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Washington Nationals’ Patrick Corbin Project: Season 4?

Will the fixes and tweaks which seemed to benefit Patrick Corbin last season turn his luck around next season?

Philadelphia Phillies v Washington Nationals Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Back spasms forced Patrick Corbin off of the mound in his next-to-last outing this past season, but the 33-year-old left-hander returned for one last turn in the Nationals’ rotation, taking a loss (his 19th in 31 starts overall) in a rough appearance against Philadelphia’s Phillies on a rainy afternoon in Washington, D.C. back in early October.

“I thought he threw the ball fairly well early, and then got hit a little bit,” Nats’ skipper Davey Martinez said, explaining to reporters it was hard to assess Corbin and his work given the conditions in the nation’s capital that day, “… and then all of a sudden the field got really wet and kind of sloppy. So, it’s just one of those days.”

“Just one of those days,” Martinez repeated. “I will say this though, the last five or six starts he threw the ball well for us, and I’m proud of him working all year long to get back [to where] we felt like he could compete and give us a chance to win the games.

“And he did that today. I’m going to look past this day and know that his back felt good, which is a good sign, and we’ll move on from there.”

Corbin finished the fourth year of his six-year/$140M deal with the Nationals (6-19) with a 6.31 ERA, a 4.84 FIP, 49 walks (2.89 BB/9), and 128 Ks (7.55 K/9) in 152 2⁄3 IP, over which hitters put up a .321/.374/.513 line against him.

It wasn’t easy to watch. Opposing hitters posted a .310 AVG on his sinker, which he threw 43.5% of the time, a .309 AVG on his slider (29.4%), a .346 AVG on his four-seamer (18.8%), and a .380 AVG on his changeup (8.3%). But Corbin did show signs of improvement over his final outings of the season.

“You know what, he struggled in the beginning as well all know,” Martinez said, in summing up Corbin’s 10th big league campaign. “Then all of a sudden, like I said, the last 5-6-7 starts, he started understanding what he needs to do, how he needs to pitch, and he threw the ball well, and he kept us in the games, which was awesome. That’s a testament to him continuing to work with [Pitching Coach Jim] Hickey. I thought Hickey did a great job of getting him to understand that he needs another pitch. He started throwing his changeup a lot more. I thought his slider today, a few of them, were really, really good, really sharp, and he understands now that he needs to keep the ball down to be effective, and for the most part he did that over those last 5-6 starts, so I’ve got a good feeling that next spring, he comes in, he’s in shape, he gets ready, that we’ll see a different Corbin, the Corbin that we saw in ‘19.”

In 2019, after signing his free agent deal in D.C., Corbin helped the Nationals win the World Series, putting up a 3.25 ERA, a 3.49 FIP, 70 walks (3.12 BB/9), and 238 Ks (10.60 K/9) in 33 starts and 202 IP in the regular season, over which he held opposing hitters to a .227/.293/.375 line.

Corbin threw 37.1% sliders in ‘19, with hitters putting up a .158 AVG on the pitch. He went with his sinker 34.4% of the time (.280 BAA), his four-seamer 19.4% of the time (.232 BAA), his change 5.7% of the time (.380 BAA), and his curveball 3.5% of the time (.214 BAA).

He had a 51.4% Whiff% on his slider that season (and a 2398 spin rate), but that fell to a 38.1% Whiff% in 2020, 40.7% in ‘21, and 36.9% last season, with the spin on the pitch down to 2241, 2215, and 2184 over the last three seasons, respectively.

“His fastball velocity is right where we want it to be,” GM Mike Rizzo said early last May, “... his slider spin rate is right where we want it to be, his mechanics are solid, to me it call comes down to where the location of the fastball is. He located it well the other day, he pitched in on the plate, on both sides, and he had success, because when he’s ahead in the count, gets ahead with the fastball with either the sinker or the four-seamer, then he can flip that slider in there off the plate and it’s much more tantalizing for hitters to swing at.

“When it’s 2-0, they just don’t swing at that breaking ball off the plate.”

“When you’ve got a left-handed pitcher who has velocity and has spin rate on his breaking pitch,” the GM added, “and on days where he puts his fastball where he wants to has good success — I think that that’s something to build on, and I think Patrick knows where he has to be and knows he has to be aggressive and attack these hitters and get ahead of them.”

Going into the offseason and the next-to-last season of his six-year contract, Corbin did say he knew there was plenty of room for improvement after three years of less-than-stellar results, (we’re being polite), following his solid run in the regular and postseason in ‘19. In spite of his struggles, he noted, he was able to take his turn in the rotation until the back issue cost him a start late.

“I think as a starter, always trying to go out there your fifth day is something I’ve always wanted to do,” Corbin said. “I don’t think the numbers obviously were great. As a team, obviously, we want to improve on a lot of things. But finished the season healthy. I know my stuff is still there. So just looking forward to maybe tweaking a couple things for next year.”

As for potential fixes, or where he might tweak things?

“Just like I said, being more consistent, just I don’t know,” Corbin told reporters.

“I don’t know if I have one thing, just trying to be more competitive, throw quality pitches, maybe trying to finish guys when I get ahead of them with two strikes, and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Just a combination of a lot. Just I think overall it was a tough season, but trying to learn from it and move on.”

“He works hard,” his manager said, “and like I said, if we can get him to continue to do what he did over the last 5-6 starts, he’ll keep us in the games, and I know he’s going to do that.”

Rizzo told reporters in a season-ending chat he fully expects Corbin will be part of the rotation in D.C. in 2023.

“I see him as a starter for us next year,” Rizzo said. “He takes the ball every fifth day. His stuff was good, his velocity on his fastball was good, his spin rate was good. I think his last 7-8 starts were more indicative of who he’s going to be next year than his previous starts. I think that the defense we put behind him is going to help improve his bottom line next year, but I give the guy credit. He answered the questions every five days, he took the ball every five days, and he’s a pro. And I think that he’s going to come back with a little chip on his shoulder next year and try to prove a lot of naysayers wrong, and I think that he’ll get closer to the 2018-19 Patrick Corbin that we’ve seen in the past.”