Nationals go quick strike again and snag Patrick Corbin

Smile Mike Rizzo, you have earned it. The Washington Nationals snagged the number one pitcher in the free agent pool signing Patrick Corbin to a six-year $140 million deal which will also cost the Nats a million dollars of international draft money plus forfeiting a 2nd round pick and a lower level pick (5th overall) as compensation penalty since Corbin was protected by the Qualifying Offer. As we reported on November 21st, the Nationals were “in” on Corbin and entered an aggressive market against the Yankees who were the early odds-on favorite and the Phillies who vowed to outbid everyone.  In the end, it was not just about the money but rather a confluence of factors that included family, stability, and a strong fit with the Nationals.

Let’s explain those factors in the final decision that swayed Corbin to the Nationals. He wanted to be back on the east coast with a team located near his family, and while Patrick’s parents are in upstate New York — and being near family was a key, he could also accomplish that in Washington DC. Sources told us that Jen Corbin, Patrick’s wife, loves D.C. and her sister lives in D.C. now which was a determining factor. The Corbins are newlyweds having married just three weeks ago so Jen Ancone Corbin had a lot of input as the high school sweethearts make family a priority. Adding a sixth year to the deal was great for stability, and lastly Corbin appreciated the way Nationals Park plays to his strengths as did the strong catching tandem of Yan Gomes and Kurt Suzuki which we mentioned last week was also a distinct difference versus the Yankees and Phillies.

The 29-year-old is a two-time All-Star who started his career as a 2009 Angels draftee in the 2nd round and traded in 2010 for Dan Haren to the Arizona Diamondbacks. Last year, he pitched to a 3.15 ERA, 2.47 FIP, 246 strikeouts and a 1.050 WHIP, finishing fifth in National League Cy Young Award voting in his walk year. You can say that Corbin peaked at the right time, but he was well on his way to being an elite pitcher with the Diamondbacks when he tore his ulnar collateral ligament in his left elbow during spring training of 2014 leadimg to TJ surgery which set his career back significantly after a great 2013 season.

Corbin worked himself back to elite form in 2018. He had 14 starts where he gave up 1-or-fewer runs, and 20 of his 33 starts he gave up 2-or-fewer runs. He did all of this while pitching in the hitter-friendly confines in his home park in Arizona. Corbin as you would expect was one of the best road pitchers in baseball with a 2.80 ERA and with an extra rest day was 9-1 on the season compared to his 2-6 record on regular rest. That is a great case of analytics there for Rizzo and manager Dave Martinez.

Of note, Corbin pitched better against winning teams and owned the Dodgers holding them to a scant 0.90 ERA in 2018. The one area the Diamondbacks failed was with Corbin’s catcher. He clicked with Jeff Mathis and had a 1.83 ERA with him while with Alex Avila his ERA was 3.34. The sample sizes was 86 and 73 innings respectively so not exactly small sample sizes. In spring training Corbin should get plenty of work with Kurt Suzuki and Yan Gomes who was acquired last week. Gomes has a great reputation as a defensive catcher who handled the top rated Indians staff of Kluber, Bauer and Carrasco.

Corbin’s money pitch is the slider that has wicked left to right movement dropping off the table and had a 54%  swing and miss rate in 2018 and held opposing batters to just an average of .148. It also is not your imagination that Corbin used the slider more and that was just one of many changes to his arsenal and mechanics as he made several adjustments last season.  Like lefty Rich Hill, he also threw a slow curveball and changed his release point and threw more chase pitches out of the zone especially with Jeff Mathis behind the plate who he trusted when he purposely spiked a pitch in the dirt. His changeup continues to be a work-in-progress and that is where he could improve if he got that pitch to be a key part of his repertoire. Yes, there is always room for improvement.

Nats owner Mark Lerner and general manager Mike Rizzo had a face-to-face with Corbin last week in DC and Rizzo said they parted with a good feeling. In fact Corbin only visited three teams which included the rival Phillies and the Yankees who were by many accounts the “odds-on” favorite based on Corbin’s boyhood fandom for the pinstriped team from NYC.

“We had a nice discussion with him,” Rizzo said over the weekend. “I had a personal discussion with him. He wanted to come down and see what we had down here and visit the city and the clubhouse. I thought that was a positive reaction by him. I’m not going to read too much into it. He’s a guy that, obviously, we’re interested in and would fit nicely on this team.”

The fit was right for the Nationals and as we reported earlier, Mike Rizzo stayed in contact with Corbin and his agent with one last effort to add on top of the 6 year $126 million offer to push it over the finish line. This is the fifth deal Rizzo has inked prior to the Winter Meetings with Corbin added to the acquisitions of Kyle Barraclough, Trevor Rosenthal, Suzuki and Gomes.

As mentioned by NatioNole, “Corbin can relax and be himself knowing Max carries the burden of this franchise” and yes, that is a big deal. Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg and Patrick Corbin will be “The Big 3” and Corbin gives the Nats a formidable southpaw to balance the rotation. While Mike Rizzo said over the weekend that he never goes after starting pitchers based on lefty or righty, it will still help the Nationals in big series going up against lefty dominant lineups.

For those keeping track of the Nationals payroll, Corbin’s AAV will push the tax payroll to approximately $185.1 million (before adjustments for Corbin’s deferrals) and the actual cash payroll to $217 million. Corbin is represented by too agent John Courtright at ISE Baseball (formerly Relativity and SFX).

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