Carlos Correa’s Rookie Season Hints at Greatness

The 2015 season has been chock-full of high-profile rookie debuts. From Kris Bryant to Corey Seager to Noah Syndergaard, I’ve certainly had no shortage of players to write about. But the most impressive rookie campaign — at least on a per-game basis — might very well belong to Carlos Correa, who’s developing into a superstar right before our eyes. Although he’s completed just his age-20 season, Correa’s been one of the best better hitters in the game since the Astros called him up on June 8th. His 133 wRC+ was the 28th best among hitters with at least 400 plate appearances this year, and second best among rookies, trailing only Kris Bryant. By the barometer of WAR per 150 games, Correa ranked 21st in baseball with mark of 5.2.

You probably didn’t need me to tell you that Carlos Correa’s been really good. This isn’t exactly news. So rather than dwelling on how good Correa is now, I want to consider what his impressive rookie campaign means for his short- and long-term future.

I’ll start off by looking at what he did in his two months in the minor leagues. Correa opened the year at the Double-A level, where he hit an absurd .385/.459/.726 in 29 games before the Astros bumped him up to Triple-A. I wrote about Correa at the time of this promotion, and unsurprisingly, the data had glowing things to say about his long-term outlook. Based on his Double-A performance, the names Mike Trout, Cliff Floyd and Asdrubal Cabrera  showed up as statistical comps, putting him in some mighty fine company.

His stay at the Triple-A level was short lived, as the Astros called him up to the show after just 24 games. His .276/.345/.449 showing at the level was a few notches down from his Double-A performance, but still very impressive for a 20-year-old shortstop. Based on his Double- and Triple-A numbers, KATOH pegged him for 19 WAR through age 28, which was tops among players with at least 200 plate appearances in the minors. Before he even stepped on to a big league field, Correa had the statistical track record of a star in the making.

Now, I’ll look at the more important part of Correa’s 2015 campaign: his big league performance. The crux of this exercise revolves around Correa’s statistical comps, which were calculated by way of some weighted Mahalanobis distance calculations. As a warning, the next couple of paragraphs will be strictly about math. If you’re more interested in reading about Carlos Correathan you are in reading about math, feel free to skip ahead to the table of comps.

First, I took every rookie season since 1955 in which a hitter aged 19-21 recorded at least 400 plate appearances. Then, I turned every possible offensive outcome into a rate stat, regressed them for sample size and scaled them to league average. In my distance calculations, I applied weights to each of these rates based on the 2015 wOBA coefficients in order to properly weigh the importance of each component. In simpler terms, I compared Correa’s rookie season to other young players’ seasons by weighing each metric according to its offensive importance.

One tweak, though. While wOBA does a good job of quantifying a hitter’s past performance, it fails to account for some things that fall largely outside of a hitter’s control. Most notably, it does not adjust for BABIP. In other words, it treats all outs equally whether they’re strikeouts, line drives or otherwise, which is less than ideal when trying to predict the future. So, I also threw strikeout rate into the mix. I gave it the same coefficient as walk rate, since my KATOH models revealed that a hitter’s strikeout rate and walk rate in Triple-A have similar predictive power.

Enough technical mumbo-jumbo! Let’s have a look at Correa’s top comps based on my fancy computer math. Here are the players whose rookie campaigns most resembled Correa’s.

Carlos Correa’s Mahalanobis Comps
Rank Year Name wRC+ WAR Mah Dist
0 2015 Carlos Correa 133 3.4 0.00
1 2011 Eric Hosmer 113 1.0 2.53
2 1977 Eddie Murray 123 3.0 3.79
3 1982 Cal Ripken 116 4.6 4.73
4 1964 Tony Conigliaro 138 1.9 5.41
5 1975 Gary Carter 113 3.2 5.53
6 1989 Ken Griffey Jr. 106 2.5 5.86
7 1990 John Olerud 122 1.4 6.29
8 1976 Jason Thompson 103 1.2 6.35
9 1965 Curt Blefary 145 4.2 7.79
10 1969 Carlos May 140 1.8 8.05

And let’s see how the rest of their careers turned out.

Career Stats for Carlos Correa’s Mahalanobis Comps
Name wRC+ WAR
Cal Ripken 112 92.5
Ken Griffey Jr. 131 77.7
Eddie Murray 127 72.0
Gary Carter 116 69.4
John Olerud 130 57.3
Jason Thompson 123 27.1
Curt Blefary 117 12.1
Tony Conigliaro 119 11.8
Carlos May 112 9.4
Eric Hosmer* 108 6.1
*Career still in progress.

On the whole, their careers turned out pretty well. Ripken, Griffey, Murray and Carter are all Hall of Famers, while Olerud was one of the best hitters in baseball for a time. Conigliaro might have been right up there too had he not suffered a career-derailing injury at age 22. In a nutshell, Correa is keeping some pretty good company. Here’s a look at these hitters’ career trajectories by cumulative WAR.

And by marginal WAR.

There are lines going in every which direction in that last chart. You probably noticed that a few of those lines approached the 10 WAR mark at various points, but other than that, it’s a little hard to grasp what’s going on. So let’s try a simpler graph that doesn’t look so much like spaghetti. The graph below plots the group average and median, along with the group’s 25th and 75th percentiles for each year.


The outlook here is pretty encouraging. This group’s mean bounces between 3 WAR and 5 WAR, with a modest upward trend. A perpetual four-win player pretty darn good. However, it’s those top two lines that should really make you giddy. One out of every four hitters topped the 4.0 WAR mark in just about each season, while at least one eclipsed 7.0 WAR.

Correa had one heck of a rookie campaign, and was a big part of the Astros’ unanticipated run to the playoffs. But most remarkable of all, he did almost all of it as just a 20-year-old. He’s still a baby by baseball standards — and by many non-baseball standards, for that matter. Still, in spite of his youth, he very well might be the most talented player on the field in tonight’s wild card game. He’s already that good; and hitters who are that good at 20 are often great in just a few years’ time.

Chris works in economic development by day, but spends most of his nights thinking about baseball. He writes for Pinstripe Pundits, FanGraphs and The Hardball Times. He's also on the twitter machine: @_chris_mitchell None of the views expressed in his articles reflect those of his daytime employer.

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8 years ago

Can we have a Sophomore of the Year award next year? These guys are way too good and interesting to stop endlessly comparing to each other and their historical counterparts already.

Cat Latos
8 years ago
Reply to  MrManager

The way this handful of game ready stars has performed… that award is the MVP balloting. If Correa had played the entire season, he is certainly wouldve hovered around 4th or 5th in the AL MVP voting. He carried the Astros when Springer went down. Springer is a very important piece to the Astros with his OBP and defense. During that time the league adjusted to Correa, it took him 2 weeks to make the changes.

Before I hear Lindor fWAR… If Correa were to be a 3b his defense would rival Arenado and Machado, which would shot his WAR way way higher.

Correa’s BABIP was completely in range all season, I cant say that for some other rookies.

not an astros fan
8 years ago
Reply to  Cat Latos

Hmm… someone’s an Astros fan.

Yeah, he’s great, but someone’s been hitting the koolaid…