The Free Press, Mankato, MN

April 28, 2013

Thoma column: Is Correia for real? Still a doubter

By Edward Thoma
The Free Press

MANKATO — Another start for Kevin Correia, and another good one.

Sunday’s line for the veteran right-hander: eight innings, six hits, no runs, one walk, two strikeouts. And this against a high-quality lineup.

His ERA for the season is now a tiny 2.23, and he’s given the Twins at least seven innings in each of his five starts.

Not bad for anyone, much less a guy whose signing was lampooned by statheads (such as me).

Does that mean the criticism was misplaced? I’ll accept the risk of being accused of negative thinking and say no.

It may be worth noting that last April, Correia (then with Pittsburgh) had a 2.42 ERA in April. At the end of the season it was 4.21. His April ERA in 2011 was 2.90. At the end of the season it was 4.71.

Good Aprils are not foreign to Correia. Good seasons ... those are.

Know who was the last Twins starter to go seven innings or more in each of his first four starts of the season? Ramon Ortiz in 2007. He made it through that April 3-1, 2.57, with 35 innings in five starts (his fifth start was “just” six innings); by the end of May his ERA was 5.65 and he was out of the rotation.

So a good April, in and of itself, shouldn’t change a well-honed evaluation of a player.

Correia has been the kind of pitcher he has been in recent years, perhaps even more so: A low walk rate (an impressive 1.3 walks per nine innings entering his start Sunday, about one walk less than in the past two years) and a low strikeout rate (4.1 K/9, slightly lower than during his time in Pittsburgh).

The combination has resulted in a sharply improved strikeout-to-walk ratio. Correia has hovered just under 2 K/BB for several years; entering Sunday, he was at 3.25 K/BB.

That improvement may actually be sustainable; the Twins have a long track record of pitchers improving their control records. Carl Pavano, Carlos Silva, Johan Santana — not that any of them were wild when pitching for other teams, bu they all walked fewer men working for Ron Gardenhire and Rick Anderson than they did with other pitching coaches and managers.

What probably isn’t sustainable for Correia is his double-play support — and the lack of home runs allowed.

Entering Sunday, according to Baseballreference.com, Correia had had 12 double-play opportunities — a runner on first with less than two out. He had generated five double plays, a 42 percent rate.

The major league average is 11 percent; Correia’s career average is 10 percent.

It’s not that Correia’s getting an abnormal amount of ground balls in total; his groundball rate is now and over his career roughly the major league average. It’s that he has been getting his grounders at just the right time.

He has allowed two homers. Entering Sunday, just 4.7 percent of the fly balls he allowed left the yard, a percentage that obviously declined Sunday, Here, too, his career rate is a close fit to the major league average of 7.7 percent.

His early season results are probably not based on true skills. If and when his double plays dry up and a few more of the fly balls carry over the fences, the ERA will deteriorate as well.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.