Breaking Down Corbin Carroll’s Slow Start to 2024

Corbin Carroll has been off to an uncharacteristically rough start for the Arizona Diamondbacks this season. Is a turnaround coming soon?

SAN FRANCISCO, CALIFORNIA - OCTOBER 02: Corbin Carroll #7 of the Arizona Diamondbacks looks on from at home plate against the San Francisco Giants at Oracle Park on October 02, 2022 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Corbin Carroll took the MLB by storm in 2023, making his first All-Star appearance in his first full season, capturing the 2023 NL Rookie of the Year and ultimately playing a crucial role in guiding the Arizona Diamondbacks on Cinderella run to the World Series, their first since 2001.

Fast-forward to 2024 though, and Carroll has been a shell of himself at the plate. Through 134 plate appearances to start the new campaign, he has hit under the Mendoza Line at a .197 clip, while only mustering a .547 OPS, thanks in large part to slugging just .248 in the early going.

Carroll currently sits at a 0.0 WAR. By definition, that makes him a league-average replacement level player. But after posting a 5.4 WAR in 2023, ranking amongst established NL stars like Mets shortstop Francisco Lindor and Braves third baseman Austin Riley, Carroll proved he is far from an average player.

So what’s lead to Carroll’s sudden decline in production?

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Carroll Is Struggling To Hit Fastballs

If you want to find the biggest difference between who Corbin Carroll was as a hitter last year and where he is at this year, look no further than his ability to hit the heater.

Last year, Carroll dismantled fastballs, hitting .307 with a .580 slugging percentage against the four-seamer. He also hit .361 with a .611 slugging percentage against the sinker. This year, Carroll has been unable to catch up to velocity in the same way, posting dismal numbers against the hard stuff.

Carroll is hitting just .119 against four-seam fastballs with a .143 SLG. There has been a bit of bad luck that has come into play, as his expected batting average is .238 and his expected slug is .381, still that is a far cry from the .287 xBA and .497 xSLG from last year.

Along with four-seam fastballs, Carroll is struggling against sinkers this year as well, hitting just .238 with a .381 slugging percentage.

Last season Carroll hit .361 on sinkers, while slugging .611. And he still managed strong expected numbers against them as well, with a xBA of .327 and and xSLG of .540. Carroll’s hard-hit rate on sinkers has dropped from 53.3% in 2023, to 37.5% in 2024..

Carroll is simply not covering fastballs in the same way he did last year and that has cost him early on this season.

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Quality of Contact

Carroll has not been defined by his hard-hit rates as a major leaguer, but in 2023 he was at least a league average hitter ranking in the 51st percentile according to Baseball Savant. This season however, that rate has drastically dropped as he now falls in the bottom 8th percentile in hard-hit percentage.

The reason for Carroll’s low hard-hit rates points back to quality of contact both from an exit velocity and trajectory standpoint. Though it’s early, his average exit velocity is down from 90 mph in 2023 to just 84.6 mph this season.

Carroll has seen a 5.1% drop in flyball rate and 3.2% drop in line drive rate, from 2023 to 2024. His drop in flyballs and line drives have been replaced this season by a rise in pop ups at a rate more than double his percentage in 2023.

Groundball %Flyball %Line Drive %Pop Up %

And the reason for Carroll’s higher pop up rate points back to the fact that he his getting under the ball more at a far higher clip in 2024 than he was in 2023, as well as seeing a significant drop in flare/burner rate and a noticeable rise in topped rate.

According to Baseball Savant, Carroll has seen a rise in Under% of 6.8%, a rise in Topped% of 2.6%, all while seeing a drop in flare/burner%. With Carroll’s speed, hitting the ball on the ground is not the worst thing, but if he is not hitting in the ground hard, he’s not putting the same pressure on the defense to make tough plays against him.

The drop in flate/burner% shows how Carroll has been missing the sweet-spot of the bat by a wider margin than last year.

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Under %Topped %Flare/Burner %

Does Carroll Have Any Issues with His Approach?

This lack of strong contact could potentially be explained by his swing decisions this season.

In 2023 he had an approach where a lot of his swings came in the middle zones of the plate, as well as low and away. In 2024, the two most common areas where Carroll finds himself swinging 75% of the time (or more) are on pitches he sees that are middle-up, and middle-in.

Now why is this important?

In terms of Expected Batting Average, Carroll hit pitches high and away, middle-away and middle-in the best last year. His expected batting average in those zones was .368, .363 and .372 respectively.

This year, he is swinging in those middle zones even more frequently than he did last year, but without seeing the same success. Hunting middle-in isn’t a bad approach for Carroll to take. Last year, Carroll’s .372 xBA middle-in was the highest of any zone for him.

The problem this year is that his expected average middle-in is a measly .167 through May 1 this season. Carroll’s pull% has dropped from 42.7% last year, to 35.8% this year, which coincides with the poor expected batting average on balls pitched inside.

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Carroll has seen a drop in expected batting average of 80 points or more on all pitches he is seeing on the inside part of the plate. When you combine that with the drop in pull-percentage, it becomes clear why Carroll is struggling to tap into his pull-side power where he is getting the barrel out in front early to meet those pitches inside.

Through April last year, Carroll has already hit four home runs, eight doubles and a triple for a total of 13 extra-base hits. This year, he has just one home runs and three doubles.

Now, the other area Carroll swings at most is middle-up, which makes sense when you consider that he hit .325 against those pitches last year, with a .280 expected batting average. This year, he is hitting .182 with a .214 expected batting average on those pitches middle-up. These are likely the pitches that are leading to the surge in pop-up rate for Carroll.

While the results have not been there, Carroll’s swing approach isn’t all that bad to start this season. He’s swinging in zones that he thrived in last season, like middle-in and middle-away. The focus now for him should be on his timing and approach against fastballs to improve the results he’s seen against the heater thus far.

Why Carroll Deserves Patience

After the season Carroll had last year and the faith the Diamondbacks showed in him with an 8-year $111 million deal ahead of the 2023 season, he deserves the benefit of the doubt. And there are things about his approach that have warranted hope that this might merely be an early slump and not the start of some sudden and rapid decline.

It is also worth acknowledging that Carroll battled some shoulder discomfort in the back half of last season. The same shoulder that he had surgically repaired when he was in the Minor Leagues.

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The good news is, Carroll has kept his strikeout rate in check, actually down 3% from his mark of 19.4% last season. He has also has improved his walk-rate in 2024 by 3%, getting on base via the free-pass 11.9% of the time.

And he has actually struck out at a lower clip as well, posting a K-rate of 16.4%, down 3% from the 19.4% he posted last season.

In his media availability after their game against the Dodgers on May 1st, Diamondbacks Manager Torey Lovullo said he feels Corbin Carroll has shown encouraging signs in recent days of trending in the right direction, referencing better swing choices and harder hit balls in recent games.

“I think the storm is coming,” Lovullo said.

With an encouraging series against the Dodgers earlier this week that sees him sporting a three-game hitting streak, Lovullo might be on to something when he said his star hitter’s Day 1 started a few days ago.

Hopefully for the Diamondbacks, Carroll can get things going soon, as he is typically the catalyst that can get his team going in the right direction.

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