Phenom and potential AL Rookie of the Year Carlos Correa was the guy supposed to hammer in the nails of the coffin of Kansas City's season. He certainly did his part on offense, securing four hits in four plate appearances in Game 4. He hit two dingers and a double and drove in four runs. When the opportunity came to hammer in what was supposed to be the final nail, Correa biffed the ground ball. Instead, the Royals burst forth from their coffin and live on to play baseball another day.
Correa's defensive miscue does not fully obscure his offensive accomplishments, though Jeff Sullivan made it fairly clear in the article I linked above that Correa will remember the biffed grounder over the amazing offensive performance. Correa, in fact, has gotten a hit every single game of the ALDS. Here's Correa's postseason (small sample obviously, but I'm not prognosticating...yet): .333/.364/.667. Correa is filling the Hosmer/Moustakas role of last postseason, and we saw what happened to opposing teams when Hostacos got rolling.
This is not suprising, either. Correa's regular season performance was impressive, especially considering he turned 21 only a few weeks ago. Correa's .279/.345/.512 regular season line was not supported by a ridiculous BABIP; at .296, Correa's luck was pretty even. Pulling the ball less (vs. MLB average) and hitting the ball harder (vs. MLB average in hard-hit rate) also signifies that Correa can impact a baseball really hard, as if the 22 dingers in 432 PA didn't already tell you that.
Despite his relative youth, Correa showed what some might call maturity in his plate approach. He is not over-aggressive, and he doesn't whiff a ton. This has led to solid walk/strikeout rates.
I just summarized kind of a complete package, right? He can make contact, he's got power, and he's got plate discipline. He's kind of got the Royals' number. He must be stopped.
Here's a look at how he's been pitched in the postseason so far (in terms of location).
It's pretty clear - throw in or throw low and away. There's a problem though. Correa likes the inside pitch. There are two more charts following. The first shows his swing rates by zone through the regular season, and the second shows his slugging percentage by zone for the regular season.
For the most part, Correa has hit the inside pitch pretty well. There's one exception - imagine the graphs as a 5x5 bingo board. Look at square A2. Correa enjoys swinging at that high and inside pitch, but he hasn't done much with it. Yes, small sample size obviously, but if you were to throw an inside pitch, that's where it should go. Most of the pitches thrown to that area were of the hard variety (four seamer, sinker, cutter), which is not surprising.
That's a location-based analysis; a pitch type analysis shows perhaps a different weakness. Basically, Correa has crushed each pitch type he's seen except for two: the curveball and the splitter. Not many guys throw a splitter (Greg Holland was one, but he's unavailable), so it's the curveball. I should stress that Correa's "weakness" to the curveball is relative - he hit .263 BA / .368 SLG on the pitch. That's worse than other pitch types, but the production could be a lot worse. As one would expect, the curveballs that Correa has seen have mostly been below the strike zone.
I guess the best strategy is hard stuff up and in and curveballs low. Johnny Cueto, who rarely throws curveballs, is currently slated to start. Cueto threw a curveball about 3.3 percent of the time in the regular season according to Brooks Baseball. Cueto used it more against left-handed hitters; Correa is right-handed. Against righties, Cueto relies on his cutter and slider for breaking stuff. All three breaking pitches have been hit hard by opposing batters this year. Crap.
Cueto relies on his changeup for whiffs (22.6% whiff rate). Correa eats changeups for appetizers - his .235 BA / .608 SLG shows some serious power.
Sounds like the best we can hope for is sinkers low and away to try to induce some grounders. Without a solid breaking pitch to bury under the zone, I'd be hesitant to throw the ball up. Whatever the Royals and Cueto figure out, the result needs to happen. Carlos Correa must be stopped.