As the Arizona Diamondbacks look to return to the postseason in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2001 and 2002, it’s hard to ignore the fine performances of both the lineup and pitching staff. It’s especially hard to ignore what starting pitcher Patrick Corbin, who got his first ever Opening Day start this year, has done for the club in the first month.
It shouldn’t be a surprise he’s succeeding this season, for he posted a 3.26 ERA in the second half of 2017 while going 8-4, but what he’s done to start 2018 looks eerily similar to his 2013 start. As Corbin looks to help the Diamondbacks contend, we’ll look at why he could get paid and why it might be safe to hold off on a big contract.
Why he could get paid
Corbin broke into the majors with the Diamondbacks in 2012 at 22 years old and posted a 6-8 record with a 4.54 ERA. In his first full season in 2013, Corbin became an NL All-Star after posting an 11-1 first-half record with a 2.35 ERA but quickly fell off in the second half, going 3-7 with a 5.19 ERA. His first half dominance that year kept Arizona in first place in the NL West for a good chunk of the season but as he declined, the team did as well and eventually lost the NL West to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Throughout Corbin’s career, he has proven to be a pitcher who can keep teams from scoring. Corbin’s career left-on-base percentage (LOB%) is 72.7%. He may give up his fair share of hits and walks, but he averages eight strikeouts per nine innings pitched (K/9), which makes up for the hits and walks. His home run rate is relatively low, averaging just 1.09 home runs per nine innings (HR/9) according to FanGraphs. In a day where home runs have been at an all-time high, these numbers are very encouraging for someone who’s just entering his prime years at 28.
If it wasn’t for Tommy John surgery in 2014, Corbin might have been able to establish dominance earlier in his career. But even before his surgery, it was clear he could have sheer dominance on a night, including last night when he took a no-hitter into the 8th inning against the San Francisco Giants, only losing it because of a Brandon Belt infield single with two outs. His opposing pitcher, Johnny Cueto, pitched brilliantly as well but gave up the sole run of the game in the bottom of the 8th inning, and Corbin completed his first career shutout with a 1-0 win and one-hit performance over the Giants.
Why he might not be in for a payday
It’s awesome seeing Corbin dominate now, but he also had a dominant first half in 2013. To be fair, 2013 was his first full season so maybe he got tired in the second half which could’ve led to his 3.41 ERA to end the season. But if he wants a payday this offseason, he must show he can pitch all year and not fall off in the second half.
He’ll also have to prove that he’s fully past his 2014 Tommy John surgery. When he returned in 2015, he posted a 3.60 ERA with a 6-5 record in limited innings, which was a positive sign, but his first full season back from the surgery wasn’t so great. Corbin failed to keep his command in 2016, posting a 5.15 ERA with a 5-13 record, along with getting demoted to the bullpen. The struggles continued into the first half of 2017 when he posted a 4.71 ERA, but he figured things out in the second half.
Corbin has always had a great K/9, but his BB/9 innings stand at 3.02 for his career, which could be cause for concern. Another concern is opposing hitters have a .310 BABIP against him, meaning hitters usually get on base when contact is made. The high BABIP can also be a strong reason his ERA goes up this season, adding further concern to his overall value.
Corbin should receive an average payday considering the advanced sabermetrics. His numbers with home run and strikeout rates are better than average, but his walk rate and BABIP are of concern. Corbin, like Jake Arrieta and Lance Lynn, might be better off with a deal ranging between three to five years and money somewhere between $40 and $60m.
Corbin is entering his prime, but he will have a lot to prove this season if he expects to make money. If he gets a nice payday, the key for the rest of his career will be to perform higher than his contract and figure out how to be consistently dominant, even during rough stretches.
His performance last night was certainly exciting, but he still has a long way to go before landing a potentially big paycheck.