Nats have no choice but to try to fix Corbin after awful season


Age on opening day 2022: 32

How acquired: Signed as free agent, December 2018

MLB service time: 9 years, 105 days

2021 salary: $24 million

Contract status: Signed for $23 million in 2022, $24 million in 2023, $35 million ($10 million deferred) in 2024

2021 stats: 9-16, 5.82 ERA, 31 GS, 0 CG, 171 2/3 IP, 192 H, 114 R, 111 ER, 37 HR, 60 BB, 143 SO, 3 HBP, 1.468 WHIP, 70 ERA+, 5.41 FIP, 0.2 fWAR, minus-1.1 bWAR

Quotable: “It’s tough right now for him. He’s frustrated. But I’ve got to have all the confidence right now with him, and talk to him and talk him up. I want him to leave this year on a positive note. It’s a must. He’s going to be here. He’s one of our guys. I’m going to put him out there, I’m going to keep pushing him.” - manager Davey Martinez

Patrick Corbin throw blue sidebar.jpg2021 analysis: Pressure was already on Patrick Corbin on the heels of a disappointing 2020 season. The left-hander hoped his struggles during the shortened, 60-game campaign were a byproduct of the unprecedented start-and-stop nature of spring training, then summer training heading into the season. But the first impression he left on the 2021 season did nothing to confirm those hopes.

Corbin was among the players who had to open the year on the COVID-19 injured list, and though he was back quickly, the results out of the gate were atrocious: 16 runs in 6 1/3 innings against the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. There were a few quality starts sprinkled in after that, but the lefty never found any kind of consistent groove.

Corbin had plenty of issues, but the biggest was his propensity to surrender home runs at a staggering rate. He allowed 37 of them in 31 starts, most in the National League and most in Nationals history by leaps and bounds. His 5.82 ERA was highest in club history for any pitcher who had thrown at least 100 innings.

There were a few silver linings, if you were willing to block out the big-picture ugliness. Corbin’s fastball averaged more than 92 mph, up 2 mph from last season and its highest velocity since 2017. And he remained healthy throughout, never returning to the IL after the initial COVID-19 issue in early April.

Still, the big picture remained a major problem. With Max Scherzer and Jon Lester traded away, and Stephen Strasburg and Joe Ross injured, Corbin was the only remaining member of the original opening day rotation around all season. And he still wound up as the worst starter on a staff that eventually included journeymen and rookies around him.

2022 outlook: Let’s get this out of the way right off the bat: Corbin’s not going anywhere. He’s under contract for three more seasons and $82 million. Even if he had any trade value, other clubs aren’t going to take on that kind of money. So the Nationals have no choice but to try to get him back on track and hope he can rediscover something resembling the form he showed in 2019.

The good news: Corbin did actually finish the season strong. He produced a quality start in four of his final five starts and struck out nine over six innings at Coors Field in his last outing of the year. He looked and sounded like a different pitcher as he departed for the winter.

Still, there’s a lot of work to be done before he can be considered even an average big league starter again. Corbin needs get his mechanics in line, allowing him to spot his fastball for strikes early in the count and thus make his slider more effective as a putaway pitch with two strikes. And he’s going to have to start developing more trust in a third pitch to keep hitters from sitting on his two bread-and-butter offerings. Opponents hit a whopping .433 and slugged .767 off his changeup this season. They even went 4-for-5 with two homers off his rarely used slow curveball.

Every good pitcher has to learn how to adapt over the course of his career. Nobody remains the same pitcher in his 30s that he was in his 20s. The time has come for Corbin to make those adjustments and set himself up for more success. If he can’t, the Nats are in serious trouble.

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