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Patrick Corbin to Nationals - Fantasy Impact

By Not That Bob James from Phoenix, AZ, USA (Dbacks P Patrick Corbin Uploaded by Muboshgu) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Starting pitcher Patrick Corbin was one of the top free agents on the market this winter, with his market dwindled down to the New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, and Washington Nationals. On Tuesday, the Nationals got over the line with Corbin, inking a six-year/$140 million deal with the 29-year-old lefty. This was a mild shock in baseball circles, as the Phillies and Yankees were thought to be favorites for Corbin, but this gives Washington a strong rotation headlined by Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Corbin.

Corbin topped 200 innings for the first time since 2013 this season, finishing 11-7 with a 3.15 ERA and 246 strikeouts in 200 innings pitched. Corbin has also seen his walk rate drop in each of the last three seasons and his ERA was supported by a 2.47 FIP. Finishing fifth in the NL Cy Young race, Corbin was due for a big payday and the Nationals were the team to pay him.

Moving across country, what impact will Patrick Corbin have on the Washington Nationals and what does it mean for fantasy owners in 2019?

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Do The Nationals Have The Best Rotation In Baseball?

In a simple manner, the left-handed Corbin replaces Gio Gonzalez in the Nationals rotation, both as the number two pitcher and the lefty that breaks up Scherzer and Strasburg. Gonzalez had a down season in 2018 for the Nationals before being traded to the Brewers, but averaged a 13-9 record with a 3.49 ERA in 1107 2/3 innings with the Nationals, striking out 1089 batters and walking 415. While Corbin is coming off of a strong season, he has only topped 13 wins twice and has struck out 8.5 batters per nine in his 945 2/3 career innings. Furthermore, he is just two seasons removed from finishing 5-13 with a 5.15 ERA and 1.56 WHIP in 155 2/3 innings, striking out 131 and walking 66. As compared to Gonzalez's 116 ERA+ with the Nationals, Corbin has a 109 ERA+ in his career. This is not to compare Corbin and Gonzalez, but rather to illustrate the gap that Corbin will need to fill.

Corbin underwent Tommy John surgery in 2014 and was not the same pitcher from 2015-2017 as he was in 2013, where he was an All-Star at 23, finishing 14-8 with a 3.41 ERA in a career-high 208 1/3 innings. Post-Tommy John, Corbin threw 430 1/3 innings over three seasons, posting a 4.35 ERA, allowing 10 hits per nine and a 1.44 WHIP. His strikeout rates were up (8.1 per nine in that time span from 7.7 in 2013) and his innings pitched totals went from 85 in 2015 to 189 2/3 in 2017. He had his breakout season in 2018, though, and that season needs to be examined further.

There were a lot of good things about Corbin's 2018 season, but it all started with a 24.8% K-BB% that was the best of his career. This came from him throwing fewer fastballs (48.6%) and introducing a curveball that he threw 9% of the time. His curveball and fastball were each plus pitches, but his slider that he threw 41.3% of the time ranked as the best slider in baseball. There was a lot of work that went into his slider over the last three seasons and, it appears, that the spike in value of his slider also made his fastball more valuable as well, even though its velocity has dropped to just 90.8. While the boost in strikeouts and a better pitch selection led to his breakout season (and a 15.6% swinging strike rate that only trailed his new teammate Scherzer), batted ball statistics do not paint as pretty of a picture. After posting a strong 31.6% hard hit ball rate and career-best 18.5% soft hit ball rate in 2017, Corbin allowed a 41.7% hard hit ball rate and 16.4% soft hit ball rate in 2018. While his soft hit ball rate was still better than his career rate of 15.9%, his hard hit ball rate was the worst of his career. He also allowed a career-high 24.3% line drive rate and his ground ball rate (48.5%) was under 50% for the first time since 2015. For a pitcher that struck out 30.8% of batters, a 48.5% GB rate is still elite, as Aaron Nola was the only pitcher in baseball that struck out at least 25% of batters and had a better GB rate.

The humidor being added in Arizona could have also boosted his 2018 season, as Arizona went from an extreme hitter's park (3rd in runs allowed in 2017) to a middle of the road park last season (11th). Furthermore, home runs went from fourth in 2017 to 19th in 2018, which could have been a big reason that Corbin's HR/9 dipped from 1.23 to 0.68 year over year. Corbin did allow fewer fly balls last season (29.6% to 27.2%), but his 11.1% HR/FB was his lowest since 2013 and was a drop from his 13.3% career rate. The move to Nationals Ballpark does not help; Washington was 3rd in runs allowed and 5th in home runs allowed in 2018. This was after finishing 10th and 13th in 2017, showing that this is becoming more of a hitter's ballpark. It will be important for Corbin to keep his groundball rate up and continue his positive trends in regards to flyballs as well.

Looking at Corbin, his 2018 season appears to be a bit of an outlier; this does not mean that he will fall back to Earth completely in 2019. While the move to Nationals Ballpark is not great for Corbin, his combination of ground balls and strikeouts is very enticing. Although Corbin has had walk issues in his career, this rate has dropped in each of the last four seasons and seems to be less of a problem. It is wise to look at Corbin as a low-end SP2 in 2019, with his strikeout upside covering for any issues.


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