WADE MILEY HAS HAD SEVERAL BAD OUTINGS IN A ROW, GIVING EVERYONE CAUSE FOR CONCERN

Astros need to figure out fourth starter for playoffs

Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

For most of the year Wade Miley has been just what the doctor ordered in replacing Dallas Kuechel in the starting rotation and doing so with great numbers and results. Unfortunately everything took a turn for the worse when Miley and the Astros entered the month of September. Two straight home starts had Miley giving up 7 runs in the first inning of both games and leaving before he could toe the rubber for inning number 2. On the road the results were slightly better, but not enough to keep observers from wondering if there was a real problem brewing for the player and the team as they head to the post season? Miley has an ERA of 22.06 in September and has seen his overall ERA go up almost a full point in the last three weeks. In his most recent start he gave up 4 earned runs on 4 hits in one inning of work before being removed by Manager AJ Hinch. As good as Miley was for most of the season, his performance over the final month of the season has everyone involved searching for answers and wondering what they should do to avoid any similar issues that could severely hinder their run for a second World Series title in the last three years. As much as you like Miley and want to believe he can figure it out and get right before the A.L. Divisional Series gets under way early next month, time is running out and a tough decision may have to be made. If Miley doesn't get the ball for Game 4 of a playoff series, who could step up and take over the role while holding down the fort?

If this was last year, the answer would be easy as Brad Peacock has proven himself to be an above average weapon for this team whether it be out of the bullpen or in a starting role. He has pitched in the playoffs before and knows what it takes to pitch on the biggest stage, when the lights are at their brightest. That was then, this is now and the here and now says Peacock has struggled with injuries all season long with multiple stints on the IL, and after recently returning from his latest appearance on the injury report there doesn't seem to be enough time to get him "stretched out" and prepared with the endurance and arm strength required of a major league starting pitcher. Expect to see him on the playoff roster and ready for long and short relief out of the pen, but probably not as a starter filling in for Miley.

Collin McHugh/Facebook

Another former starter experiencing the same struggles and appearances on the injured list as Peacock is Colin McHugh. Together the two right-handers are living a parallel universe that has seen them both go from effective and trusted arms in the bullpen and rotation to a two-man MASH unit that can't be counted on based on health concerns alone. McHugh also has seen extended time on the IL and has yet to return to the active roster for the final few weeks of the season. The simple truth is, there is too much risk involved to roll the dice and hope for the potential rewards. As good as McHugh has been and for as much trust as AJ Hinch has built up in his ability to step up and step in wherever needed, he just doesn't seem like he is going to be healthy enough to be counted on for the playoffs. The bigger hope is that he can get healthy and return as a short inning reliever with valuable postseason experience as the team goes deeper into the playoffs.

The team has used the regular season to interview and audition several of their young and talented pitching prospects hoping that at least one would seize the opportunity and capture a spot in the rotation. Framber Valdez was given every chance to succeed but his lack of control and propensity to walk more hitters than he retires, has forced the club to move on for the rest of this season. Josh James experienced a similar fate after he was sidelined early in the year and again recently by injuries, then when he returned to the team he seemingly lost his ability to throw strikes while suddenly becoming a candidate to give up a long ball every time he took the mound. James still may make the playoff roster as a power arm in the pen, but for now it looks like his days as a starter are over. Jose Urquidy has looked good in his last three appearances but is on an innings limit due to his Tommy John surgery of a few years ago. He is fast approaching the magic number for innings pitched based on the organizational restrictions when you combine his major league and minor league totals and Hinch has said that he is not willing to push those boundaries as he has Urquidy's career in his hands. With that said and combined with his roller coaster season of results, the team isn't likely to give him a shot as a postseason starter.

Composite photo by Brandon Strange

All of that leaves the team with very few options and a limited number of potential solutions as they power towards the postseason. The team could go with a three man rotation and force their best starters into pitching on short rest well before they would otherwise consider such a scenario, or they consider going to an "opener" and then follow up whoever gets the start with a bullpen game by committee. Neither situation seems ideal, especially if they are in command and leading the series but the later would seem to be the best option to preserve the overall state of the rotation. If they go that route, look for Peacock or possibly James to get the call first, followed by anyone not named Roberto Osuna, Ryan Pressly or Will Harris. The bullpen started the season as one of the best collections of talent in all of baseball and it looks like they will end the year even more valuable if they are called upon and counted on to fill the void left by the inconsistency of Miley. It will be interesting to see how it all unfolds and how the team elects to handle it. For the sake of Houston and the Astros, let's hope that Miley and pitching coach Brent Strom can figure out what has been going wrong, right the ship, and avoid having to make any rash decisions.

Most Popular

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome

Listen Live

What do the numbers say about him? Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

Carlos Correa endeared himself in the heart of Astros fans during his 2020 postseason run. He talked the talk off the field, and he walked the walk on the field. Correa slashed .362/.455/.766 in the postseason, hitting more home runs in 13 postseason games than he did in 58 regular season games. His performance has sparked discussions about whether or not the Astros should seek an extension with him this offseason.

Aside from the gaudy postseason numbers, he asserted himself as a team leader. The images and stories of Correa talking to Framber Valdez on the mound, telling Dusty Baker he was going to hit the walk off, and saying this is the most fun he's ever had playing baseball are fresh in everyone's minds.

However, that's just thirteen games out of a 667 game career (counting the postseason). The postseason games are the most important, and Correa seems to show up when the lights shine brightest, but the Astros have to assemble a team good enough to play under the bright lights for Correa to get that moment to shine. What do the numbers say about him?

Hard Hit % - 41.8%

Barrel % - 5.9%

K% - 21.8%

BB% - 7.3%

Chase % - 31.8%

(Numbers from 2020)

By the numbers, Correa didn't have the greatest regular season in 2020. He slashed .264/.326/.383 with a 97 wRC+, meaning he was 3% worse in run production that the average hitter. He was tied for 14th amongst qualified shortstops with Nick Ahmed of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Francisco Lindor (100 wRC+) was one spot ahead of Correa, while Orlando Arcia (96 wRC+) was one spot behind. His Hard Hit % was in the 65th percentile in MLB, and his Barrel % was in the 34th percentile.

His expected numbers suggest that the dip in performance wasn't a matter of bad luck. His .256 xBA is slightly worse than his actual batting average. His .406 xSLG is slightly better than his actual .SLG, but not by much. Correa had a wOBA of .305 and a nearly identical xwOBA of .306. Lastly, his .324 BABIP was actually a .021 point jump over last year, and it's a touch above his career mark of .316.

Correa likely struggled during the regular season because of a downturn in production to the opposite field. Correa pulled the ball 49% of the time in 2020. That was 16th amongst qualified hitters, and it's a complete outlier for him in his career. It was 14.4% higher than 2019, and it was 15.6% higher than his career average. In 2019, Correa had a 9% HR% on batted balls to the opposite field. He had an average exit velocity of 87.7 MPH with an average launch angle of 27°. His batting average was .368 with a xBA of .349 to that part of the field. In 2020, Correa had a 0% HR% to the opposite field (meaning he didn't hit one). He had an average exit velocity of 86.8 MPH with an average launch angle of 30°. His batting average was .382, but his xBA was .259. Keep in mind, Correa missed most of the 2019 season with injury, so the sample sizes aren't all that different (57 AB's in 2019 versus 34 AB's in 2020).

It's a similar story for the straightaway portion of the field. In 2019, Correa had an 11% HR%, 90.4 MPH avg. exit velocity, 8° avg. launch angle, .370 BA, and .424 xBA between the gaps. In 2020, Correa had a 5% HR%, 88.5 MPH avg. exit velocity, 4° avg. launch angle, .349 BA, and .362 xBA.

That all changed in the postseason.

Here is an overlay of Correa's spray charts from postseason games in which he hit home runs. Five of his six postseason homers were to center field, and three of the five to center field were on the opposite field side of second base.

Correa also made some physical changes at the plate over the course of the season, particularly late in the season, which means that the uptick in offensive performance is related to a physical change, not just some sort of ability to turn it on in the postseason. Correa mentioned that he and Alex Cintron compared video to his rookie season to look at hand positioning, and Correa started to mimic that. Then, there's the already-famed story of Correa and Cintron running to the cages mid-game to open up his shoulders and be less closed off. All of those changes are clearly visible on video.

On the left is Correa early in the 2020 season when the Astros were in San Diego playing the Padres. In the middle is Correa's first career home run in 2015. On the right is Correa's walk-off homer against Tampa Bay. There are four clear and obvious changes. First, he's holding the bat nearly straight up, which he wasn't doing at the beginning of the season. It supports Correa's claim that he and Cintron were looking at video from 2015 and trying to mirror that swing again. Then, there's the change with Correa's shoulders. In the first photo, if it weren't so grainy, you could read "C-O-R-R-E" in Correa. Same deal with the second photo, except it's even more clear. In the third photo, you can only read "C-O" which also supports the story of that mid-game adjustment with Cintron. Third, Correa has a lot less forward body lean with his torso. Correa hasn't spoken as to why he made that change, but it is probably tied to shoulder and bat orientation and helps him feel more comfortable. Lastly, Correa opened his stance, which is almost always going to help with vision.

The changes all probably help Correa feel more free when he swings. His postseason swing was much more North-and-South than East-and-West. His hands are able to work freely underneath his shoulders, and he has to do a lot less work to clear space for his hands to work. It's encouraging that the uptick in performance is clearly tied to physical work in the cage.

Correa did bring solid defense to the table as well. He's a finalist for the AL Gold Glove Award at SS along with Niko Goodrum of the Detroit Tigers and J.P. Crawford of the Seattle Mariners. Correa will likely win the award. However, the defensive metrics are mixed on his performance.

Errors don't count as an advanced statistic, but they still bring value to the table. There's a direct correlation between making errors and giving up free bases. Now, just because a player doesn't make many errors doesn't mean he's an elite defender, but it's hard to be an elite defender if you make lots of errors. Correa takes care of the baseball, as his one error was tied for the least amongst shortstops. Correa also performed glowingly by DRS (Defensive Runs Saved). His DRS of 8 was second amongst shortstops, second behind only Dansby Swanson. However, UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) had Correa at -0.7, which is below average. His OAA (Outs Above Average) of 0 roughly agrees with his UZR rating. Essentially, the numbers say Correa makes the routine plays about as well as anybody, but he isn't particularly rangy. His arm is also impressive and brings a lot to the table. Correa isn't a bad defensive shortstop by any means, he's above average, but this is probably the only Gold Glove he'll ever be nominated for, much less win.

When Correa is healthy and on his game, he is one of the most electric players in baseball. The problem is he hasn't been healthy and on his game nearly enough in his career. Over his five full major league seasons, Correa has missed 203 out of 708 games. He's been unavailable, mostly due to injury, in 30% of games over that time. That's quite a bit. The three injuries that have caused him to miss the most time are all back and torso related. The fact that the back issues have recurred is alarming, and it's something to monitor. It is really hard to be a good baseball player with a bad back. Credit to Correa, he stayed healthy for all of 2020, but it was only a 60 game season, which means there were fewer opportunities for injury. If he has another healthy season in 2021, it'll be enough to put the injury prone label to rest, but he hasn't done it yet.

And again, there's the issue of his performance being up-and-down over the years. In 2018, Correa missed 52 games due to injury, and had a wRC+ of 100, meaning he was exactly league average. That means he's been only league average or worse in two of his six big league seasons. Correa played extremely well in 2019, racking up 3.2 WAR and 143 wRC+, but he only played 75 games.

Between COVID, injury history, and streaky performance, there's too much uncertainty to give Correa a long term deal right now. However, his peaks, leadership ability, and apparent willingness to stay in Houston certainly make him a candidate for one. 2021 will be a "prove it" year for Correa, and it will go a long way in ranking him amongst the crop of shortstops hitting the free agent market after next year. Is Correa at the top of that market with Francisco Lindor, or is he at the bottom of that market with Javy Baez?

SportsMap Emails
Are Awesome