Washington Nationals: The best is still to come for Patrick Corbin
By Blake Finney
The Washington Nationals made headlines when they agreed to a deal with lefty Patrick Corbin. Despite his breakout 2018, he could get even better in 2019.
On Tuesday afternoon, it was reported that left-hander Patrick Corbin will be the latest member of the Washington Nationals. He gives the team a much needed third frontline starter which now puts their rotation among the best in the game once again.
Corbin is coming off a season in which he went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA and 246 strikeouts in just 200 innings. Not a bad time for a career year. If he can replicate that form moving forward, then he will be more than worth the money for the Nationals.
The initial signs are good as he posted an excellent 2.47 FIP last season and an equally impressive 2.61 xFIP. Both of those figures likely come from the elevated strikeout rate which was at an elite 11.1 K/9 last season as he finished fifth in the NL Cy Young voting.
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However, question marks around the former Arizona Diamondback will center around whether he can maintain that level of performance. In the two seasons prior to 2018, he posted an ERA of 5.15 and 4.03 respectively and he was striking out less than a batter per inning.
So why should Nationals fans be confident that the left-hander can keep up his 2018 level of performance for the majority of his contract? The answer is simple. The way he combined his offspeed pitches in 2018 was a massive step forward from where it was previously.
The most notable difference was the fact that he used a curveball for the first time in his career. Previously, he had used a changeup as a third offering and threw it just under 10 percent of the time. But then he reduced that to about 1 percent last season, while throwing the new curveball just under 9 percent of the time.
The main reason that introducing this new curveball was such a huge success for Corbin was the fact that it was significantly slower than his changeup. In 2018, his changeup averaged 81.1mph, while his curveball averaged just 72.5mph. Having the curveball sit in that range then, in turn, made his already lethal slider almost unhittable.
Last season, Corbin’s slider averaged 81.7mph which you’ll notice is pretty similar to the velocity of his changeup, while his curveball is nearly 10mph slower. Having that variation in velocity would keep hitters off balance and allow him to throw his slider a lot more in 2018 as he threw it 41.3 percent of the time, compared to a career 30.5 percentage.
Being able to use his best pitch that much makes a huge difference. Throughout his career, hitters have hit just .158 against Corbin’s slider and produced a measly .475 OPS against it. You know you’ve made it as a pitcher when you get featured by PitchingNinja, but this GIF emphasizes just how good his slider his.
First off, watch Corbin and note how well he replicates his delivery between different pitch types, as the overlay shows there isn’t much variation in his motion between the two pitches. This doesn’t give the hitter any hints as to which is coming, so while the fastball runs in at a nice location for a hitter, the slider just falls off the table beautifully and makes the hitter look stupid.
All of this put together means that even despite the excellent ERA of 3.15 in 2018, he could get even closer to his FIP of 2.47 in the future. As he continues to master the use of his curveball, he could miss even more bats, not to mention after beginning his career in the hitter-friendly Chase Field, moving to Nationals Park should help him pitch at an elite level again in the near future.
After the sudden breakout year in 2018, it’s perfectly fair for some Washington Nationals fans to be wary of regression. But Patrick Corbin was able to make changes that made him a more complete pitcher and more likely be his 2018-self than pre-2018-self.