THE PALLILOG

At this point, Astros just adding to an amazing season

How many feathers can the Astros fit in their caps?

They almost added a doozy Wednesday night when Zack Greinke took his no-hit bid to the ninth inning in Seattle. No team in Major League Baseball history has pitched three no-hitters in the same season. Alas that's still the case, but boy the Astros came close to being the first.

If the flat out most talented top to bottom team is to win the World Series next month, it will be the Astros. No one else has a better shot, but winning it is far from likely. This is the 25th season since the implementation of the Wild Card. Only six times in 24 years has the team with best record in the regular season then won the World Series. There simply is no such thing as a massive upset in a three out of five or four out of seven playoff series. It looks like the American League Wild Card game (the winner of which will head to Houston) will match the A's and Rays. The A's would have plenty of reason to be confident against the Astros, having taken three out of four from them twice within a month. From June 15 forward the A's have the better record. That's more than half the season. But it could be all over for the A's in one Wild Card game loss. The Astros went 3-4 vs. the Rays. Losing three of four in St. Petersburg to open the season. The Astros have no reason to fear anybody, but Oakland looks to be the less desirable opponent. As a clincher, Oakland is a much longer flight.

A.J. Hinch should be pondering a couple of things heading into the postseason. After his hot April Josh Reddick hasn't been a good player this year. Kyle Tucker has swung the bat well since his call up. Tucker starting in right field with Reddick off the bench merits consideration. Michael Brantley has collapsed the last month. His last double was on August 22. Whether he's worn down a bit or just in a protracted slump, there is no compelling reason to keep Brantley third in the batting order with Yordan Alvarez in the five hole. Hey, Brantley could catch fire in the playoffs while Alvarez could fall on his face. But off of a season body of work and more recent performance, why would you bat the clearly superior weapon two spots lower in the order?

Alex Bregman has obviously had the best season of all everyday player Astros. Bregman's American League Most Valuable Player case has gathered strength, though it's homerism to think he definitely should win. Equally obvious, George Springer has had the second best season. Springer's recent 11 home runs in 16 games eruption reminded that had he not spent a month on the injured list he might be right there with Bregman as an MVP alternative to Mike Trout. If not for the IL stint, maintaining his rate of production in the games he has played would mean Springer would have more homers and RBI than Bregman. Springer would have blown past 100 RBI and become the third player ever to post 100 RBI from the leadoff spot. Darren Erstad sold his soul to the devil for his 2000 season with the Angels, Charlie Blackmon did it two years ago but only because he plays home games in the offensive freak show environment that is Denver.

Bigger Springer numbers going forward, contract numbers. He's making 12 million dollars this season. Next season that should jump to 17-20 million, then without an extension agreed upon he'd become a free agent. Springer turned 30 last week, he can't be a free agent until he's 31, so that he'd command some six or seven year deal on the open market is basically out of the question. This offseason, if you're George Springer, would you take, say, four years 85 million, for generations of financial security. If you're the Astros, with their skyrocketing payroll, would you offer it? We wait to see where Gerrit Cole signs. If the Astros keep Cole, trading Zack Greinke is a distinct possibility. If the Astros keep Justin Verlander, Cole, and Greinke? Stunning.

The Texans are two home wins from taking a 4-1 record to Kansas City in a couple of weeks. Their wins over the Jaguars and Chargers weren't masterful performances. The Texans benefitted greatly from The Jags and Bolts each being down at least four starters. But style points and level of impressiveness don't matter. At 2-1 the Texans are four and a half point favorites over the Panthers. Win Sunday and they'll certainly be favored next week over the Falcons.

Buzzer Beaters

1. It's only vs. the Shanghai Sharks, but first Russell Westbrook as a Rocket action is Monday. Presuming he plays some. 2. Anyone really think it's better than 50/50 D'Eriq King plays at UH next season? 3. Notable sports quitters: Bronze-Randy Moss, most plays when not the primary recieverSilver-Scottie Pippen playoff game vs. KnicksGold-Roberto Duran "No Mas."


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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?

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