No Ribbing About Carlos Correa’s Bizarre Injury

Owners of the majors’ fourth-best record (37-20) and second-best run differential (+92), the Astros have been humming along in typical powerhouse fashion, but a recent rash of injuries is testing their depth. In a 15-day span they sent Jose Altuve, Collin McHugh, George Springer, Max Stassi, and Aledmys Diaz to the injured list, all for comparatively mundane-sounding injuries to muscles and joints. On Wednesday they gave us something new, namely the news that Carlos Correa had suffered a fractured rib while receiving a massage at his home, which will sideline him for four to six weeks.

It’s a bizarre injury worthy of a Jayson Stark column, and one that set off speculation as to its veracity, to say nothing of the jokes. Unlike the Mets’ handling of Yoenis Cespedes’ recent eyebrow-raising ankle fractures, which the outfielder suffered on his ranch, the Astros gave no hint that Correa’s injury was the result of any mischief. Via The Athletic’s Jake Kaplan:

“Players do a lot of things outside of the field that we’re never aware of or not aware of. Everybody’s trying to get better in their own way, and I’m sure he was receiving treatment for specific reasons,” Astros general manager Jeff Luhnow said. “It’s unfortunate that it happened that way, but we’re concerned right now mostly about getting him back. He’s going to have to rest for a little bit, let the bones heal and get back to doing the physical activity that will help him be back on the field.”

Correa issued his own statement:

“I’m extremely disappointed about not being on the field with my teammates. I sustained the rib fracture during a massage at my home on Tuesday. To sustain an injury in such an unusual way makes it even more frustrating. However, I will work hard to get back on the field as quickly as possible to help our team achieve our goal of winning another championship.”

Your mileage may vary, but as I can imagine where an overly aggressive masseuse applying too much pressure to a client lying on his or her stomach might conceivably cause such an injury, or exacerbate a minor, previously unidentified hairline fracture, I’ll take the above explanations at face value and move on.

Correa was in the midst of a very strong season, batting .295/.360/.547 (142 wRC+) with 11 homers. In just 50 games, he had already nosed past last year’s 1.7 WAR, set in a season in which he played 110 games and missed a month and a half due to a lower back injury. Alas, this is the third straight year in which the 2012 number one overall pick will miss a significant amount of time due to injury; in 2017, he tore the ulnar collateral ligament of his left thumb, which required surgery and caused him to miss nearly seven weeks. Thus far, the 2016 season is the only one out of five in which he’s played more than 110 games, though if he returns without further setbacks — July 11, the first day after the All-Star break, would be right at the six-week mark — he could still play as many as 122.

It’s striking how much time Correa has lost relative to fellow shortstop Francisco Lindor, who debuted just six days after him (June 8 and June 14, 2015) and had never been on the disabled or injured list until this spring, when he spent 26 days on the IL due to a left calf strain:

Francisco Lindor vs. Carlos Correa, 2015-19
Player G PA HR wRC+ WAR
Lindor 611 2757 105 120 23.8
Correa 521 2255 92 129 17.2
Difference 90 502 13 9 6.6

Obviously, that gap will only widen in the coming weeks, and could be around three-quarters of a season’s difference. That said, most of the gap in value actually owes to Lindor’s superior defense (42.5 runs to -15.8 via UZR, 46 to -2 via DRS).

Correa’s injury comes at a particularly inopportune time, as four of the Astros’ top eight hitters by wRC+ are sidelined:

Top Astros Hitters, 2019
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ IL Date Injury
George Springer 216 17 .308 .389 .643 172 May 25 Left hamstring strain
Alex Bregman 242 17 .270 .393 .571 157
Michael Brantley 233 10 .330 .386 .547 152
Carlos Correa 214 11 .295 .360 .547 142 May 29 Fractured rib
Jake Marisnick 118 6 .271 .333 .533 132
Robinson Chirinos 161 6 .236 .371 .457 127
Aledmys Diaz 109 5 .286 .321 .510 118 May 27 Left hamstring strain
Jose Altuve 164 9 .243 .329 .472 116 May 11 Left hamstring strain
Josh Reddick 198 4 .311 .360 .424 113

That’s not what you want. Altuve’s stay on the IL was supposed to be a relatively brief one, but after playing just two games on a rehab assignment, he returned to Houston to undergo re-evaluation due to fatigue and soreness in his right leg, in which he had a patellar avulsion fracture repaired last October. Springer’s injury was reported as a Grade 2 hamstring strain, which generally means at least a four-week absence. Thus far, there has been no mention of the severity of Diaz’s injury, though given that the five-position supersub had been playing second base in Altuve’s absence, his loss is a big hit to the Astros’ depth.

Earlier this week, Ben Clemens crunched the numbers and found that even if one were to exclude the team’s top four hitters (of which only two are actually missing), the rest of the Astros had hit for a 106 wRC+ in 2019. But one can’t take that performance as a forecast. The track records of Marisnick and Chirinos say they won’t maintain this level of production, and even Brantley and Bregman are well ahead of their career norms. The lighter-hitting players who will soak up the plate appearances of the missing mashers are more likely to erode the team’s offensive level than to maintain it.

As far as how manager A.J. Hinch can piece together his lineup, the Astros have cultivated versatility throughout their roster, which can lessen the sting but won’t make it go away. Bregman, who was drafted as a shortstop and saw the bulk of his minor league duty there, has manned the position ably enough in Correa’s absences, though his defense has been a step down (-3.4 UZR, -5 DRS in 52 starts and 71 total games). Myles Straw, who placed 17th on the team’s top prospect list this spring, could get a closer look as well; a 24-year-old righty with 70-grade speed but 20-grade game power, he’s a converted outfielder who took up the new position at Triple-A Round Rock spring, has been recalled and could get a closer look as well. Yuli Gurriel, who has underperformed with the bat (.261/.298/.409, 90 wRC+), has started 41 of the team’s 57 games at first base plus eight of 10 at third base when Bregman hasn’t started; he figures to see the bulk of the hot corner duty when Bregman plays shortstop. Outfielder Tony Kemp, who started his professional carer as a second baseman, has played a total of 20 major league games there including eight this season; after a breakthrough last year (295 PA, 110 wRC+), he’s scuffled this year (92 PA, 82 wRC+).

That shuffling within the infield exposes backup first baseman Tyler White, who like Kemp has been unable to replicate last year’s breakthrough (237 PA and 144 wRC+ in 2018, 125 PA and 70 wRC+ in 2019), but the Astros do have additional cards to play. The team experimented with both Brantley and Reddick at first base during spring training, and if 25-year-old Derek Fisher — who has hit for just a 75 wRC+ in 269 PA since 2017, but has just 17 PA this year — can’t get going, then opportunity could knock for Kyle Tucker or Yordan Alvarez. The 22-year-old Tucker, who similarly struggled last year but placed 10th overall on our top prospects list this spring, is hitting .261/.341/.596 at Round Rock, while the 21-year-old Alvarez, whom Dan Szymborski recently examined more closely, is lighting up the PCL (.361/.446/.759) after starting the year 125th on our list; he’s even got some experience at first base, though he graded as a 30 present/40 future fielder this past spring.

Collectively, that’s a better set of options than most teams can muster, and given that the Astros just placed fifth on our pre-draft farm system rankings, it’s clear that they’ve got a wealth of talent to deal from if they need to acquire a more substantial solution. On the other side of the ball, they’ve also got outstanding run prevention, ranking second in the AL in both ERA (3.42) and FIP (3.79). Losing Correa for a chunk of yet another season is hardly ideal, but as with the recent past, they’re built to withstand this. They’ll be fine.

Brooklyn-based Jay Jaffe is a senior writer for FanGraphs, the author of The Cooperstown Casebook (Thomas Dunne Books, 2017) and the creator of the JAWS (Jaffe WAR Score) metric for Hall of Fame analysis. He founded the Futility Infielder website (2001), was a columnist for Baseball Prospectus (2005-2012) and a contributing writer for Sports Illustrated (2012-2018). He has been a recurring guest on MLB Network and a member of the BBWAA since 2011, and a Hall of Fame voter since 2021. Follow him on Twitter @jay_jaffe... and BlueSky

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4 years ago

Correa needs a better excuse. Just say you were out drinking with David Wells or something.

4 years ago
Reply to  onceindc

Went to the well with Wells? WWWW..