Surveying his place in the free-agent marketplace toward the end of last season, Carlos Correa found a metaphor that fit him.
“I go to the Dior store. When I want something, I get it,” Correa told reporters in Minnesota. “I’m the product here. If they want my product, they’ve just got to come get it.”
The designer shortstop will set the Giants back $350 million over the next 13 years, the fourth-largest contract in baseball history. Correa, 28, will be introduced Tuesday at Oracle Park, the Giants’ first celebratory news conference to parade a new hire since Gabe Kapler and arguably their biggest offseason addition since Barry Bonds.
In many ways, Correa and the Giants’ analytically driven front office made a perfect match.
Correa’s traditional stats don’t pop off the page in the same way as Aaron Judge, the free- agent slugger who spurned the Giants to return to the New York Yankees. The Dior-infused statement spoke not only to Correa’s supreme confidence, but also to the savvy for which he has come to be known, regarding both the game’s decisions and the analytics that drive them.
“He’s a student of the game,” Geoff Blum, who became a Houston Astros broadcaster after a 14-year playing career, said last week in an interview with KNBR.
Correa’s baseball journey — the path that one day would lead to immense generational wealth — began in an alleyway adjacent to the modest house his father, Carlos Sr., built in their hometown of Ponce, Puerto Rico. Father and son played catch there, not far from the homes of former major leaguers Sandy Alomar and Javier Vazquez, nearly every day. By the time Correa was 17, a few months before the Astros made him the No. 1 overall pick in 2012, his throw from shortstop was clocked at 97 mph.
Correa agreed to sign for millions below the slot value for the first pick, just to ensure that the Astros would take him No. 1. In doing so, he became the first Puerto Rican ever drafted first overall. He quickly rose through the minors, reached the majors at age 20, and was the 2015 American League Rookie of the Year.
It was a game against Texas, and its aftermath, that struck Blum as special.
In the game, Rangers pitcher Colby Lewis tried to attack a weakness of Correa’s at the time, the inside fastball. Correa turned on the pitch and lined a home run down the left field line, one of 10 homers in his first 45 games, a rookie record for a shortstop.
“I just happened to pull him aside and talk about his approach, and I started to understand how hard this guy actually works,” Blum said. “The fact that he was talking to me at such a young age about getting into the cage, hitting off a tee, realizing what his weakness was and attacked it by hitting off the tee, doing flips, and all of a sudden, he had it translate into the game. You could see that spark turn into a flame and turn into something he realized he had to work on and made happen, I think is what makes him special.”
No active player has driven in more postseason runs than Correa (59, sixth-most all-time), one traditional stat that says all you need to know about his clutch gene. But his one World Series championship, in 2017, is tarnished by the sign-stealing scandal that rocked baseball and resulted in yearlong suspensions for their then-manager and general manager.
Spring training was already underway last season when Correa signed a free-agent contract with Minnesota. He arrived as an outsider but quickly endeared himself. At the end of the season, he was the recipient of five of the 10 team awards the Twins hand out, including “Most Valuable Twin” and the club’s leadership award.
“He has a pretty good feeling for what to say and when to say it and how to say it,” Minnesota manager Rocco Baldelli said recently. “The material is usually pretty good, too.”
“The vision he has, the awareness, the anticipation about what is going to come next,” Twins assistant pitching coach Luis Ramirez told The Athletic. “When he needs to talk to a teammate about an adjustment that needs to be made, or just, to like, picking up a teammate, or paying attention to small details in the game that others don’t see — he makes us better in everything, in the field, everywhere.”
These qualities, on display for years behind clubhouse doors, were given a national audience this past postseason. For only the second time in his career, Correa missed the playoffs and instead suited up as an analyst for Fox Sports.
Correa explained three of the most common advanced stats — wRC+ (weighted runs created), wOBA (weighted on-base average) and OPS+ (on-base percentage plus slugging average) — and why those are the numbers players should be focused on. He was engaging without being patronizing and spoke accessibly yet thoroughly.
“So,” he started, “with the old school, it was average, home runs, RBIs – everybody looked at that and judged a player based on those stats. Now, there’s a lot more information out there. Now, it’s all about projections. So how do you project a player?
“wRC+ takes into consideration the ballparks you play in, the league you play in, the quality of contact, your plate discipline. Everything in one stat. … wOBA is so important because it’s weighted on base average. It takes into consideration how much you get on base. It’s 1.8 (times) more important than the slugging. You cannot steal a walk. You can hit a ball at 110 (mph) and 15 degrees, and it can get caught. … So when GMs, when front offices, when they look at stats, they want to look at wRC+ for a hitter, OPS+ and wOBA.
”Those are the most important stats rights now in baseball,” he said. “It’s the new triple crown. So when I’m in the clubhouse with the players, I make sure I tell them, hey, home runs are nice; if you can hit as many of them, hit them, but also focus on your plate discipline, get on base, hit the ball hard. That’s the key of the game: barrel balls.”
While Correa can’t match Judge’s 62 home runs or 131 RBIs, it’s in these advanced analytics, favored by decision-makers across the sport, that Correa excels. There were 54 players, including five shortstops, who hit more home runs last season than Correa (22). There were 81 players (11 shortstops) who drove in more runs than Correa (64).
But in the advanced stats he identified, Correa was elite. His wRC+ (140) was the best of any shortstop and ranked 18th across the majors, 40% better than the league average. He had the same OPS+, which is measured in a similar way, and was, again, the best of all shortstops. And his wOBA (.363) ranked 21st in the majors, just behind Xander Bogaerts for tops among shortstops.
His new Giants teammates will have 350 million reasons to listen when he preaches analytics.
“That’s how you start a conversation with a player right away,” Correa said. “When I go into a clubhouse – this year, I went to the Minnesota Twins – and the first thing I tell players, I say, you want to make X amount of money? At that point, you’ve already got them. You explain the analytics and how the GMs think and what they look at.”
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