Corbin Carroll Is Really Doing It

Corbin Carroll
Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

I think people tend to overestimate their ability to avoid disappointment. We try to temper our excitement so that we won’t feel let down when something goes wrong, but it doesn’t really work. The bad times are always going to hurt. More importantly, tempering your excitement can limit the joy you experience when things finally go right. Nothing strangles happiness in the cradle like that little voice in your head that keeps whispering, “It’s probably going to fall apart.”

I’m not saying we should all be walking around puffed up with unfounded optimism. I just think that some things warrant excitement, that we should trust ourselves to recognize them, and that we should allow ourselves to enjoy them fully. To borrow a line, I think you ought to follow your heart. That’s all I ever thought about anything.

Last year, over 32 games and 115 plate appearances, a 21-year-old Corbin Carroll put up a wRC+ of 130. Excelling in the outfield and on the basepaths as well allowed him to rack up 1.4 WAR. That’s a 7-win pace. He wasn’t perfect: his walk and strikeout rates were nothing to write home about, and while his .358 wOBA said Alex Bregman, his .293 xwOBA said Raimel Tapia. But in all, it was enough to make Carroll our No. 2 prospect in baseball, net him a downright effervescent ZiPS projection and an eight-year, $111 million contract extension, and establish him as our staff’s runaway favorite for NL Rookie of the Year. Corbin Carroll in 2022 was a first date where you’re talking and laughing and then all of a sudden you look at your watch and realize five hours have passed. He was worth getting excited about.

Coming into this season, it made sense to expect Carroll to keep improving and also regress some due to batted ball luck and the need to make adjustments at the big league level. Instead, he just decided to get better — like, at everything. He’s chasing less and making more contact. He’s walking more and striking out less. He’s pulling the ball and elevating it more. Oh, and he’s hitting it much, much harder. I don’t even know how to show you all of the improvements in one place, so this abomination of a chart is the best I can do:

Corbin Carroll Is Doing Everything Better
Season 2022 2023 Difference
BB% 7.0% 10.3% +3.3%
K% 27.0% 19.4% -7.6%
AVG .260 .311 +51
OBP .330 .397 +67
SLG .500 .596 +96
wOBA .358 .420 +62
xwOBA .293 .358 +65
wRC+ 130 165 +35
Exit Velocity 85.8 91.1 +5.3
maxEV 107.5 113.8 +6.3
Launch Angle 9.1 12.3 +3.2
Barrel% 5.5% 10.1% +4.6%
HardHit% 32.9% 43% +10.1%
GB/FB 1.75 1.16 -0.59
Pull% 41.1% 45.8% +4.7%
Soft% 19.2% 12.3% -6.9%
O-Swing% 31.7% 27.3% -4.4%
Z-Swing% 62.0% 65.5% +3.5%
Contact% 74.3% 81.7% +7.4%
F-Strike% 60.9% 50.6% -10.3%
CSW% 30.3% 25.5% -4.8%

So far, the second date is going pretty well, too. Carroll currently has the third-best wRC+ in all of baseball. Over the last 15 games, his wRC+ is 265, and he’s now second in position player WAR behind Ronald Acuña Jr. That effervescent ZiPS projection I mentioned earlier? It had Carroll putting up 3.8 WAR in 2023, then becoming a 4-win player in 2024 and remaining one through the rest of this decade. It is now June 15, 2023, and Carroll is already at 3.4 WAR.

Did you know Carroll could hit a ball 113.8 mph? I definitely didn’t know that last year. Eric Longenhagen has been all over Carroll’s transformation from slash-and-burn leadoff man to power threat; just yesterday, Jordan Shusterman covered this year’s leap in exit velocity. That part is particularly exciting when you consider the context. Carroll’s plate discipline is heading in exactly the right direction. He’s chasing less and swinging in the zone more, resulting in a slight reduction in overall swing rate and a huge improvement in contact rate. There’s a lot of red on the right:

That kind of reduced aggression can sometimes hurt a player’s contact quality. Instead, Carroll’s average exit velocity has gone from 85.8 mph to 91.1, and his hard-hit rate has gone from 32.9% to 43% in 2023. That still only puts him in the 59th percentile, but he’s now pairing above-average power with a 80th-percentile contact rate and 99th-percentile sprint speed. That’s a real weapon.

Carroll has been absolutely obliterating both four-seamers and sinkers. Among players with at least 50 PAs against fastballs, his .547 wOBA and 22.5 run value are both the best in the game, and his .447 xwOBA is tied for 13th. He’s been seeing fewer fastballs as the season has gone on, and I have to imagine that trend will continue. But it will only drop so low, because his improved plate discipline keeps putting him in fastball counts. Last year he was ahead in the count for 26.9% of his pitches; this year, it’s 32.7%, up near the league leaders.

Carroll is still outperforming his xwOBA by almost the exact same amount, but his xwOBA is now 65 points higher (goodbye Raimel Tapia, hello Alex Bregman). I can’t tell you whether he is going to keep beating his expected stats by this much, but I definitely expect him to beat them to some degree. His speed will allow him to keep taking extra bases.

Carroll’s line drive rate is very low. In fact, take a look at his launch angle charts from the last two seasons:

Despite having a gap where all those line drives should be, he has tightened up his launch angle and raised his fly ball rate by nearly 11 points. Last year, his 20% HR/FB rate looked unsustainable. This year, with his fly balls coming off the bat 0.8 mph harder and traveling 30 feet farther, his 20.9% mark looks pretty reasonable.

I should probably mention Carroll’s baserunning and defense before I leave you. By our numbers, he’s been worth 5.9 runs on the bases, best in baseball. His defense has been less than stellar. The only defensive metric that loves him this year is OAA, and there’s a reason for that: OAA doesn’t account for throwing. The other metrics all see him as below average, largely because of his arm.

I want to close with a quick reminder: We’re talking about a 22-year-old. I have t-shirts that are older than Corbin Carroll. Since his debut on August 29 last year, in just over half a season’s worth of big-league plate appearances, he has put up 4.8 WAR. That’s third among all position players, behind Aaron Judge (6.2) and Bo Bichette (5.1). Carroll will obviously take a step back once the heater he’s currently on subsides, and I’ll be as curious as anybody else to see what happens once pitchers decide they’re not going to let him beat them on a fastball. For now, though, let’s get excited.

Davy Andrews is a Brooklyn-based musician and a contributing writer for FanGraphs. He can be found on Twitter @davyandrewsdavy.

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10 months ago

Hey Appelman, more Davy Andrews please!