Washington Nationals: Patrick Corbin must live up to sky-high expectations

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PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 08: Starting pitcher Patrick Corbin #46 of the Arizona Diamondbacks reacts on the mound during the fourth inning of the MLB game against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field on September 8, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - SEPTEMBER 08: Starting pitcher Patrick Corbin #46 of the Arizona Diamondbacks reacts on the mound during the fourth inning of the MLB game against the San Diego Padres at Chase Field on September 8, 2017 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) /
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The Washington Nationals have continued to put emphasis on their starting pitching with the signing of Patrick Corbin. The lefty must excel for the team.

This offseason, the Washington Nationals were desperate to get back to an identity centered around starting pitching. The signing of All-Star starter Patrick Corbin was a clear signal of intent, but now he has to perform to those sky-high expectations.

The new Nationals’ left-hander is coming off of an outstanding season with the Arizona Diamondbacks after years of inconsistency. He went 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA and pristine 11.1 K/9 as he finally lived up to his potential.

That type of breakout performance helped net him the six-year, $140 million deal with the Nats this offseason. That’s a lot of money to invest in someone who isn’t quite as proven as other pitchers earning a similar amount, but the Nationals are confident in his abilities.

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The peripherals give Corbin a high chance of sustaining his 2018 performance levels for the early part of his contract. But if the team is to succeed, potentially in a world without Bryce Harper, then the left-hander is going to be a crucial part of that success.

First off, assuming Harper departs, a lot of fans are immediately going to connect the dots and assume a large part of that was the signing of Corbin. While the reality is slightly murkier, he’s still going to have a lot of pressure on him with the Nats’ mantra for starting pitching.

In each of the four seasons that the Nationals have made the playoffs, they finished inside the top four in the major leagues in starting pitcher’s ERA. And every time they’ve missed the playoffs since 2012, they’ve finished outside the top six in the majors in ERA. The point is, when the Nats’ starters are on point, the success follows.

We all know what Max Scherzer is going to bring to the table, the same goes for Stephen Strasburg when he’s healthy. Then with Anibal Sanchez and Jeremy Hellickson, both pitchers should be able to keep the Nats in games, even if they don’t deliver spectacular results. That makes Patrick Corbin the key.

If Corbin can pitch to his All-Star ceiling, there’s arguably no better 1-2-3 punch in the National League, or maybe even all of baseball. We saw in 2017 when Scherzer, Strasburg, and Gio Gonzalez all pitched at a high level, it made it tough for opposing teams to win a series against the Nationals when they would throw two of those three pitchers at them.

But also on the monetary side of things, there’s a lot of pressure on Corbin to reach his ceiling. He’s set to earn $23.3 million annually on his six-year contract, which means the Nats’ top three starters earn around $76 million AAV for at least the next three seasons, assuming Strasburg doesn’t opt out.

For that kind of money, that starts to come close to some team’s total payrolls this year, all three players need to be lockdown pitchers. All the signs point to the former Diamondback succeeding in the nation’s capital, but he’s still got something to prove to show everyone he isn’t just a one-season wonder.

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Patrick Corbin was probably the best acquisition that the Washington Nationals made this offseason. Now they hope another excellent year from the lefty will vault them back into playoff contention in a stacked NL East.

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