By John Perrotto
The list of opening day starters this week is filled with most of the top pitchers in baseball, from Roy Halladay to Felix Hernandez to Tim Lincecum to CC Sabathia.
Then there is Kevin Correia, the man the Pirates will send to the mound on Friday afternoon when they open the 2011 season against the Cubs at Wrigley Field in Chicago. Signed to a two-year, $8 million contract as a free agent in December, the 30-year-old Correia was 10-10 with a 5.40 ERA in 28 games, 26 starts, for the San Diego Padres last season.
Throw in the fact that Correia was yanked from the starting rotation at the beginning of last September when the Padres were in the midst of a pennant race and it’s hard to believe he is pitching the first game of a major-league team’s season.
However, Correia has to be looked at in context. He is fronting a rotation that includes left-hander Paul Mahol and right-handers Ross Ohlendorf, Charlie Morton and James McDonald. Those four were a combined 16-42 last season. Morton went 2-12 and Ohlendorf was 1-11, though his 4.07 ERA was barely above the National League average of 4.02.
The Pirates, as has been well-documented, are big believers in statistical analysis when deciding what players to pursue as free agents or in trades.
After crunching the numbers, the Pirates believe Correia is set for a bounce-back season primarily because his strikeout rate remained good last season despite the so-so record for a Padres team that won 90 games and the high ERA.
Correia struck out 7.1 batters per nine innings, bettering his…
6.5 mark from 2009 when he was the Padres’ best pitcher, going 12-11 with a 3.91 ERA in 33 starts. Correia’s ground ball rate also rose last season to 48.9 percent from 44.8 percent the previous year.
While Correia went 1-3 with a 5.92 ERA in the Grapefruit League this year, he struck out 20 batters in 24 1/3 innings. That an average of 7.4 per nine innings, a sure sign that his stuff is still plenty good to get major-league hitters out.
Statistical evidence always has more weight when it is supported by anecdotal evidence. New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez supplied that last Saturday after Correia’s last outing of the spring in which he allowed three runs and five hits in six innings with two walks and five strikeouts.
“He threw the ball very well,” said Rodriguez, who has hit 613 home runs in his career. “He keeps the ball down, throws strikes. He attacks hitters, has good stuff.”
John Perrotto has covered the Pirates since 1988.