweak).
In any event, this gives reason to believe Carlos Correa will produce like he always has again next season.