Correa Can Be Clutch By Stepping Up In Buxton's Absence

Photo Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Signing Carlos Correa in May wasn’t just exciting because of how perfectly it fit the Minnesota Twins’ needs. Nor were fans over the moon because perhaps for the first time ever, Minnesota attracted (and spent) on a massive free agent.

No, it was that alongside Byron Buxton, the Twins had two MVP-caliber players again. All due respect to 2019’s Bomba Squad, that probably hadn’t happened to them since the Joe Mauer/Justin Morneau days. Since their MLB debuts, Correa has averaged 5.7 WAR per 162 games, and Buxton 5.0, with a huge spike since 2019.

The M&M Boys carried some mediocre Twins teams to the playoffs, if not glory. Correa and Buxton need to provide similar performances to have a prayer at snapping their 18-game postseason losing streak.

Despite injuries that sapped him of his batting average, speed, and playing time, Buxton’s held up his end of the deal. Buxton’s rocking 50-home run power (with 28 in 92 games) and delivered in some big spots for memorable wins this year.

Correa, on the other hand? Well, it depends on how you look at it. He hasn’t had bad numbers. Correa is slashing .276/.355/.439, putting his OPS at about 30% above league average for shortstops. Fangraphs’ wRC+ metric has him behind only Trea Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers for the best-hitting shortstop in the league.

But where’s the time he delivered a game to Minnesota? Despite batting high in the lineup all year, Correa doesn’t have the highlight-reel moments Buxton does. While Buxton ranks third on the team with a Win Probability Added of 1.42, Correa’s been underwater in WPA for most of this year.

In other words, despite being worth 2.8 wins more than a replacement-level shortstop, he’s been a net negative in Minnesota’s odds of winning games.

Buxton finally succumbed to the injured list after leaving an Aug. 22 game. Now the Twins were down to one MVP-caliber player. Worse yet, the one who wasn’t delivering in the clutch.

Since then, the Twins are getting a strong reminder of why they spent $35 million on Correa. At first, all seemed lost when the Houston Astros swept them. A series where Correa didn’t do much once again. But when the Twins could’ve sunk below .500, Correa powered them to a sweep over the San Francisco Giants.

When the team needed an MVP, he delivered an MVP performance. In 13 plate appearances, he got on base nine times (eight hits and a walk). Best of all? Those hits came when Minnesota needed them most.

Sure, his only homer of the series came in a 9-0 win, but Correa didn’t know the final score when he jacked a 1-0 pitch to left field in the first inning. Right away, he put Minnesota’s chances of getting a massive win from 58% to 74%. That’s the difference between a coin flip and the driver’s seat. Joe Ryan handled the rest.

Then, down 2-0 in the ninth inning, Correa had two runners on with two outs. It might not have been a walk-off, but his RBI single kept the game alive and enabled Jake Cave to add the tying run afterward. The Twins won in extra innings, a brilliant outcome for a team with a 92% chance of losing when Correa approached the plate.

And on Sunday, Correa equalized a 1-0 score in the third inning, ripping a double to drive in Gilberto Celestino. The Twins pulled away in the fifth inning, despite Correa flying out that inning, but the shortstop had done his job. At the end of the game, Baseball Reference had his double as the third-biggest win probability swing of the game (+13% for Minnesota). That’s three big hits in three games.

Even with a pretty lousy series against Houston, Correa is stepping up massively in Buxton’s absence. In six games, he’s sporting a .391/.400/.565 slash line is incredible for anyone, much less a shortstop. A month of that kind of hitting will carry any team a long way.

Mind you, that’s six games without Buxton and only three games coming through in the clutch. If Correa wants to erase some of his earlier-season failures in big spots, he has some work to do. Delivering big hits against the Chicago White Sox, New York Yankees, and Cleveland Guardians will be a great start. Those will be Minnesota’s opponents in 15 of their next 21 games.

You can wait and see what happens in those games before declaring Correa’s season MVP-worthy or not. But this weekend, Correa showed Minnesota two ways of being clutch. There’s the kind where you produce in high-leverage situations. Then there’s when you step up exactly when the team needs it most.

If Correa carries a Buxton-less Twins team from .500 to leap-frogging Cleveland for a playoff spot over the next few weeks, that’s a shining example of the latter. And don’t look now, but his WPA (+0.41) peeked back into positive territory after this weekend. That’s good because Minnesota needs both kinds of clutch now.

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