As I’ve mentioned before, I didn’t follow the Padres that much (by my own lofty standards, anyway) before being brought onto this site in February. One of the bigger surprises I got when I first started really looking into the team was the 2009 success of starter Kevin Correia.
Correia went 12-11 with a 3.91 ERA, a year after going 3-8 with a 6.05 ERA for the Giants.
Of course, those numbers can lie, but Correia’s FIP (5.10-3.81) drastically improved as well.
What did he do in 2009 that was so much better?
Pretty much everything, it turns out.
Correia boosted his strikeout rate (5.40 in 2008; 6.51 in 2009), walk rate (3.85; 2.91), and homer rate (1.23; 0.77).
We’ll get to the walks and strikeouts later, but I’ll first address the elephant in the room: Was Petco the cause of Correia’s improved homer rate?
His HR/FB did improve from 10.4% to 7.8%, so that’s evidence Petco may have made him lucky. Still, he’ll be pitching there again in 2010.
The Padres, surprisingly, were right in the middle of the pack in HR/FB, at 10.1%. That said, notorious gopherballers Josh Geer and Josh Banks dragged that down, as did a brief appearance by position player Josh Wilson. The 2007 Padres had a 7.4% mark. It’s reasonable to expect Correia to stay near his 7.8% mark of 2009.
Correia did a nice job cutting down on his pitches in the middle of the plate, leading to a lower line drive rate of 19.2%, down from 24.9% in 2008. This led to an increase in grounders (44.8%, up from 38.2%) and a decrease in BABIP (.298, down from .340). The BABIP may regress to .300-.310, but it shouldn’t be significantly higher unless Correia gets very unlucky.
There’s some concern his line drive rate could revert, as it’s been above 24% in three of his seven big league seasons, and jumped nearly 10 percent from 2007 to 2008, so don’t assume the LD% gain is going to hold on. The stat is prone to random fluctuation anyway.
As for Correia’s improved walk rate, he actually threw fewer first-pitch strikes than he had in the past, but remained above-average in that regard. He compensated by getting the ball in the zone well over half of the time, well above the league average. His walk rate could regress a bit next year–he’s thrown more strikes than he did in 2009, with more walks.
As for the strikeout numbers, Correia did induce more swings and misses than he had in any year since 2006, but only by a fraction. However, after a 1-year K/9 dive in 2008, Correia’s outside-the-zone contact percentage went back to the better levels he had established earlier in his career. His K/9 did the same.
Stuff-wise, Correia had lost some velocity in 2008, but got back to his earlier velocity (91 mph fastball, 85 mph slider, 88 mph cutter, 76 mph curve, 84 mph changeup) in 2009. In fact, all of his non-fastball pitches came in harder than they ever had in 2009, and his fastball was .1 mph off his season high.
His fastball and slider drastically improved with the improved velocity, although Correia’s already below-average changeup struggled at the higher velocity. Correia worked on his curve throughout the year and improved in to a league-average pitch.
Overall, if Correia keeps his stuff, his walk rate and BABIP may correct by a bit, but there’s nothing here here that implies that he’ll regress to a 5.10 FIP. I’d look for Correia to post a 3.8-4.2 ERA–a solid third or fourth starter.