Irredeemable? A Deep Dive Into Patrick Corbin’s Collapseby Carter LaCorte May 13, 2021 0 comments
During free agency before the 2019 season, Patrick Corbin was on top of the world. He was coming off of a career season for the Arizona Diamondbacks and had many suitors. The Philadelphia Phillies, Washington Nationals, and his hometown New York Yankees were all rumored to be big players in his market. Corbin then shocked the baseball world by passing up a chance to go to the Yankees in favor of a six-year, $140 million contract with Washington.
In year one, the decision from both standpoints seemed pretty good. Corbin had a 3.25 ERA while striking out 238 batters. Most importantly, the Nationals won the World Series with Corbin allowing four runs in 10 innings in a seven-game set against Houston. COVID-19 has held everyone back in volume since, and that is seen with Corbin. Since he became a champion, he has made just 17 starts and health has not been an issue. Unfortunately, his play has.
A two-year wonder?
Corbin first broke out in 2013, when he was 23 years old and in his second season. Pitching for Arizona, he had a 3.41 ERA with a 1.17 WHIP in 32 starts, making the All-Star team. The good news was put on hold from there, as Tommy John surgery cost him all of 2014 and most of 2015.
In the two years leading up to his amazing 2018, Corbin was a completely different pitcher. He had to move to the bullpen in 2016. In that season, he finished with a 5.15 ERA, allowing 109 runs (89 earned) while walking 66 batters. Corbin had just an 18.7 strikeout percentage with a 5.43 xERA. His one silver lining was a 49.2 percent whiff rate on his slider.
The next year, Corbin was better but not by much. His strikeout rate rose, but not by much, to 21.5 percent. His 4.39 xERA also did not demonstrate much success. Luckily for him, that would soon change.
Corbin’s 2018 was truly his peak. He had a career-best 3.15 ERA while striking out 246 in 200 innings. He allowed 162 hits while lowering his walk rate to just six percent. He also allowed just 15 home runs, which comes after he allowed 50 combined in the previous two years. This was an amazing season, as Corbin made his second All-Star appearance and finished fifth in National League Cy Young voting. But was it worth a $140 million bet, especially considering his previous two seasons? The first year in Washington was good, but right now the answer seems to be no.
The Nationals had one hell of a World Series hangover. They were infamously 19-31 to start their 2019 season and went on a huge run. With the shortened year in 2020, there would not be a chance to come back. The team’s record was ultimately similar, at 26-34. Corbin was no different.
With 65.2 innings pitched over 11 starts, he was still able to average about six innings per start. The bad news was what came in those six innings. Corbin allowed a league-most 85 hits, while still walking 18 with a 1.57 WHIP. He also had a 4.66 ERA, which could be considered lucky due to his 5.17 xERA.
So what went wrong? For starters, Corbin’s fastball velocity was down a bit. He was never a flamethrower, but a 90.2 mph average in 2019 was still a lot worse than normal. The heater was just awful all around. Batters went .429 against it, along with .690 slugging. The pitch carried just a 6.3 percent whiff rate. His sinker was not much better, as batters went 38-for-101 against it. These faulty pitches forced Corbin to rely on his slider, and while the pitch was good, its 38.1 percent whiff rate was easily the lowest of his career.
The worst starter in 2021?
Corbin has a chance to redeem himself in 2021, but thus far has failed miserably. On the positive side, his fastball velocity is up a tick, but the positives nearly end there. Through six starts, Corbin has allowed a National League-high 24 earned runs on 31 hits, with 14 walks in 29.1 innings. His 4.3 BB/9 would be a career-worst. Even more concerning is Corbin’s home run count. Corbin’s 1.4 HR/9 in 2020 tied his career-worst. He has already matched the 10 he allowed last year and is sitting at a 3.4 HR/9.
The sinker has completely failed Corbin. Batters are hitting .387 against it and of his ten home runs allowed, four were surrendered by the pitch. The 15 percent whiff rate is the lowest among Corbin’s pitches, and he has a 41.1 groundball rate, which is easily the lowest of his career. You could infer it from the home run rate, Corbin has seen his flyball rate skyrocket this year. His previous highest in the Statcast era (since 2015) was 21.9 percent in 2019. Right now, it is at 30.5 percent.
Batters currently hold a .321 xBA against the left-handed Corbin. For reference, that is the third-worst in the league among starting pitchers. Only Colorado’s Chi Chi Gonzalez and Miami’s Daniel Castano are worse in that category. Those are two disposable pitchers. Corbin is not, as he is owed $24 million this year, and $82 million over the following three seasons. Corbin’s xERA is 8.01 (which means that he is actually lucky to have a 7.36 ERA) is the fourth-worst among starters. Kohei Arihara, Nick Neidert, and Logan Allen are the only people who can hang their heads in shame for being further down the leaderboard.
Can he improve?
One should expect Corbin to be better than what he has shown thus far, and he probably will be. His most recent start was an encouraging development. He allowed three runs in six innings against the Yankees for his third quality start of the year. The outing before saw him allow two runs in seven innings versus Miami. Still, he managed to allow four home runs in those two games.
Betting on Corbin to be better in the rest of the season is smart, but the 2018-19 Corbin seems dead. He will turn 32 this July, and with little to show that he can improve, the worrying should start to set in for the Nationals and their fans. Their window for a second World Series is not shut, although with Max Scherzer hitting free agency after this year and Stephen Strasburg dealing with the injury bug since the start of 2020, the odds have been lowered.
By some statistical miracle, Corbin could regroup and look dominant again. But at this point, it isn’t happening. Hopefully he can come back, as members of the Deep-Dive series have succeeded after joining the group, but do not get your hopes up.
Follow Carter LaCorte on Twitter @CarterHudBlog
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