Carlos Correa placed second last week on the trade-value list that Dave Cameron puts together every season. That placement seemed to surprise some, given that Correa is having a very good, but not great season. Correa’s 120 wRC+ is hardly spectacular, even if that number increases to 150 if you start with the latter part of May. He has improved over the last few months, but even with that improvement, the placement might seem high. What definitely seemed high was Correa’s ZiPS projections over the next five years, starting at 7.9 WAR next season and totaling more than 40 wins from ages 22 to 26. Cameron, too, was surprised, and in the comments, his explanation caught my eye:
I was shocked by the Correa forecast myself, and asked Dan to double check that there wasn’t an error in the code or something, given how bullish it is on Correa’s future. But Dan said the system just loves Correa, as the history of guys who can hit like this at 20/21 in the big leagues is almost universally fantastic. The age really is the key thing to keep in mind here; it’s easy to forget how big of a leap guys can make early on, and at 21, there’s still a lot of room for growth.
Carlos Correa is currently in the midst of his age-21 season, and he’s accumulated 820 career plate appearances. Over the last 100 years, only 59 players have received at least 800 plate appearances before the end of their age-21 season and then eventually made their way to a Hall of Fame ballot. One finds that — without regard for how they played or for how long — an astonishing 36% (21) of those players eventually made in the Hall Of Fame. If you move the bar up to 1,000 plate appearances, 21 of 44 players are in the Hall of Fame. Of more recent players, it looks like that trend might continue. Edgar Renteria, Starlin Castro, and Elvis Andrus probably will not make the Hall of Fame and Justin Upton and Jason Heyward have a ways to go, while Alex Rodriguez, Ivan Rodriguez, Miguel Cabrera, Adrian Beltre, and Andruw Jones all have at least decent statistical cases.
I’ll keep going…
Of the 22 players to record at least 800 plate appearances (again, Correa has 820 now) and 6.0 WAR (Correa’s current WAR) before the end of their age-21 season, 77% (17) are in the Hall of Fame. Only Cesar Cedeno (50 career WAR), Vada Pinson (47 career WAR), Tony Conigliaro (12 career WAR, but a terrible eye injury hurt his career), Buddy Lewis (26 career WAR), and Butch Wynegar (27 career WAR) failed to make the Hall among that group. The current/recently retired players are Alex Rodriguez, Andruw Jones, Adrian Beltre, Giancarlo Stanton, Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jason Heyward. Of the 13 retired players with more than 800 plate appearances and a 127 wRC+ (Correa is at 127), 11 are in the Hall of Fame, with the aforementioned Conigliaro as well as Bob Horner (837 PA) not making the cut.
Just a little bit more…
The only shortstops in the last 100 years to accumulate at least 800 plate appearances and 6.0 WAR through the age-21 season are Alex Rodriguez (1523, 12.9), Arky Vaughan (1210, 10.3), and Travis Jackson (1436, 7.2). Rodriguez (128 wRC+), Vaughan (131), and Correa (127) are the only shortstops with at least 800 plate appearances at the end of their age-21 season and at least a 110 wRC+.
All of this is to say, yes, Carlos Correa certainly seems to be historically good, having produced an early career reminiscent of some of the best players of all time. Here is where the projections might seem a bit optimistic, however. Consider the table below, which features the 10-best age-22 through age-26 seasons ever.
|Babe Ruth||– – –||43.2|
|Alex Rodriguez||– – –||39.9|
Correa’s projections place comfortably within that top 10 (a couple more seven-win seasons from Mike Trout would do the same). Projecting anyone as a top-10 all-time player seems improbable. So let’s dig a bit deeper and get some specifics.
Carlos Correa still has half a season left before he finishes up his age-21 season. If he meets his projections, his career line so far will look like this:
|thru Age 21 (with Proj)||PA||HR||SB||ISO||BA||OBP||SLG||wRC+||WAR|
We can handle this a couple different ways. First, let’s just take offense and take a pretty wide sweep. I looked for players within 25% of Correa’s PA total and within 18 points (15%) of his 124 wRC+ who have finished their age-26 season. I found the following players:
|Carlos Correa (thru 2016)||1101||47||.270||.349||.482||124||36.1||3.0||7.9|
Correa is a step above these guys on both offense and defense. Let’s see how they did from ages 22 to 26.
We see an average of a five-win season. One-third of the players averaged a seven-win season, and nearly half posted a wRC+ in excess of 140 over a five-year period. That’s good, but still not commensurate with the sort of performance being projected by ZiPS.
But what if we didn’t think Correa’s plate appearances were truly reflective of his talent level? As a rebuilding club — one unlikely to fight for every last marginal victory — it’s certainly possible the Astros, at least before their surprise run last season, were cognizant of potential super-two status. If we relax the plate-appearance constraint by just a little and give Correa 200 extra PA, and then zero in on his wRC+ of 124, only putting players within 10 points in his comps, here is how those players performed from ages 22 to 26.
That’s an average wRC+ of 145 over five seasons. Using this set of criteria, we get the average up above six wins, but we are still a win and a half short of those ZiPS projections. Assume even slightly above-average defense, however, and you get to seven wins pretty easily. But we still seem short. Of course, when projecting five years out, the next year is the most important, followed by the year after that. If you’re looking at potential overall outcomes, it might be best to look at a list like the above. When making projections, however, using a relatively standard aging curve is probably best.
Now look at that chart above and let’s see who most resembles Correa. The only two shortstops on that list also happened to top that list. And as Correa relative to Alex Rodriguez, they appear to be incredibly similar players by rate stats as of right now.
By rate stats, Correa is just a bit of BABIP behind, and given the era, they are virtually even. At 22 years old, Alex Rodriguez, put up a 7.9 WAR, precisely what Correa is projected to do in ZiPS. Of course, it isn’t quite that easy and projections consider a wide range of factors and players including minor leagues, but when the seemingly best-fit comparable puts up a 7.9 WAR at age 22, it’s hard to ignore the coincidence.
Those projections for Correa might seem a bit crazy, but next year’s projection really doesn’t seem that far off even when considering broader comps and factoring in position. When a great season is the base at age 22, it’s only natural for the subsequent seasons to fall in line. With the large number of seemingly great shortstops coming through, it is natural to group them together, but with his age and accomplishments, Correa might be in a class by himself.
Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.