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Patrick Corbin headlines the starter free agent market

In a pitching market more focused on trades, Corbin is the best available for cash.

MLB: Arizona Diamondbacks at San Diego Padres Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

As I have mentioned in the past, this was not supposed to be a thin pitching market. Matt Harvey was in theory supposed to be the jewel of the offseason, and now he’s... probably still going to be a wealthy guy. Patrick Corbin, instead, has emerged as the unlikely hero of the pitcher free agent market.

Corbin feels like one of those signings where you can see both scenarios, both where the signing team is vindicated and where they are slammed for it, playing out. In the former, his performance looks something like his 2018 season:

  • 200 innings, 77 ERA-, 61 DRA-, 6.3 fWAR, 5.9 WARP

Or, it could look something like his 2016 season:

  • 155 23 innings, 117 ERA-, 136 DRA-, 0.5 fWAR, -1.5 WARP

The question is finding out whether he is “for real” or not, which I’m going to hedge on both accounts here.

  1. Why he is “for real”: for one, he is using the slider a ton more:

He, like many pitchers around the league, have gone to a nearly pitch-backwards-approach, but with a twist. Corbin essentially throws multiple versions of the slider as an alternative to what most pitchers would do with a fastball/two-seamer/cutter approach. He throws one in the mid-70s he can get over for a strike, and another in the low-80s he can use when he gets ahead in the count.

All of this is good! He has a career high in whiff rate, chase rate, and contact rates have gone to career lows. There’s just one issue...

2. Why he isn’t for real: All of this simply comes down to injury and velocity. He already had one scare back in May when he saw his fastball velocity dip a few miles per hour, and it has since rebounded (mostly):

As has been said, the best indicator for future injury is past injury, and Corbin has that history. He underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014, missing all of that season and half of 2015. So, when you hear about massive dips in velocity, you raise an eyebrow. It helps a lot that Corbin has mostly backed off the fastball as it wasn’t that good of a pitch to begin with, but the overall risk factor, combined with his limited track record of actually being elite, is definitely going to give teams pause.

It makes sense that teams would also shop for Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco, or James Paxton, but a team will absolutely sign Corbin as they need a starter for cash alone. MLB Trade Rumors predicts he will sign for six years and $129 million with the Yankees, and I actually find all aspects of that prediction to be (probably) accurate. The fit is there and the Yankees will likely get one more starter via trade, so this is their primary pitching target.

I wouldn’t count out the Astros, Braves, Phillies, Dodgers, or Giants, though. If your team has the money to spend and you have the analytics internally with enough evidence to show that his 2018 self is more real than fake, then there’s no reason why the best pitcher in this market isn’t worth the risk.