If Carlos Correa Moves to Third, It Will Be a Smooth Transition

Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports

For some reason, a clip of Alex Rodriguez yielding shortstop to Cal Ripken Jr. in the latter’s final All-Star game just won’t stop popping up on my Twitter timeline. Maybe it’s because I seem to stop scrolling every time I see it, but regardless, it keeps making me think about the great shortstops who have gone from playing up the middle to patrolling the hot corner during the prime of their careers. Funny enough, Ripken wasn’t one of them. His switch came later in his career, but the guy who yielded to him transitioned after an MVP season. A-Rod moved over upon his trade to the New York Yankees, and the rest is history.

While Carlos Correa technically still doesn’t know where he’ll be playing baseball in 2023, assuming that he and the New York Mets work out a deal, it will involve him ceding his natural position to fellow island mate Francisco Lindor. Correa and Lindor don’t present a perfect parallel to A-Rod and Derek Jeter because the skill differential makes a little more sense this time around. But Correa has long been compared to Rodriguez when it comes to his physical stature, tenacity, and fervor for the game. Now Correa finds himself considering a switch similar to A-Rod’s despite very recently being considered one of the best defensive shortstops in the game. Luckily, in terms of his skill set, Correa is a near-perfect fit to immediately be an elite defender at the hot corner, much like A-Rod’s seamless transition. Before laying out the case defending that transition, let’s take a look at Correa’s fielding metrics over the years:

Correa Defensive Metrics
2015 4 N/A 6.3
2016 6 -18 -1.6
2017 10 -4 -2.1
2018 11 20 -4.5
2019 9 11 0.1
2020 7 5 -0.7
2021 20 12 2.9
2022 3 -3 1

By DRS and OAA, Correa was an elite defender recently, and when you watch him, it’s easy to see why. His hands are smooth. His footwork is nearly flawless. His IQ and feel for his plus arm strength are off the charts. Still, he followed up his superlative 2021 by being merely average last season across all three metrics. It’s difficult to explain such a drastic fluctuation from a player with Correa’s raw skills without knowing the full scope of his health during the season. Yet the decline still happened, making the potential move to third base seem quite timely. On top of that, the seeming uncertainty surrounding Correa’s long-term health adds another layer of complication to all of this. That situation is still quite cloudy, so for now, I will stick to why his present skill set and statistical trends fit at third.

There are a few ways to go about this exercise, but a good starting point is to begin by examining Correa’s directional data over the last few years. Since most of his grounders at third base will be in and/or left, I’d like to keep the focus there. Shuffling towards second base, charging towards the pitcher’s mound, and sprinting in towards home plate are all crucial parts of commanding the hot corner, and Correa’s previous results might give us an inclination of what his future at third base holds:

Correa Directional OAA
Year OAA In Toward 3B Toward 1B Back
2016 -18 -6 -4 -7 -2
2017 -4 -2 1 -2 0
2018 20 8 11 3 1
2019 11 6 6 -2 1
2020 5 4 1 -1 1
2021 12 6 5 1 0
2022 -3 4 2 -7 -1
SOURCE: Baseball Savant

Correa has historically been statistically average to below average when ranging up the middle despite his sound footwork and strong throwing arm. This play requires more ballet-like movements to go along with great arm strength and is as fast paced as it gets if the runner is a burner. If you’re ranging up the middle towards center, you have to take a weird diagonal route that can result in either a pirouette spin or a hard plant and off-balance throw or flip, depending on the baserunners. If you’re ranging more towards the mound or first base, you can have aggressive foot work and create an angle to throw off one leg or create space for a two-handed transfer and a stronger throw off two legs as you shuffle towards first. Here are examples from Correa of each:

Correa is smooth doing both because of that clean footwork I mentioned. It helps him create angles that put his body in a position to adjust if he needs to switch directions on a dime. His slight hesitation in the first clip is likely because he considered taking the double play himself, but realized it was better to trail back and take the sure out since Xander Bogaerts was hustling down the line. In the second, he takes a slow route and relies on his arm to do most of the work. That’s a fine strategy if you routinely throw in the upper 80s like Correa does.

You might wonder why his defensive metrics in this direction are below average if he is so mechanically sound when making plays like this. Correa is well suited to make the plays within his range, but when going to his left, he is more limited compared to other shortstops, and that plays out in the metrics. It gives him less room for error in total. For example, if he doesn’t make a play up the middle that most shortstops can get to, then his OAA and success rate are dinged. Historically, he’s made up for this with elite range to his right, which is another point in favor of his transition to third.

Sure, third baseman need to go left more often than not, but Correa would be in a good situation in Queens in that he’d have an 80-grade fielder next to him. He also has an elite skill of his own in his use of his backhand. Without the worry of needing to cover the shortstop-third base hole on his own, perhaps he will be able to cheat in a direction that, depending on the context of the hitter and expected pitch, is favorable to his skill set. Additionally, grounders up the middle often have different spin profiles than grounders to third, making them more difficult to read. At third base, you can rely more on reacting to speeds and hops. Correa still has elite skills and would be in a better position to access them at third base alongside Lindor since he’ll have less square footage to cover.

One of those skills that hasn’t been discussed yet is Correa’s impressive knack for charging the baseball. Only four shortstops have accrued more OAA charging in than he has since 2018. Let’s get back to the video to see what those plays look like:

When you practice fielding groundballs at shortstop, this is one of the most fun plays to give your best run at. There is a combination of choppy and long steps one must make to prepare for the transfer. The combination of moving body parts and the heightened urgency to make the play makes for an anxious but exciting opportunity, precisely like the play against Nicky Lopez.

For some shortstops, it takes a good bit of effort to make a strong throw on this play, but that isn’t an issue for Correa. He effortlessly pumps out high-80s to low-90s back-spinning throws no matter what direction he moves in. His carry allows him to make accurate throws, too, because he doesn’t create a spin profile that is tough for a first baseman to read or pick in case there is a hop. That is ideal for a third baseman. Similarly, it lets him make a direct throw when fading in to his right to attempt to turn a double play. Whether it’s a deep throw near the third base line, or a shorter throw from a charging groundball, having true backspin makes you well suited to last at this position long-term. Just look at the arm slots that Nolan Arenado and Matt Chapman throw from:

Not all infielders or even all third basemen throw like this, but those who do can consistently make accurate throws from different spots at the hot corner. Their slots might not be perfectly over the top, but their hand orientation is, and that creates true back spin. Correa won’t need to alter his mechanics or arm slot at all to do this. It’s a great benefit for him, as transitioning from short to third could be difficult if he had more of a three-quarters or drop-down arm slot from shortstop. If you need further proof, just watch the defensive plays Correa made in the 2017 World Baseball Classic here. I remember watching these games and thinking that Correa would be in the Arenado class of third base defenders if he ever needed to be. It also doesn’t hurt that he is ceding to the only shortstop he has ever done that for, too.

So to recap, we have Correa’s ability to maintain sound mechanics when moving side to side, his elite skill of charging groundballs, and lastly, his natural carry on his throws. And, if he does end up signing with the Mets, he’ll be playing next to the elite fielding Lindor. I know this possibility is currently up in the air, and it isn’t exactly clear when or if a deal will get done. But if it does work itself out, his move to third base needn’t be a concern. On the contrary, I think it might end up playing out in both Correa’s and the Mets’ favor given his skill set. Ultimately, only time will tell, but we should all be excited at the prospect of a Correa-Lindor left side of the infield in Queens.

Esteban is a contributing writer at FanGraphs. You can also find his work at Pinstripe Alley if you so dare to read about the Yankees. Find him on Twitter @esteerivera42 for endless talk about swing mechanics.

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1 year ago

Uh, actually Ripken did end up moving off of SS to 3B. Kind of lost my desire the read the whole article when the first paragraph misses something that simple.

1 year ago
Reply to  lildaz44

Yeah that was a pretty big goof.

1 year ago
Reply to  Esteban Rivera

Sorry man, just realized my initial post came across way more negative than it was ever meant to. I’m like a dog watching a squirrel so when something throws me off like that, it’s hard for me to get back in the groove.

1 year ago
Reply to  lildaz44

He changed the article to fix that. I know it’s not a big deal overall, but it was enough to derail me initially.

1 year ago
Reply to  lildaz44

It’s actually a really good article in terms of producing new and relevant* information so that’s a good edit.

*Ok, maybe not so relevant for a couple years (pending physical).