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February 18, 2018

Seager is Better Than Correa, For Now by Mojo Hill

MLB Network just completed their list of the top 100 players in baseball right now, and while there are countless debates and arguments that could be made for and against certain players, I’m going to focus on one decision in particular: the ranking of Carlos Correa ahead of Corey Seager.

Now, I have been seeing Correa ahead of Seager as somewhat of a consensus opinion at this point, and while there are still some Seager believers out there, I believe Seager is being undervalued in this discussion.

Both star shortstops were taken in the first round of the 2012 draft, and both have had similar careers up to this point. In two seasons and part of a third, Seager has put up 14.6 fWAR in 1413 PA. At the same time, in three seasons Correa has put up 13.7 WAR in 1573 PA. So if we’re looking strictly at who has been more valuable thus far, Seager has been more valuable in less PA, appearing to give him the edge.

But as always, there’s more to player evaluation than WAR.

2015 was Seager’s first taste of the Majors, as he appeared in 27 games and had 113 PA. He made great use of this first impression, putting up a 175 wRC+ that was likely helped out by a .387 BABIP. But it certainly wasn’t all just luck; Seager was a highly valued prospect and walked 12.4% of the time while only striking out 16.4% of the time, and he hit for every impressive power especially for a shortstop, with a .224 ISO. His defense was somewhat of a mixed bag at that point, with a -1.6 UZR and one DRS, but defensive metrics aren’t really meant to be given much weight in small samples.

Seager entered 2016 after his strong 2015 performance as one of the favorites to win NL Rookie of the Year, and he did not disappoint in his first full Major League season, hitting .308/.365/.512 for a 136 wRC+. What was arguably even more impressive was his defense, putting up a 10.6 UZR and having 17.5 dWAR. He was also productive on the bases with a 2.6 BsR, giving him an extremely impressive 7.4 WAR that got him not only a unanimous ROY award, but a 3rd place finish in MVP voting behind only Kris Bryant and Daniel Murphy.

2017 was a slightly less impressive but still really good season from Seager. Some back issues hindered his play near the end causing his numbers to fall off a little bit, but overall he still played 145 games with 613 PA. His overall offensive output turned out to be a little down from 2016, with his ISO falling from .204 to .184 and his wRC+ falling from 136 to 127. He did walk 3% more to put up an impressive .375 OBP. His defense remained top-notch and his baserunning got even better, giving him a still great 5.7 WAR for the season.

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So the question is: How does Correa compare in roughly this same time frame? Here’s a brief overview of the stats they have put up so far in their careers.

Player PA HR AVG OBP SLG BB% K% ISO BABIP wRC+ BsR dWAR WAR
Seager 1413 52 .305 .374 .502 9.6% 20.0% .197 .357 135 7.2 29.5 14.6
Correa 1573 66 .288 .366 .498 10.7% 19.6% .210 .326 135 7.7 6.2 13.7

The sum total of each of their offensive outputs is quite similar. Both have hit for exactly a 135 wRC+ over their careers. They have also been pretty much of equal value on the bases, with Correa having a 7.7 BsR in 1573 PA vs. Seager’s 7.2 BsR in 1413 PA. They are both fast players, with Correa possibly having an edge having stolen twenty more bases than Seager, although it’s worth noting that he only stole two last year.

But the point here is that offensively, Seager and Correa have been nearly identical. Seager hits for a higher average, but walks slightly less and hits for slightly less power. And while a case could be made for either of them on the offensive side, on the defensive side, it’s not nearly as close.

Seager has simply been better defensively throughout his career than Correa. His 29.5 dWAR blows Correa’s 6.2 out of the water, and even though these defensive metrics are not perfect, when the discrepancy is that large over roughly 3000 innings of sample size, it’s pretty clear who was been the superior defender. Not to mention that Seager has an 8.8 UZR/150 vs. Correa’s -6.0. On top of that, 11 DRS vs. only one. If you watch them play, you’ll see that while they both have the athletic build and quick instincts required to play shortstop well, Seager has a bit more range and looks a little smoother out there. In addition, Correa has been a bit more error-prone. Both the eye test and the metrics put Seager as the better defender.

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The similarity in their offensive stats coupled with Seager’s much better defense gives Seager the clear edge to me, even though they are certainly comparable players and the young, possibly future Hall of Fame (I know, long way to go) franchise shortstops of their respective teams.

So why does Correa over Seager seem to be the more popular opinion? Some people have seen Correa as having more potential with the bat, plus the fact that he has slightly more power. Maybe that means in the next few years Correa will surpass Seager, but for right now, I don’t think he’s done enough with the bat to make up for his defensive shortcomings.

If you look at who has the best single-season wRC+ in their brief careers so far, it’s Correa with a 152, unless you count Seager’s 2015 in which he had a 175 wRC+ in 113 PA. While this is better than either of Seager’s two full seasons, a mid-season injury limited him to only 109 games and 481 PA, and it’s hard to have confidence that Correa will be a 152 wRC+ guy in the future when the year before he had a 123 wRC+ in 179 more PA. Plus, his BABIP was up .026 points from his career BABIP, and while a .352 BABIP may be somewhat sustainable given how hard he hits the ball, the same could be said about Seager and his career .357 BABIP.

If we’re looking at who has the best single-season WAR so far, it’s easily Seager with his 7.4 WAR 2017. Correa was on pace to have a chance at beating that in 2017, but his injury limited him to 5.2 WAR. Seager’s WAR numbers are better than Correa’s because Seager is about as valuable offensively and much more valuable defensively, and until Correa can firmly establish his hitting as better than Seager’s, it’s hard to rank Correa ahead of Seager at the current moment in my opinion. Seager has proven himself as the more valuable player with similar offense and better defense.

So if you could pick only one of these players to have on your team, who would you pick? Neither one is the “wrong” answer; if you think Correa’s power is finally going to break out over a full healthy season then it’s not unreasonable to think he might become a better overall player. But until that actually happens, I’m going with Seager all day. The only way I’d take Correa over Seager is if Correa’s advantage in offense was large enough to make up for Seager’s advantage in defense, and right now, Correa doesn’t have much of an advantage in offense; in fact, you could make the case that Seager’s offense is better.

Either way, these are two extremely talented shortstops who should be a joy to watch over the next decade or so. They’re in the highest tier of shortstops along with Francisco Lindor, and it’s honestly way too early to tell who is going to have the better career.

But for now, I’ll take Seager.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out my analysis of Austin Barnes, or if you like interviews, Mike has plenty of those. You can also follow us on Twitter and Instagram for updates on when we publish a new article or interview.  You can also follow me on Twitter.

 

 

 

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