Friday, May 20, 2016

It's Time To Talk About Moving Carlos Correa To Third Base

I don’t think I’m breaking any news here when I say that Carlos Correa is a very good baseball player. Opposing pitchers fear him, and with good reason – the 2015 A.L. Rookie of the Year hit 23 home runs in his first 100 games at the major league level, all while still figuring out how to get carded when buying alcohol. Everything seems to come easy to him. Well, almost everything. He has a kryptonite. Hang with me and please save your boos until the end – Carlos Correa is not a good shortstop.

I know it seems impossible. We’re talking about a guy who makes spectacular play after spectacular play at the game’s most difficult position. I mean just take a look at this throw or this montage or this diving catch.

But hear me out: these plays look amazing, and they are, but a better shortstop wouldn’t even have to make these plays. What Correa makes up for in fantastic catches and a big arm, he lacks in range and quickness. This isn’t a knock on Correa, it’s his own Paul Bunyanesqe gene’s fault. He launches balls out of stadiums because he’s built like an ox, but those skills aren’t conducive to being a good shortstop.

Since the turn of the 20th century, there have only been 33 shortstops over six-foot-two (minimum 500 games). At six-foot-four, Correa would be tied with Cal Ripken Jr. for the tallest shortstop of all-time. Ripken was listed a 200 pounds, Correa is already at 215 and at 21 years old could still be growing.

According to ESPN, of the 73 players who have spent any time at all at shortstop in 2016, Correa has been the 69th-best. That’s not nice. Baseball-Reference has him at -0.4 WAR through 41 games, projecting him to lose his team 19 runs with his defense over the course of a full season.

FanGraphs, the industry leader in advanced defensive metrics, has Correa rated as the worst qualified shortstop in major league baseball. At -4.6, his defensive rating is a full run worse than the next shortstop, the Yankees Didi Gregorius. Correa’s UZR (an advanced defensive metric that uses play-by-play data to estimate each fielder’s defensive contribution in theoretical runs above or below an average fielder at his position in that player’s league and year) has the Astros shortstop at -6.5. That means in just 41 games, Correa has cost the Astros six and a half runs with his defense. In contrast, Brandon Crawford has saved his Giants a league-best 7.9 runs.

It’s not like Correa is hopeless in the field. He has a soft glove with an above-average arm and great instincts. It doesn’t seem to matter how hard the ball is hit at him, he makes a great first step and has elite reactions. The problem is Correa simply doesn’t have the range to play shortstop – his -5.7 range rating from FanGraphs is by far the worst in baseball. You know what that sounds like? A third baseman.

At six-foot-four, 215 pounds with room to grow, Correa would immediately profile as an above-average third baseman with the possibility to become elite. With his natural talents and exemplary work ethic, there is no reason to doubt that Correa would make an excellent defender at the hot corner.

The problem here is obvious. Correa has the makings of a once-in-a-generation talent with plenty of self-confidence who has made it very clear that he wants to stick at shortstop. You don't want to upset him by telling him he has actually been hurting the team in the field. He doesn’t often make bad plays – he just doesn’t have the range to make plays that even an average shortstop could make. I don’t think the Astros would consider moving Correa to third mid-season, even with top prospect Alex Bregman nearly ready to play shortstop in the big leagues. This seems like a conversation A.J. Hinch would need to have after the 2016 season.

But the sooner the better. The Astros are in position to be contenders for the forseeable future. There is no time to mince words: Correa needs to step aside and move to the position most scouts said he would eventually have to go to anyway. I don’t think Correa is too naïve or too proud to force the Astros put him at shortstop. Hinch has the backing of stats, video, and could use one of the best defenders of his era, Astros roving instructor Adam Everett, to drive his point home.

Besides, it’s not like anyone reads the “position” part of Hall of Fame plaques anyway.