Patrick Corbin Joins Washington in a Stunner

Reports are out that Patrick Corbin has pulled a stunner and will sign not with the Yankees nor the Phillies, but the Washington Nationals in a six-year, $140 million dollar deal (with no opt-outs):

Corbin had a tremendous walk year to set himself up as the top starter in this admittedly light pitching free agent class. The 29-year old southpaw reached 200 innings for the first time since 2013 and posted career-bests in ERA (3.15) and WHIP (1.05). As so many other pitchers have done recently, Corbin pushed further away from four-seamer and embraced his best off-speed pitch (slider for him) to find a new level of success. He also incorporated a slow curve, though that essentially replaced his meager changeup:

Pitch Usage Chart
2015 65% 29% 6% 0%
2016 64% 27% 10% 0%
2017 53% 38% 9% 0%
2018 49% 41% 1% 9%

By pitch value, his slider was the best non-fastball of the year and the 4th-best overall pitch at 27.0 behind only the fastballs of Max Scherzer (30.2), Justin Verlander (30.2), and Gerrit Cole (29.9). He allowed a .187/.216/.326 line off the pitch in 2017 with a 43% K rate in 278 PA and this year it was down to .145/.188/.243 with a 55% K rate in 356 PA. Righties were just were absolutely helpless against the pitch, fanning in 60% of the 258 PA with a comical .393 OPS. Less was more with the fastball, too.

He put up a career-best 6.5 pitch value with his heater, up massively from his -19 each of the last two seasons despite the dip in usage and velocity (-1.6 to 90.8). He embraced the high heat against righties and put together a .717 OPS against them in 116 PA, down from .907 OPS last year. Heaters in the upper third of the zone against righties jumped from 29% to 41%, too. His fastball OPS against lefties wasn’t great at .808, but it was an improvement on his .866 from last year and he did amp the strikeout rate to 29%, easily a career-best.

So, there was skill support behind his breakout, but can he sustain it? I don’t think he falls back to his 2016-17 level (4.53 ERA, 1.48 WHIP), but there has to be some pullback on these numbers. Along with the improved strikeout performance, there was sharp dip in his AVG to .217 and nearly a halving of his HR rate to 0.68 (down from 1.2 last year). He could keep some of those gains because neither the BABIP (.302) nor the HR/FB rate (11%) were outlandishly low, but I can’t project a repeat.

ZiPS has Corbin pushing back to the mid-3.00s and holding firm there for the duration of the contract (check Craig’s article on the deal for more). The 3.63 ERA/1.22 WHIP combo that ZiPS has is right in line with Steamer at 3.58/1.22 and pairing that with a strikeout-per-inning or more makes for a great #2 fantasy starter, but early drafts at the NFBC have him fulfilling an ace role at the 15th SP off the board. That’s too rich for me.

I’m already inherently reluctant to roster top free agent starters in year 1 with their new teams as I think there’s usually a transition period that can breed extra volatility at an already-uncertain position. Pair that reluctance with a pitcher coming off his career year and I’m unlikely to get Corbin on any teams this year. I slotted him 21st on my initial Top 100 list back in October and he hasn’t moved from there. Players have shuffled around him as I do my offseason research and get into some drafts, but he’s held firm at 21. He’s good, but currently overpriced in the fantasy market.

What’d you think of Corbin going to WAS? Are you treating him as a second-tier fantasy ace and paying the elevated price?

Paul is the Editor of Rotographs and contributes to ESPN's Daily Notes. Follow Paul on Twitter @sporer and on Twitch at sporer.

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3 years ago

Yep he’s a fantasy #2 in my book. He was great last year so he could certainly be great again, but I’m not paying the great price.