Twins

Trust Carlos Correa's Process

Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

It’s never a great look when fans start booing the biggest free agent signing in franchise history. That’s especially true a month and a half into a six-year, $200 million contract. Carlos Correa was supposed to be a core piece of the Minnesota Twins lineup this year. Instead, he had a -0.89 win probability added (WPA) through his first 32 games.

Buyer’s remorse may have started to creep into the heads of Twins fans. Especially considering the unprecedented nature of Correa losing out on two different $300 million contracts in the span of weeks this offseason before coming back to Minnesota.

The Twins’ offensive inconsistency magnified Correa’s struggles. Through the first week of May, the team has produced a .523 OPS, 50 wRC+, and a league-leading 26.8 percent strikeout rate. Minnesota’s lineup has a 25.7 percent strikeout clip this year, the third-highest in baseball.

It’s not wrong to be frustrated with Correa’s slow starts during both of his seasons in Minnesota. He acknowledges that his production should be higher with his salary and team status. But Twins fans should remember that Correa has proven multiple times over his career that he is capable of quickly becoming one of the league’s more productive players.

Everyone is looking for results from their team’s superstar. However, consistently good results don’t come out of nowhere, and Correa knows this. That’s why he has a reputation around the league as a process-oriented player who doesn’t get discouraged by the box score. He remains confident as long as he believes his underlying numbers indicate that his play will turn around.

But Correa’s .673 OPS this season and a .226 BABIP that’s over 100 points lower than last year aren’t great. However, certain stats show that his lack of production isn’t coming from the absence of hard contact. Correa’s 89.3 MPH average exit velocity is still hovering around his career average, along with his 44.6 percent hard-hit rate. His 12.5 barrel percentage is on pace to be one of his career highs.

Correa’s fortunes have begun to turn around over the last week. His .770 OPS, one home run, and eight RBIs over his last seven games are a step in the right direction. So what changed for Correa? Well, his 12.6-degree launch angle is in a more advantageous spot for a line-drive hitter like Correa. That’s a good sign considering his launch angle was at 15.5 degrees over his first 31 games of the season. However, getting his 0.42 BB/K closer to his 0.52 BB/K career average certainly wouldn’t hurt matters.

Correa typically crushes fastballs. But he has a .182 batting average against the pitch this season, with an 88.7 MPH average exit velocity. His .363 expected weighted on-base average against fastballs this season indicates that his struggles may be temporary. That’s especially true if he can bring down his 17-degree launch angle and 20-percent whiff rate on fastballs.

The main reason Correa’s production seems to be increasing is that his hard-hit balls are translating into production. It’s a frustrating answer because of the hot and cold nature of his Twins tenure. An out is still an out, no matter how hard a ball is hit. At the same time, if Correa feels like the ball is feeling good off of the bat, then why would he change?

Correa could theoretically try to hit the ball softer, hoping he can generate more hits. Still, there is no guarantee using that approach will generate more success. Like a three-point specialist in basketball, hitters have to stick with their game and hope to get hot. Some weeks you can’t miss, and others you can’t buy a bucket.

That’s not to say there will never be some tough games for Correa. On Tuesday against the Los Angeles Dodgers, he racked up a pair of strikeouts and grounded into another double play with runners on the corners to end a rally. It’s going to happen. It goes to show that despite a great week, it doesn’t necessarily mean Correa is fixed for the entirety of the season. There will be some clunkers here and there like there will be with every player. But Correa is a guy who generally heats up as the season goes on. Therefore, his track record indicates that he’ll start to figure things out sooner rather than later.

One of the more fascinating arcs of Correa’s Twins career has been his inability to hit in the clutch. His -5.36 FanGraphs clutch score isn’t ideal. However, he has had an above-average 2.46 WPA since 2019. Clutch can be a bit of a flukey stat, even if those at-bats can define a player. And Twins fans don’t have to look too far for a similar comparison to Correa. Fans also scrutinized Joe Mauer’s ability in the clutch, with an average 1.84 WPA during his 15-year career. Mauer also was productive during the season, but he drew fans’ ire for not coming through in the clutch often enough.

Like the impending Twins Hall of Famer, even when Correa isn’t performing at the level he should be with the bat, he still provides a vital stabilizing presence for the Twins. He has become the vocal leader in the clubhouse with his career status, accolades, and personality. When he’s on the field, there are few shortstops who can do the things Correa is capable of. His 0 outs above average aren’t elite. However, that stat is going to dock him due to lack of range from his plated ankle.

Correa has also kept himself in the lineup in 39 of the 43 games the Twins have played this season. Think about where Minnesota’s depth would be without Correa. Farmer missed a month with his jaw injury. Lewis is still rehabbing his knee. And Brooks Lee is still not ready yet for big-league action. Correa’s presence allows the Twins to take their time with both of their two top prospects. Furthermore, Nick Gordon and Willi Castro are nice depth players, but neither one should be starting for a long period of time in Correa’s place.

Despite the regular season uneasiness fans feel with Correa, his process has allowed him to produce in the postseason. That would be a big help for the Twins should they get back to October baseball. Correa is a .849 OPS hitter with a 2.71 WPA through 79 career postseason games.

Carlos Correa is a 31.5 career fWAR and 128 wRC+ player. The 2023 season may not be up to his career average. However, he is one of the best players at preparing himself for the game’s rigors. It’s hard to bet against Correa. He can salvage the rest of the season and become the player his process and track record have shown it can be.

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