When the Washington Nationals signed Patrick Corbin to a six-year, $140 million deal, there were two gut reactions: 1) The Nationals are going to have a sick starting rotation, and 2) That’s a lot of money for a pitcher with just one great season under his belt.
Well, nearly five months into his debut year in the nation’s capital, a verdict has presented itself: Corbin was worth every penny of the deal.
Last Wednesday Corbin pitched a gem against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Tossing eight scoreless innings while throwing just 93 pitches, he kept hitters guessing, induced a lot of groundballs, and was flat-out dominant in PNC Park; the road win was a continuation of what has been a stellar season for the left-hander.
On the year, Corbin owns a 3.17 ERA and 1.15 WHIP and has totaled 184 strikeouts. In 19 of those 26 starts, he has pitched through the sixth inning and is averaging slightly above six innings per start. In essence, the Nationals are getting the production they envisioned from Corbin, nearly identical to his 2018 campaign with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Last season Corbin put together the best season of his big-league career. Recording a 3.15 ERA and 1.05 WHIP while totaling 246 strikeouts, he was the D-Backs ace and earned a spot on the National League All-Star Game roster — and eventually a $140 million deal with the Nationals.
It’s difficult to make hard contact off Corbin because he has a unique pitching style. Contrary to conventional baseball wisdom, which says pitchers should go first-pitch fastball and/or heavily rely on the offering, Corbin’s go-to pitch is his slider. He has superb command of the offering, often utilizes it in the first pitch of at-bats, and throws it 36.7 percent of the time. Concurrently, he throws his sinker 33.9 percent of the time and his four seamer 20.2 percent of the time.
When Corbin puts runners on base, he isn’t fazed. He sticks to his repertoire and grinds his way out of trouble.
Corbin’s success is a pivotal reason why the Nationals (73-57) own the first NL Wild Card seeding. Plus, Max Scherzer has made just three starts since June 30 due to injury. If you removed Corbin from their rotation, there’s a strong chance the Nationals would be in fourth place in the NL East behind the Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies, and New York Mets.
Corbin, Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Anibal Sanchez have been one of the best starting rotations in Major League Baseball this season. When the Nationals were 19-31, their rotation was the one constant, and as they push to make a return to the postseason, it continues to be the driving force of their success. It has been a matter of offensive consistency and bullpen execution for their ballclub.
If the Nationals could get to — and win — the NL Wild Card Game, imagine having to face Scherzer, Strasburg, and Corbin and perhaps one — or two — of those pitchers twice in a five-game series. Well, if the Nationals managed to get to such a series as the NL Wild Card, the Los Angeles Dodgers would have to face the wrath of that rotation.
While it would still be an elite staff without him, Corbin has taken the Nationals’ prized asset (their starting rotation) to an extreme level. In fact, the Nationals rotation went into Sunday third in MLB in ERA (3.50) and strikeouts (785) and sixth in opponent batting average (.236) while being second in innings pitched (750.0).
Corbin’s reliability and elite performance also serves as a bit of a safety blanket for the Nationals if Strasburg opts out of the final four years of his contract in the upcoming offseason. Now, Strasburg has dealt with numerous injuries over his career, but he’s still a potent starter whose departure would severely affect any pitching staff; he could potentially see an advantage to testing the open market with teams in dire need of top-line starting pitching.
While a theoretical Strasburg departure would hit home for the Nationals organization, having two elite starters at the top of their rotation (Scherzer, Corbin) would help aid the loss.
In the offseason, Corbin co-headlined the free-agent starting pitching market alongside Dallas Keuchel. While being in attendance for spring training and getting more live at-bats would’ve been beneficial, the Atlanta Braves didn’t rush Keuchel onto the hill after signing him in early-June. But he has still struggled with his command, is getting hit hard, and owns a troublesome 1.31 WHIP.
It was reasonable to doubt whether Corbin could duplicate his 2018 success. He had been plagued by injuries beforehand, was an inconsistent force, and never sustained a high level of performance. You could’ve argued in the offseason that Keuchel would’ve been the better and safer signing. But Corbin has proven that his success was no fluke and that 2018 was a glimpse into what the future could hold; he has performed like an ace.
He has established himself as one of the best left-handers in baseball and proven to be worth the price of admission for the Nationals.