The Pittsburgh Pirates agreed to a deal with free agent starter Kevin Correia last night, adding the right hander to a two year, $8 M deal. I’m a fan of Kevin Correia, and this off-season marks the third one in a row that I’ve wanted the Pirates to add him. In 2008 he had been outrighted off the 40-man roster by the San Francisco Giants. At the time he looked like a good flier for a bullpen job, with the chance to start. He started in 2009 with the Padres and had a breakout season. There was talk last off-season that the Padres would non-tender or trade him, which spiked my interest again.
A quick look at Correia’s stat line shows nothing impressive. He’s got a career 4.57 ERA in 741 innings. He’s only pitched more than 145 innings in one season, which was his 2009 season. He’s coming off a year with a 5.40 ERA in 145 innings of work. A quick glance shows that Correia isn’t much better than Zach Duke. Digging deeper, Correia is an upgrade over Duke, and easily one of the best pitchers in the Pirates’ rotation. Correia isn’t an ace by any means, but he’s capable of being a reliable starter, and would probably be a strong number four option in a contending rotation.
The biggest thing I like about Correia is his ability to miss bats. His career 6.63 K/9 ratio ranks only behind James McDonald for the projected 2011 rotation. His stuff isn’t great, but he’s got a good mixture with good control. His arsenal includes a low-90s sinking fastball, along with a strong change-up.
Correia had a breakout season in 2009, with a 3.91 ERA in 198 innings, along with a 6.45 K/9, a 2.91 BB/9, and a 0.77 HR/9 ratio. He was a bit lucky with his home run ratio, leading to a 4.20 xFIP, although that’s not too far off his actual results. Then, in 2010, Correia responded with a 5.40 ERA in 145 innings, along with a 7.14 K/9, a 3.97 BB/9, and a 1.24 HR/9. He was unlucky with a very high HR/FB ratio, and had a 4.19 xFIP as a result.
A quick look at his 2010 season could suggest that his 2009 numbers were a fluke. Digging deeper, his 2010 struggles could have been the results of a tragic accident near the start of the season. On May 8th, Correia lost his brother to a hiking accident. It’s hard to imagine a sudden and unexpected loss like the one Correia suffered, and it would be easy to understand how he could struggle following that loss.
Prior to the accident, Correia had a 3.97 ERA in 34 innings, with a 30:12 K/BB ratio. For the remainder of the season after the accident, Corria had a 5.84 ERA in 111 innings, with an 85:52 K/BB ratio. The loss of his brother definitely played a role, as noted in the article from the link above:
Did his brother’s death affect Kevin on the mound? How could it not? There were glimpses of effectiveness during the 2010 season, marked by sudden lapses of concentration. Three or four solid innings would ultimately be obscured by an ill-timed walk or home run ball to ruin the day. Kevin posted a 10-10 record but finished the season with a 5.40 ERA and a mere 145 innings pitched, significant drop-offs from his breakout 2009 season.
He is not the type to make excuses but acknowledges that his drive and competitive spirit waned at times last summer. The Padres were in the middle of a pennant race, and there were too many days when he felt like a spectator.
“Before this happened, baseball was my life, and it was easy to work hard and be motivated and think, ‘Baseball is the most important thing in the world,”’ Kevin said. “After that, it just didn’t seem that important. I didn’t have the same emotions toward winning and losing. At this level, unless you’re an extreme athlete who is so much more talented than anybody else — which I’m not — you’re not going to get away with a drop-off like that.”
Correia had strong numbers in 2009, and started off the 2010 season with similar numbers. The tragedy he suffered obviously played a role, and does raise some concerns going forward about whether he can rebound and find his motivation again. The grieving process would be hard during the course of a regular season in baseball, although Correia might benefit from the extended time off that the off-season provides.
Correia’s season, outside of the personal issues, was very flukey. He saw his ground ball rate go up, and his fly ball rate drop, yet he allowed more home runs. That was due to his 14.8% HR/FB ratio. His ratio was extremely bad in the pitcher friendly Petco Park, with a 17.1% ratio, compared to an 11.9% on the road. The average pitcher allows a home run in 10% of his fly balls. Correia’s career average is 10.1%. He should definitely see a drop in his home run numbers from his 2010 season.
Correia’s ground ball rate went up to a career high 48.9% in 2010. That could be due to his switch to a cutter, which he threw 15.4% of the time (up from 1.6% in 2009), an increase in his reliance on a change-up (10.0%, up from 5.8% in 2009), and his move away from a slider, which he threw 16.0% of the time (down from 30.3% in 2009) (h/t FanGraphs for the numbers). The Pirates can help him out by upgrading the infield defense, specifically at shortstop, assuming he maintains the strong ground ball rate. FanGraphs looked at his increased ground ball rate last year, and came to the conclusion that it was legit.
There’s also the concern that his 2009 season was due to pitching in Petco Park. Correia did have good numbers at Petco, with a 3.68 ERA in 107.2 innings, but his numbers away from Petco, 4.18 ERA in 90.1 innings, weren’t bad. In 2010 he had a 5.36 ERA in 82.1 innings at Petco, and a 5.46 ERA in 62.2 innings away from Petco.
Correia is only a year removed from a very strong season which he not only put up a 3.91 ERA, but also pitched 198 innings. He got off to a strong start in 2010 before his brother passed away. For all we know, he was on pace to follow up on his 2009 season with another sub-4.00 ERA, 190+ inning season.
He’s not a number one starter by any means, but if he can return to those 2009 numbers, he becomes a huge value at two years and $4 M per season. It’s more likely that he puts up something near a 4.20 ERA, which is what his xFIP was at over the last two seasons. That’s still a good result for $4 M a year, especially from the free agent market. A lot of that depends on him regaining his focus and motivation from the tragedy that surrounded his 2010 season, although the off-season should help that process. Again, Corria isn’t a top of the rotation starter, but he’s a guy who can be a definite upgrade for the Pirates, easily jumping in as one of the best pitchers on the staff.