RANKING THE STATE

Texas Div. I football rankings: A&M falls as SMU climbs

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Born with a comic book in one hand and a remote control in the other, Cory DLG is the talent of Conroe's very own Nerd Thug Radio and Sports. Check out the podcast replay of the FM radio show at www.nerdthugradio.com!

12. RICE

This week Rice is playing at UTSA and while they probably won't win but here's the thing, if they do win, they are actually right back into contention in the Conference USA standings. They're only two losses behind first place Louisiana Tech (although they did lose to them so that doesn't help) so if Rice gets off this six game skid, they could in theory still save their season. I'm not sure if that's good news or bad news, but there it is.

11. UTEP

After an off week to sit and sulk in their losses, they now get a chance to play some meaningful season saving football. Just like with Rice, we're still early enough in conference play that a win saves the season and in theory rights the ship. Now they are massive underdogs going on the road to Florida International, but hey, maybe.

10. UTSA

UAB came to town and played the kind of good football they normally do. Last year's conference champs put a hurting on The Roadrunners but honestly it was expected. This week Rice comes to town and this is a chance to actually start climbing some rungs on that Conference USA ladder.

9. NORTH TEXAS

So it turns out North Texas was still trending downward last weekend and the losing has continued, now 2-4. Middle Tennessee State University has done The Mean Green the favor of coming down to Texas and probably will lose to North Texas, unless the school with the most words in their name gets spotted a touchdown.

8. TEXAS STATE

After a stretch of success, Texas State dropped a much-needed game against UL Monroe and now they're off this week. Hopefully they're watching game film, studying tendencies and avoiding the mentality that they have to sit around and stew in a loss, which as regular readers have noticed I think is the hardest thing for college teams to deal with because ultimately they're kids. Winning feels good and losing hurts, then having time off to think about whatever happened the weekend before can be a bonus or a detriment. Let's see which way they go with this time off.

7. TEXAS TECH

Poor, poor Texas Tech. Losing a heart breaker to Baylor in the second overtime, that if you're a Red Raider Alum should never have happened after a fumble recovery was waived off by the officials as an illegal snap (I honestly can't remember the last time I've seen that call in an important moment in a game) that would have given the ball to Tech needing only a field goal or touchdown to win. But now here they are, upsetting Oklahoma State and one play and a score away from a second upset in as many weeks, going from potentially being at least No. 21 where Oklahoma State is now to unranked where Tech is currently. But there's no time to whine, a win against traveling Iowa State at least keeps Texas Tech in striking distance of the top of the Big 12 standings.

6. HOUSTON

This team has become like a telenovela my Dad's mother-in-law watches. So much drama, where do we even begin? Ok, how about we set aside the recent news of an offensive lineman leaving the team and destroying them on twitter after being told his commitment to the team was being questioned while playing on a medically bad knee? How about we set aside the audacity of a program questioning the commitment of their student-athletes (who are still unpaid) while having "star" players red-shirt and bail on this season to be ready for another campaign next year while everyone else is still dressing and playing and bleeding and sweating for this program for this year? They lost to Cincinnati in a game that while they weren't favored I think they could have won if two quarterbacks hadn't thrown four picks and a backup running back (who wouldn't be playing if you were in the game with all your players on the roster still) coughed up one also. If you lose by 15 points but spotted the other team five possessions, then you could have won. The Cougars travel to the Huskies where they should win, but does it matter?

5. TCU

After getting drummed by Iowa State and then having a week off, The Horned Frogs travel to Kansas State for their last warm up game before they face Texas, Oklahoma State, Baylor, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in the following five weeks. This game is their last dress rehearsal before every snap counts with their season swinging in the balance. I don't think the second half of this season goes well so I hope for the program's sake they win this week.

4. TEXAS A&M

In some ways it feels unfair to punish Texas A&M for having one of the harder schedules in the state but that is the plight of an SEC team that also schedules Clemson (yikes) as an out of conference opponent. Three losses after only six games isn't a great place to be in, even if two of the three losses were to the number 1 team in the country at the time and the other loss was to a top ten team at the time. I totally respect the program for scheduling tough opponents but moral victories don't count in the standings. This week The Aggies visit Ole Miss and should get themselves back over .500 for the season.

3. SMU

Coming into this week ranked in the top 20 and looking at a remaining schedule full of winnable games, The Mustangs have got to be feeling pretty proud of themselves. However, before anyone just hands them the American Athletic Conference Championship, let's see if they stay focused and take care of business against visiting Temple. They should, but this is why we actually play the games and not just pick winners and losers, let's see what happens.

2. BAYLOR

So Baylor beat Tech but it wasn't in the convincing sense I expected to see. Baylor, who had been rolling most opponents and winning by more than in a touchdown in all but one game coming into last week looked very beatable against The Red Raiders. It wasn't the kind of game you would expect from a highly ranked, Big 12 leading, trying to make the playoffs type of team. This week they travel to Oklahoma State, who has been off since their upset loss to Texas Tech. This is where college sports can get weird, Oklahoma State is currently ranked higher than Texas Tech who they lost to, and if they beat Baylor who did beat Texas Tech it's only going to get weirder ranking wise. This is going to be a must watch game for fans of the Big 12 because Texas and Oklahoma and TCU will also have much cheering to do if Baylor loses.

1. TEXAS

Speaking of oddities in the ranking system of College Football and conference play, Texas is the best team in Texas right now without a doubt, however coming off a loss to Oklahoma in the Red River Rivalry they are now 4-2 overall and 2-1 in conference play, putting them a few spots behind Baylor and only just ahead of Texas Tech and TCU in the Big 12 rankings. This weekend Kansas University comes to town and Texas gets to feel much better about themselves if they win.

Feel free to check out my brand new comic book Another Day at the Office or buy a shirt from Side Hustle Ts where some proceeds help people struggling with cancer or listen to Nerd Thug Radio. Thoughts, complaints, events and comments can be sent to corydlg@gmail.com.

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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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