Pitching is king. Mike Rizzo constantly reinforces this point, verbally and with his actions. And one of the biggest actions on that front was bringing Patrick Corbin into the Washington Nationals’ revamped rotation.
The left-hander signed a six-year, $140 million deal way back in December. He was by far the best pitcher on the market and the Nationals still think the best is yet to come.
“We like that the needle is moving north at 29 years old, and we like the fact that all the sexy stats come into play,” Rizzo said at Corbin’s introductory press conference.
“Strikeouts up, walks are down, ERA, all those factors are going in the right direction, so we feel good about it.”
Before 2018, Corbin had been inconsistent at best out west with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He had underwhelming career numbers including a 45-47 record, 4.12 ERA and 7.9 K/9.
But it all clicked in 2018 as he posted an 11-7 record, and a 3.15 ERA as his strikeout rate jumped all the way up 11.1 K/9. He spoke to MLB Network Radio about what he was able to change that led to the breakout season.
“There were a couple things that we changed,” Corbin said. “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”
His slider is the key to everything, as it’s arguably one of the best sliders in all of baseball.
Last season, hitters slashed just .148/.193/.246 against his signature pitch as he really took it upon himself to fully utilize his best weapon.
“I think the analytical part of the game [was a reason for success],” Corbin said at his press conference. “Learned a lot more through Dan Haren, who was a big part of our starting staff over in Arizona, helped out a lot.”
Last season, with the heavy slider usage, Corbin excelled when he had Jeff Mathis catching him. With Mathis, the lefty pitched to the tune of a 1.83 ERA while striking out 96 batters in just 73.2 innings.
The reason for this is because of Mathis’ excellent blocking ability. According to Baseball Prospectus, Mathis had the second highest Blocking Runs in the majors at 2.3.
“I know I throw a lot of pitches down in the zone that might spike or [go] wild,” Corbin acknowledged. “Those guys save me a lot, and just having confidence with them.”
“I like to go over a game plan before games and be on the same page so when you’re out there, there is no second-[guessing], you have all the confidence in the world with that pitch.”
Thankfully for the Nationals, they recently acquired a catcher who also excels at blocking.
Yan Gomes is a perfect fit for Corbin, as he put up 1.7 Blocking Runs, good enough for sixth in the major leagues.
It sounds like Gomes and Corbin have already hit it off down in West Palm Beach as they make their preparations for the regular season.
“I threw with Gomes, a bullpen, the other day, so it’s great,” Corbin told reporters at Spring Training. “It’s going to be huge just to be able to get on the same page as them.”
“The catchers that we do have here have been around for a long time, so I think it will be fairly easy for them to pick up what we’re trying to do, and just come up with a game plan throughout the season.”
So far this spring, he’s yet to allow an earned run in five innings of work, striking out three. Manager Dave Martinez is already impressed by what he has seen on the field and in his bullpens from his new left-hander.
“Constant professional. I watched his bullpen today, and he’s working on his curveball. And he’s always got a game plan, and he’s just that guy,” Martinez said. “He’s very in tune to what he wants to do and how he wants to do things, and he’s been great, he really has, he fits in well.”
If Corbin can continue to impress and come somewhere close to his 2018 performance level, it bodes well for the Nationals’ chances of success, even with you-know-who going to you-know-where.
In the four years the Nats won the NL East, their starting pitching finished in the top four in the majors in ERA. Whereas the last three times they’ve missed the postseason, their starters finished outside the top six in ERA.
With Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg, Corbin completes a trio that can match up with anyone else in the major leagues. It’s a great base for the Nats and their starting pitching that should help reassert them as a force in the National League.
“There’s not really a weakness” Corbin said earlier this spring. “To be a part of something like that, just I think I can help this team out and just really excited to get things rolling.”
In what is going to be a hotly contested NL East, Patrick Corbin is going to be a huge factor in who takes home the crown. All signs are pointing to more success and a division crown could easily follow.