Part of the draw in signing with the Washington Nationals for free agent lefty Patrick Corbin (in addition to the 6-year/$140M deal the Nationals offered) was getting an opportunity to pitch alongside a couple of starters like Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg in the Nats’ rotation.
“Just watching them compete out there, that’s a big thing,” Corbin said in his introductory press conference in December, which both of the Nationals’ right-handed starters attended.
“Max, obviously the competitor he is, Strasburg, to see as well, and the other guys too, it’s going to be fun to learn from these guys. I’ve been fortunate to have Zack Greinke in Arizona for a couple years now, and have gotten to pick his brain just sitting on the bench when I’m not pitching, and also watching him perform, so being able to do those things definitely helps, and I’m always willing to learn, try to get better, and from things I’ve heard this organization is willing to do that as well.”
In his sixth season with the Diamondbacks in 2018, Corbin posted a 3.15 ERA, a 2.47 FIP, 48 walks (2.16 BB/9), 246 Ks (11.07 K/9), and a .217/.270/.337 line against in 200 innings pitched, setting himself up nicely for free agency this winter.
“I credit it to multiple things,” he explained when asked about what was arguably his best season in the majors to this point. “I’ve always just tried to be as well-prepared as I could, try to pick up things every year. I knew coming in I felt great [last] season and I was ready to go, and try to just — I think the analytical part of the game, learned a lot more through Dan Haren, who was a big part of our starting staff over in Arizona, helped out a lot, just knowing the right pitches to throw, when to throw them, adding another breaking ball, changing speeds, being able to control my fastball and my slider, so just a combination of all those things I think helped.
“I’ve had times where I’ve been able to do it, last year was just easier for me to be more consistent I’d say, and something I can continue to improve and get better as we go.”
The breaking ball he added was a slow curve, as he described it, and his ability to work a new pitch into his repertoire impressed Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo, who said it’s obviously not an easy thing to do at the major league level.
“We’ve evaluated him as a pitcher that is learning his craft as he goes,” Rizzo said when he was asked about the thinking in giving Corbin the long-term deal he received.
“He’s a young 29-year-old pitcher with great aptitude. Learning a pitch on the fly isn’t easy as these two guys [Scherzer and Strasburg] in the front row can attest to, but if you’re able to have the dexterity and the ability to learn new pitches at the major league level and succeed with them, that tells me something.”
Corbin’s always been a slider-heavy pitcher, but he threw it a career-high 41.3% of the time in 2018, holding opposing hitters to a combined .148 AVG on the pitch. Why did he lean on it so heavily?
“Everyone knows my slider is my best pitch,” Corbin explained in an MLB Network Radio interview with Ryan Spilborghs and CJ Nitkowski earlier this month.
“So that was something that we talked about, and to throw it more, and why not? And I think it helps when you get ahead of guys and that’s why we added a slow breaking ball to try to get ahead or try to get back into a count and getting ahead with a quality fastball either pitch one or to get back into the count, so these were just some small things that we focused on and were able to go out there and execute.”
Haren, who pitched for the Nationals late in his career in 2013, has served as a pitching strategist for the D-Backs in the last three seasons. Corbin said that Haren introduced a different analytical perspective that helped him get smarter on the mound.
“Dan strictly focused on just the starting pitchers,” Corbin explained, “and he would tell us all the time how he extended his career by many years by just going on a computer, just looking at some data, looking at some numbers, and trying to figure out the best way to get guys out, and he just kind of simplified it for us to where we had reports every week with teams that were coming in and kind of focusing on what we’re good at and what we could do more of, or less of, and just trying to be smarter on the mound.”
“I’ve been fortunate the last couple years to play with Zack Greinke,” he added, “... who’s probably one of the best in the game at going out there and knowing the best pitch to throw in what count and just the combination of all of these things definitely played a big role in our whole staff this whole season.”
Did working in a rotation with Greinke, and now joining one that features both Scherzer and Strasburg, allow the left-hander to just focus on his game without having to worry about the pressure of being a team’s No. 1 starter or ace?
Did that factor into his decision to sign on in with the Nationals?
“Not really,” Corbin said. “I think any time I take the mound I want to do my best and go out there and compete no matter what I was making. I think it’s great to be a part of a great rotation. At the stage of my career now, I want to be on the best team I can be on, and I want to have guys that are going out there and are going to give us the best chance to win and I think that’s what we have in D.C.”