Coming off a 2018 campaign in Arizona which saw him post career bests in ERA (3.15), FIP (2.47), strikeouts (246), starts (33), WHIP (1.05), hits allowed per nine innings (7.29), home runs allowed per nine innings (0.68), strikeouts per nine innings (11.07), and strikeout-to-BB ratio (5.13), Patrick Corbin, 29, signed a 6-year/$140M deal in D.C., joining the Washington Nationals’ rotation alongside right-handers Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg.
“Pitching is king to win major league baseball games,” Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo declared in the press conference introducing the southpaw to the nation’s capital, “and we couldn’t be happier to have landed one of the premier left-handed pitchers in all of baseball in Patrick Corbin.”
What was behind his big season in the Diamondbacks’ rotation in 2018?
“I credit it to multiple things,” Corbin said. “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 [D-Backs’ Pitching Strategist] 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.”
As for what convinced the Nationals that the Corbin they saw in 2018 is the pitcher they’re getting, as opposed to the pitcher he was in the previous five seasons?
“We like the fact that he’s several years past the Tommy John surgery,” Rizzo explained at Corbin’s introduction.
“We’ve evaluated him as a pitcher that is learning his craft as he goes. 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.
“Athleticism really factored into this move because we think he’s one of the more athletic pitchers in the league, and I think that that bodes well for longevity and being able to sustain your stuff. So, all those things factored in. We like that the needle is moving north at 29 years old, and we like the fact that all the sexy stats, as Mad Max says, come into play.
“Strikeouts up, walks are down, ERA, all those factors are going in the right direction, so we feel good about it.”
The pitch that Corbin added to the mix in 2018 along with his slider, sinker, four-seamer and changeup, was a slow curve he threw just 9% of the time, with opposing hitters putting up a .273 AVG on the pitch, which he said helped to keep hitters off-balance.
“I’ve learned a lot through talking to our hitters,” Corbin said, “... and I’ve been able to play with one of the best in Paul Goldschmidt and watching some other pitchers in our division how a slower pitch gave hitters some trouble. It can be a free strike early in the count or something you could just keep them off-balance.
“My slider has always been my pitch that I’ve thrown to both sides of the plate to any hitter, so it’s something I’ve always had. It really helped adding that other pitch that I was comfortable throwing whenever, and fastball command has always been something that I’ve thrived on as well, so just a combination of all those.”
Corbin elaborated on what led to the increase in strikeouts (246, up from a previous season-high of 178 Ks total set in 2013/17 and K/9 - 11.07 K/9, up from his previous best of 8.78 K/9 in ‘17) in an interview with MLB Network Radio’s CJ Nitkowski and Ryan Spilborghs.
“There was a couple things just coming into the season,” Corbin said.
“Talking with our pitching coach, Mike Butcher, and Dan Haren, who helped out with the starting pitchers a lot, kind of just focusing on what can get us better. There were a couple things that we changed, and everyone knows my slider is my best pitch, 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 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.”
Corbin will have some new coaches and pitchers to learn from in 2019, and he said the prospect of pitching with Scherzer and Strasburg was a big part of the appeal when he decided to sign on in Washington.
“I’m fortunate to have multiple teams that were interested,” he said, “... and all were going to be competitive in the upcoming season and years to come, so it was a good opportunity for me this offseason to have these teams interested and we were able to go visit a bunch of these places and a lot of good people all over, and D.C., to me, I was just looking at the rotation and the team that they’re going to have and I think to be part of a rotation and a team that they’re going to have and I think to be part of a rotation like that and pitch with Strasburg and with Scherzer really excited me.”
Will Corbin improve on his 2018 campaign, struggle under the pressure of trying to live up to his six-year deal, as other big free agents have, or revert to the solid pitcher he was over his first five seasons in the majors?
Rizzo and Co. in the Nationals’ front office gambled that his big 2018 campaign before free agency was a sign of better things to come.