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Should you draft Carlos Correa this year in fantasy baseball?

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Heath has baseball reasons about why you should avoid the Houston shortstop in 2020.

Getty Images/Pete Rogers Illustrations

This Astros scandal is tiresome and I’m sick of hearing about it already. I also happen to think Correa hasn’t done himself any favors within the media over the weekend. So my lean is to avoid him in drafts. And right now that’s made easier by the scandal. I also believe (like most do) that shortstop is a talented position in 2020, one where finding an alternative to Correa is pretty easy. I’m also a sucker for Tim Anderson and his 20/20 ability right in the same juncture of fake drafts. I have many reasons not to draft Correa, but I want to be thorough. So here we are.

So despite the melodrama raging in the baseball world, I’m actually just trying to make sense of Carlos Correa as a fantasy baseball player. And while I think I can plead a good case against him, I’d like to also note that it’s a great time to draft Correa if you’re a fan of his. His ADP of around pick 100 isn’t prohibitive.

Projections

So what exactly is the ceiling for Correa? Here are what two prominent projection systems have for him in 2020...

ATC: 138 G, 584 PA, 29 HR, 80 R, 95 RBI, 3 SB, .271 BA

Steamer: 149 G, 637 PA, 33 HR, 93 R, 105 RBI, 3 SB, .273 BA

The first thing I notice is the volume. Correa’s games played by year since he entered the league in 2015 are: 99, 153, 109, 110, and 75. So these projections represent Correa’s ceiling as far as playing time is concerned. Banking on a full slate of at-bats seems ridiculous to me, honestly. But Correa apologists would argue the injury risk is baked into the ADP, so let’s continue.

Batting Average

Next up, the batting average. It’s solid but not outstanding. Correa is a career .277 hitter. He does have the one outlier season in 2017, where he hit for a .315 average and had a monstrous (for him) .352 BABIP, the best mark of his career. But I am taking that year with at least a tiny grain of salt right now. It’s the year we know the Astros cheated, and there’s enough smoke around this group right now that I don’t know how you take the last three years at face value—but especially not 2017.

For reference, here are Correa’s batting average marks by year: .279, .274, .315, .239, and .279. Which one sticks out the most? Also, if you consulted Statcast data, you’d see that 2017 was a hell of a year for Correa. A heck of an outlier, too. Correa was Top 8% or better in average exit velocity, XBA, XSLG, WOBA, XWOBA, XWOBACON, and Hard Hit % in 2017. Correa has never been inside the Top 8% in any of these categories at any other point of his MLB career.

Does that mean he’s not good for fantasy? Definitely not. For instance, his .270 or so batting average would make him a plus in said category. Maybe not a “plus-plus,” but still well over last year’s cumulative .264 mark by MLB shortstops. Given Correa’s career BABIPs and BA marks, I don’t think assuming anything over .275 is wise. And the projections—which are far beyond my limited scope—say .271 and .273.

13 starting shortstops are projected to bat for a higher average than Correa in 2020, for instance. But not all of them have shown his power capability. So we’ll just call him a plus in this category, and carry on.

Stolen Bases

This should go without saying, but three steals is nothing. This projection jives with the last three years, as Correa has swiped two, three, and one bases in his last three seasons respectively. If anything, projecting three is aggressive—that mark assumes he is staying healthy for 100+ games in 2020.

His sprint speed marks jive with the downturn, as his foot speed has gradually eroded each year. Here are the scores, in feet per second: 28.3, 28.0, 27.7, 27.7, and 27.6. Put differently, Correa began his career in the 84th percentile for speed, and by last year he was down in the 68th percentile.

I don’t see him all of a sudden giving you double-digit steals, even if he does turn in a fully healthy season. I think you’d be giddy if you got even five swipes. Even at that number, he’s not an asset to you in steals.

Runs and RBIs

Correa is projected to bat seventh for the Astros, which seems a little low. The current order per Roster Resource is Springer-Altuve-Brantley-Bregman-Gurriel-Alvarez-Correa-Reddick-Maldonado. I could see Correa batting as high as fifth, over Gurriel. But Alvarez is certainly going to be some competition, as he has the added benefit of batting from the left side and chopping up what is a heavily right-handed lineup. Anyway, RBI opportunities should be plentiful no matter what. But I wonder if Correa will return a bit less value with regard to run-scoring given the lower batting order slot.

The ATC has Correa ranking 21st in plate appearances, 16th in runs scored, and fifth in RBIs. So again, no reason to worry over his RBI output, but if he’s down in the order he’s arguably not a plus-plus in runs scored. Maybe he’s just a plus, or maybe he misses more time and he’s a liability. We’ll come back to the runs at the conclusion.

Home Runs

Correa’s home run totals by season for the course of his MLB career are: 22, 20, 24, 15, and 21.

But sure, he’ll hit 30+ in 2020. Okay, fancy projection systems.

I know that’s simplistic. I’m just sayin’. He’s never done it, never even come close. Last year’s 21 dingers did come in only 75 games, so on a per-game basis he was on track for 30+ if he had only remained healthy. However, the bouncy ball caveat applies, as it does to everyone...right?

The good news—if you’re searching for it—is that his 13.5% barrel rate was the best of his career. The batted ball profile from 2019 was encouraging, too. He beefed up his pull rate and hit more fly balls and slightly more line drives (which meant he posted the lowest GB% of his career, at 39.1%). Correa’s 25.6% HR/FB rate was also the highest mark of his career. I’d say that was damning and that he perhaps got lucky, but given his increased barrel rate and the presence of the bouncy ball, it’s not really a surprise to me.

Some cold water—if you’re looking for it—was that he was literally either hot or cold. Per Fangraphs, his 44.9% hard hit rate was the best of his career. But the 20.8% soft hit rate was also the worst of his career, resulting in a career-low 34.3% medium hit rate. To be honest, I’ve not done much research in this area, so I don’t know how concerned we should be, if at all. But that 34.3% medium rate would have been 2nd worst in the MLB last year had Correa qualified. The “worst” would have been Matt Olson’s 34.1% mark. But the large difference was Olson’s mere 15.6% soft contact rate and superb 50.3% hard hit rate.

Sorting the leaderboard by soft hit rate is even more concerning. Correa’s 20.8% rate would have ranked sixth worst in the MLB had he qualified, behind guys like Mallex Smith, Victor Robles, Jurickson Profar, Jonathan Villar, and Cesar Hernandez. What do all of those guys do that Correa doesn’t? Run. Anyway, this may not be a huge deal. I just thought it was interesting. So let’s drill down a bit more using Statcast data, separating ground balls from balls hit into the air.

Correa had 208 batted ball events in 2019, and 84 of those balls were hit hard (95 mph or greater) according to Statcast data. That’s a 42.2% hard hit rate, which ranked 81st in the MLB last year among hitters with 200 or more BBE. Given the rate of soft contact, I’d have wanted Correa to be higher on that list of hard hit balls. However...

His 95.7 mph average exit velocity on fly balls and line drives ranked 38th in the MLB, while his 83.2 mph average on ground balls ranked 223. So I don’t think we should be worried about Correa’s ability to hit home runs. So what if he hits some weak grounders, as long as he’s punishing the ball when it’s in the air. He also decreased that ground ball rate last year, as stated previously. So he’s hitting more line drives and fly balls, and hitting them hard when he does so. And he’s pulling more, and we know that’s a good thing in his home park.

Laslty, in that same sort (batters with 200+ BBE in 2019), Correa’s 8.7% Brls/PA ranked 24th in the MLB. And f you looked at barrels per BBE, he moves up a tiny bit to 22nd. Again, I’m not worried about Correa’s ability to hit a home run in 2020.

Conclusion

Correa is definitely a home run threat, and likely one of the better ones at the shortstop position. He should also be a plus-plus in the RBI category. He won’t hurt you in batting average, so we can call him a plus there. As for stolen bases, he’s a liability.

It’s the runs scored that I have questions about. In Correa’s healthiest season (2016), he played 153 games and scored only 76 runs. Granted, the Astros offense as a unit ranked only 15th in the MLB in runs scored that year—not the elite production we’ve seen in recent years. Alex Bregman only played in 49 games for Houston that year, for instance. Correa batted mostly cleanup that year, and saw the rest of his time in the three-hole. So he’s on a better team in 2020, but he’ll be batting anywhere from 5-7 in the order? I haven’t done the math here, but it sounds a bit like a push to me. Projection systems are all over the place, with the ATC (80) being far different than Steamer (93) and THE BAT (94). I’m really digging the ATC projection for Correa, honestly. Projecting fewer games played (138) than Steamer (149) and THE BAT (149) seems wise. And still socking 29 homers with 95 RBIs while batting .271...it all adds up fine to me.

Anyway, it’s just not enough for me. The power is legit, I’m not questioning that. Correa is bona fide in two categories (HR, RBI), solid in one (BA), a liability in one (SB), and probably neutral in another (runs). At the same juncture of my draft, I can grab some of that elusive speed in a guy like Tim Anderson. Or, I’ll already have my starting shortstop lined up, which is part of my overall draft strategy this year—to lock up my middle infield early. I don’t see enough from Correa to have him change my draft strategy. Not without the wheels, not without the speed, not with the injury history, and certainly not with the crazy swirl of drama happening in Houston this year. And the drama will last all year, of that I have no doubt.

What say you guys? Are you swayed on Correa in either direction?