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The Nationals were right about Patrick Corbin

After hemming and hawing over the offseason about whether he is for real, he is indeed for real

MLB: Baltimore Orioles at Washington Nationals Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

I have no reason to be disgruntled as a Yankees fan, nor have I ever had a real reason to be over the two and half decades. Yet if the team falls because of a lack of starting pitching, it’s not like there weren’t ample opportunities to find some in the offseason. The best pitcher available, easily, was a man named Patrick Corbin.

While the Washington Nationals signed him to a lucrative six-year, $140 million deal, many teams, the Yankees included, decided that six years and that valuation was just too much. Brian Cashman even stated that “they weren’t comfortable making a six year deal for reasons he declined to name. Said they considered him the best SP available as a free agent, but that didn’t mean they were going to go past their comfort zone.”

Just like with Max Scherzer, the Nats once again selected correctly on a free agent starting pitcher. Scherzer, too, commanded a great deal of coin back in 2015, and he ultimately has rewarded the Lerners’ hunch that his rising star and low innings total would yield incredible value. The result has been having the best pitcher in the National League on a largely deferred deal.

While Corbin is by no means a Scherzer or the best pitcher in the NL, he is very much 2018 Corbin, which is exactly what they paid for when the deal was inked. The beginning of the season was actually quite uncharacteristic, as he had a 3.59 ERA through June 6th, and notably generating fewer whiffs on his signature slider. According to the Washington Post, that was actually because of his fastball, and not his slider:

“The foundation is spotting my fastball, early in counts and especially if I fall behind... That’s where it all begins.”

Indeed, he struggled with command early in the count, as you can see on 0-0:

The result of this inconsistency is fewer swings on fastballs in general, which is directly related to how often hitters swing at the slider:

After June 6th, though, Corbin has pitched to a 2.75 ERA/2.88 FIP, and unsurprisingly, his first pitches were much more concentrated:

Once again, unsurprisingly, hitters have been swinging more and more at both the fastball and slider:

While not wholly ideal in terms of first-half performance, the sense is that Corbin was able to make adjustments; namely, he was able to shore up his fastball command to make his primary pitch more effective.

Ultimately the aggregate performance has been remarkably similar to 2018, which is the most important indicator we’re looking at here:

Patrick Corbin, 2018 vs. 2019

Year ERA- FIP- DRA- K/BB%+ SwStr%
Year ERA- FIP- DRA- K/BB%+ SwStr%
2018 77 60 61 198 15.60%
2019 70 73 64 141 13.80%

The main difference is what is already outlined—a higher walk rate and a subsequent lower whiff rate, but other than that, his ability to actually prevent runs has remained consistent, and Deserved Run Average believes the FIP jump to be overrated.

The moral, though, is that the Nationals were essentially correct in their analysis. Just like Scherzer had a lower career innings total than the usual free agent, as did Corbin. And just like we had analyzed last year, the effectiveness of his fastball/slider tunneling made him one of the best pitchers of 2018, and that trend was real and sustainable. Though five years remain and it’s clear he has the chance to stumble, the evidence shows he has the ability to quickly overcome.