First Pitch: Correia Has Been Lucky, But Unlucky in a Way

I’ve talked a lot this year about how Kevin Correia has been lucky. After tonight’s start, the right-hander has a .248 BABIP and a 74.8% strand rate. Both are lucky, and both are due for a regression. Correia has a 4.43 ERA, although his xFIP is 4.97.

Correia has been lucky, and is closer to a 5.00 ERA pitcher than he is a 4.00 ERA pitcher. But in a way, he’s also been unlucky this year, considering the Pirates’ situation.

The Pirates have a great rotation this year. It’s to the point where two bad starts can be enough for fans to call for a rotation change. The 3.79 ERA by the rotation this year ranks eighth in the majors. Their 3.94 xFIP ranks 12th, and suggests that the ERA is somewhat legit, especially when you consider that Correia drags that number down.

Correia is what he is. In a bad rotation, he’s a fourth or fifth starter. The Colorado Rockies have a 6.27 ERA this year in their rotation. Minnesota has a 6.01 ERA. Kansas City has a 5.05 ERA. Any one of those teams would have Correia locked in to a rotation spot, and would have other pitchers on the chopping block before Correia was in danger of losing his job.

The Pirates are in a different situation. They have a good rotation. And in a good rotation, Correia is more of a sixth starter. The Pirates currently have some injuries — Jeff Karstens, Charlie Morton — but they also have replacement options that are better than Correia. Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke are both pitching well in Triple-A. Both have the chance to be better pitchers than Correia in the majors.

I believe Correia is a major league starter. He’s probably a replacement level guy, but I think he’s good enough to fit in one of the 150 starting spots in the majors. The problem is that he doesn’t make any sense for the Pirates. When they signed him, they were coming off a 2010 season where their rotation was one of the worst in baseball. Sadly at the time, a guy who could put up a lucky 4.43 ERA and who was a 4.97 xFIP pitcher, was an improvement to the rotation.

That’s not the case now. The Pirates needed Correia coming off the 2010 season. They didn’t know what James McDonald could do. Charlie Morton had bombed. Jeff Karstens wasn’t seen as a guaranteed starting option. There was no A.J. Burnett or Erik Bedard. Rudy Owens and Jeff Locke were making the jump from Double-A in 2010. Brad Lincoln had struggled in his first taste of the majors. The pitching was a mess when Correia was signed.

Now, the pitching is strong. McDonald, Burnett, and Bedard have provided a strong top three. And the Pirates have enough options — even with Morton and Karstens hurt — that Correia definitely isn’t one of the top two candidates for a rotation spot. And that’s a tough break for him, because he could probably start for a team like Colorado, Minnesota, or Kansas City, and he wouldn’t be under the same scrutiny as he is here. But just because he could start for one of the worst rotations in the league doesn’t mean he should start for the Pirates. Considering the replacement options they have, there’s no reason to keep running Correia out there, especially when the advanced metrics show that he’s only going to continue getting worse.

Links and Notes

**The Pirates lost 7-1 to the Orioles. Kristy Robinson’s notebook looks at how Kevin Correia’s luck is running out.

**Prospect Watch: Not a good night in the farm system, as Jameson Taillon and Zack Dodson both get hit hard.

**Prospect Notebook: Kyle McPherson rehab update.

**Pirates announce the signings of eight draft picks. Also, 11th round pick Chris Diaz has agreed to terms.

**Garrett Jones is swinging a hot bat in June.

**Want to Write for Pirates Prospects? Check out this link.

  • In December 2010, Tim posted this analysis of the average ERAs of #1 through #5 starting pitchers.
    He found that the average fifth starter in 2010 had an ERA of 5.69. The average #3 starter (which would be the average overall MLB starting pitcher) was 4.15.
    Given these findings, Kevin Correia’s xFIP would actually make him an average #4 starter. But that is still not good enough to be the #5 starter in the Pirates rotation becaause they have better replacement options.

    • Those numbers arn’t close to valid anymore after a huge drop in league wide run scoring. Correia’s FIP and xFIP were worse than Jamie Moyer’s heading in to last night. He has no business starting for anyone unless they are completely desperate.

      • It is true that those numbers are not as relevant as they were at the end of the 2010 season. But the decline in league wide run scoring has not been so significant that it invalidates those numbers.
        In 2010, the average runs scored per game per team in the NL was 4.33. This year it is 4.21. In 2010 the NL average ERA was 4.02. Today, it is 3.93. If we deduct that .09 difference from the average 2010 fifth starter, it only brings the average #5 down to 5.60. That still makes Correia a fourth or fifth starter with his 4.98 xFIP.
        Of course, that is not close to being an in-depth analysis. It may be that run scoring against starting pitchers overall has declined significantly more than run scoring against relievers. I might have some fun with taking on the project of determining the average xFIP of NL #1 through #5 starters. Maybe.

  • I was a little unfair to Correia in my last comment. I wrote that his FIP is 5.59, but I failed to mention that he has a very unlucky HR/FB rate of 15%. The xFIP number that Tim listed, 4.98, is probably a better reflection of Correia’s actual performance.

  • salempirate
    June 14, 2012 8:53 am

    Totally agree with you. I don’t think some fans understand that KC is a 5th starter for the Bucs and at best would be the same elsewhere. Certainly he doesn’t strike anybody out and he serves up too many gopher balls and he hardly gives you quality starts, but as a back of the rotation type, he’s not the worst in MLB.
    I’d be all for a trade with the Royals for Robinson by putting KC in KC.
    Totally in a different direction, but does the GM not understand when he states calling up Mercer and saying that we’re gonna play him means he doesn’t become Hurdle’s invisible man on the bench? Continued sitting for a guy who can’t break the Mendoza line really irks me!