Pirates Get Fair Value in Correia

It’s been a quiet off-season so far for the Pirates, but the Buccos made perhaps their biggest move of the young winter yesterday, reportedly agreeing to terms with Kevin Correia on a deal that will pay the right-hander $8 million over two years. Most observers seem to think the Pirates overpaid. $8 million looks like a lot of guaranteed money for a guy who has spent much of his career bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation, and it’s rare that pitchers coming off a season in which they posted a 5.40 ERA get two year deals. Pitchers of this ilk typically have to settle for one year, incentive-laden contracts. Despite the skepticism, the singing appears to be a fair one for Pittsburgh.

2009 was a breakout year for Correia. A full-time member of the rotation for the first time in his career, Correia showed improvement in all three areas under a pitcher’s control. His K/9 increased from 5.4 to 6.5, his walk rate decreased almost a full walk per nine, and his groundball rate increased from 38 to 44 percent. Fueled by those improvements, Correia logged 198 innings and posted an impressive 3.81 FIP, good for 2.5 WAR.

The improvements Correia saw in his strikeout and groundball rates after moving to the rotation are highly unusual. In a study on players who have moved between the rotation and the pen, BP’s Eric Seidman found that players in the sample had K/PA of 13% in the rotation and 15.4% in the bullpen. Correia has not been as adversely affected by the move as most. Removing 2008 from the equation, his K/9 as a starter is 6.67, higher than his career rate of 6.63. While it’s hard to pinpoint the reason Correia has translated so well to the rotation, some of Correia’s ability to maintain his strikeout rate could be due to his increased use of a cutter. According to Pitch Fx Correia only threw his cutter 1.6% of the time in 2009, but it appears likely that some cutters were being falsely classified as sliders, as his slider velocity shot up 2 mph from the year before. Last year, Correia threw the pitch over 15% of the time, and his K rate jumped from 6.45 to over 7.

Even after this improvement, many weren’t buying Correia after his solid 2009 season. It’s not often that a twenty nine year old suddenly shows such marked improvement, much less a twenty nine year old who spent much of his major league career bouncing between the bullpen and the rotation. At best, Correia’s 2009 was considered to be severely Petco-aided. At worst, downright flukey.

After a disappointing 2010 in which he posted a 5.40 ERA and was temporarily removed from the rotation, it appeared as though the skeptics were right. But there is no indication that Correia’s skills deteriorated in 2010. While his walk rate increased from 2.9 to almost 4 last year, the increased wildness corresponded to jumps in his strikeout and groundball rates. In fact, Correia’s 2009 xFIP of 4.20 was slightly higher than his 2010 mark of 4.19. Correia’s 2010 xFIP was in the same range as solid mid-rotation arms like Anibal Sanchez, Mike Pelfrey, and Johnny Cueto.

The primary difference between 2009 and 2010 was the amount of home runs Correia surrendered. Despite generating more groundballs, his HR/9 shot from .77 in 2009 to 1.24 in 2010, well above his career mark of 1.06. Even taking the move out of Petco into account, it is extremely unlikely that Correia will be so homer-prone in 2011. Especially considering his career HR/FB ratio of 10.1% is actually below the league average mark.

Considering Correia’s HR/FB ratio will likely regresses to close to 11% in 2010, I expect Correia to be worth around 1.5 WAR the next two seasons. A win has been worth approximately $5 million this off-season, so the Pirates do not appeared to have overpaid.

Another way to value the Pirates’ acquisition of Correia is to compare it to the man he has effectively been signed to replace, Zach Duke. After being designated for assignment and then traded to the Diamondbacks, Duke signed for $4.25 million in Arizona. Ironically, Duke’s last two seasons have been very similar to Correia’s. After a solid 2009, a BABIP of .347 and HR/FB almost 14% ballooned Duke’s ERA to 5.72. Bill James projects both pitchers to rebound similarly in 2010, forecasting a 4.37 FIP for Duke and a 4.36 mark for Correia.

You can make an argument that the Pirates would have been better off signing Duke, as there is less risk in a one year deal. However, considering the information we have suggests that both pitchers are likely to bounce-back in 2011. The extra year may prove to be a slight advantage. Entering free agency on the heels of a solid 2011, Correia would likely command more than the $4 million the Pirates have him signed for in 2012.




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13 Responses to “Pirates Get Fair Value in Correia”

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  1. Max says:

    Good analysis. I think Correia is a perfectly cromulent #4 starter, which runs about $4-6 million in this day. And if he totally sucks, I think you can still put him back in the pen and get a decent long or short reliever out of him. Good move by the Buccos.

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  2. Franco says:

    I think there were rumors that Duke was generally unhappy being in Pittsburg and wanted out. If true, than it was a good move that they swapped out similar pitchers at similar prices.

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  3. Lee says:

    Wait.. so is your real name Reed MacPhail? That’s funny.

    I think what’s curious is that he replaced half of his sliders this year with a brand new cutter, yet his slider has been his best pitch his whole career. After the switcharoo he walked 4 per 9, up from 3 BB/9. He induced a few % more grounders but missed slightly less bats than the year before… so was the change really worth it? As a starter he probably felt his CB/CH wasn’t strong enough to compliment his straight 4FB/SL combo he used out of the pen. Looks like he’s not done figuring himself out, and I’m really not sure it’s going to get any better from here. You’ve got a guy who has control issues, and possibly homerun issues because of his unfamiliarity with his pitches and pitch rotation (that is really a lot of donkeys in petco……) who is probably going to change his repertoire again somewhat….

    Not that Duke doesn’t suck. But if you could’ve had him for 4 mil or Correia for 8, not sure I ever take Corriea.

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  4. Pirateball says:

    Nice pickup

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  5. Lospadress says:

    Its worth noting Correias younger brother died in an accident mid season. Def possible this altered his preparation.

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    • victor frankenstein says:

      Indeed.

      By his own account he was pretty lost after his brother went.
      Wonder why Graphs chose not to bring it up?

      Hope he’s able to move on successfully.

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  6. PiratesHurdles says:

    They didn’t bring it up because there is no sabermetric value to assign to something of real importance.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      In the sabermetric’s defense … there’s also no real no way of quantifying what degree or % the death of his brother had on his performance.

      Had he pitched better after the death, one could have said that he was “inspired” by the memory of his brother.

      If he pitched worse, then clearly the death of his brother was weighing on him and negatively affected his performance.

      The bottom line is that we don’t know what affect the death had on his performance, so why bring it up as if we did?

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      • JRoth says:

        He did explicitly say that he lost his “drive.” Different people are affected by these things differently, and Correia volunteered that his baseball play was affected negatively. I don’t see how Fangraphs could account for it, but it does seem worth noting.

        Regardless, let’s hope that he can get past this and get ready to compete come spring. Personally, I like the signing a lot.

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  7. LosPadress says:

    He did really struggled after returning from bereavement, maybe getting out of his home town will help him in 2011. Good risk on Huntington’s part I hope this works out for both parties.

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  8. Pelfrey a “solid mid-rotation starter”? Is this a joke.

    He’s ace material. Get your comparisons right.

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  9. evo34 says:

    I think you need to be careful about calling a 3.81 FIP “impressive,” considering the park/league it was accomplished in. Also, saying his career HR/FB rate is better than league-average is misleading — again bc the stat has not been park-adjusted.

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