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Free agent Patrick Corbin could make the Rockies rotation even better

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Adding free agent Patrick Corbin could further advance a strong starting rotation into elite territory.

The Colorado Rockies seem content with a policy of drafting and developing starting pitchers to anchor their rotation, and judging by the results of the club’s first-ever consecutive postseason campaigns in 2017 and 2018, this has worked out pretty well. The Rockies either drafted or signed as an international free agent every starter for the 2018 team except for German Márquez, who they acquired while he was still in the minor leagues.

With all this success developing young hurlers, why would anyone want to shake things up by diving into the free agent market? If it’s not broke, don’t fix it!

Counterpoint: Patrick Corbin, a free agent this offseason, is very good, and he would make an already great rotation even better.

The History

Corbin, 29, was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels in the second round of the 2009 June Amateur Player Draft. Rockies fans know the 6-foot-3 left-hander better as a member of the division-rival Arizona Diamondbacks. The D-Backs acquired Corbin, along with Joe Saunders, Rafael Rodriguez and a PTBNL (who ended up being Tyler Skaggs) at the 2010 trade deadline, all for Dan Haren. Haren ended up being worth 6.5 Wins Above Replacement (by estimate of Baseball-Reference) in his year and a half with the Halos, while the four players acquired by the Snakes produced 13.7 Wins Above Replacement through 2018 (12.4 of which coming from Corbin).

In his career against the Rox, Corbin hasn’t exactly been at his best. Despite an 8-4 record, his ERA in 115 23 innings is 4.82. However, Corbin’s strikeout to walk ratio also was an excellent 3.6, and his peripherals (3.98 FIP/3.35 xFIP) suggested he ran into some bad luck as pitchers are wont to do at Coors Field.

Overall, it would be only fair to mention that Corbin hasn’t had the smoothest career. A simple annual summary:

  • 2012 – “Meh”
  • 2013 – Very good
  • 2014 – An entire season lost to Tommy John surgery
  • 2015 – Good in limited post-surgery innings
  • 2016 – Concerningly bad
  • 2017 – A solid rebound
  • 2018 – Cy Young-worthy

All in all, Corbin has produced a 3.91 ERA/3.65 FIP in his career, making the National League All-Star squad in 2013 and 2018. Not only that, he’s an all-around athlete who has collected 27 Defensive Runs Saved in his big league career. The .168 career batting average may not look like much to write home about, but it’s actually tenth among all pitchers with at least 300 plate appearances between 2012 and 2018. He also ranks sixth in runs scored among pitchers with the same criteria.

Plus, there are only four pitchers with multiple triples since 2012. They are Jake Arrieta and Luis Perdomo, who each have 4, Corbin with 3 and — you guessed it — Chris Rusin with 2. Among everything else, Corbin also slashed .306/.320/.408 in 2016 over the life of 53 plate appearances. Let’s ignore the .429 BABIP for a moment — that’s Márquez-esque!

Corbin will still be in the prime of his career for at least a couple more seasons, and if 2018 is any indication of what he has to offer, there should be many a suitor lining up for the ISE Baseball client. So, with that in mind, what made 2018 so special and is this success sustainable?

2018 Stats

2018 saw Corbin set career-bests in WAR (all three versions), ERA, WHIP, FIP, xFIP, Games Started, K% and K/BB Ratio. He also induced the highest percentage of swings on pitches outside of the strike zone than he ever had before, whilst collecting a 66.8 percent contact rate (which was around 10 percent lower than his previous career-best mark from just one season ago).

While it’s all well and good that Corbin set personal bests in 2018, it’s also helpful to see how he compared to other pitchers in the National League. Among qualified starting pitchers, Corbin’s ERA ranked eighth (3.15), just behind the pace of Freeland. Corbin’s FIP (2.47) was second in a league filled with elite starters, and his even 200 innings pitched came in at seventh in the NL. FanGraphs’ version of WAR (which largely utilizes FIP and IP in its calculation) gave Corbin a mark of 6.3, which ranked behind only the duo of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer. Corbin also achieved third place in K/9 (11.07), fourth in WHIP (1.05), Deserved Run Average (2.74) and Baseball Prospectus’s WARP (5.9), fifth in RA-9 WAR (5.7), 6th in Ground-Ball Percentage (48.5%) and seventh in Batting Average Against (.217), bWAR (4.6) and ERA+ (137).

Simply put, Corbin would have ranked first on the 2018 Rockies in nearly all categories listed, and second only to Freeland in the others. Steamer’s projection indicates a bit of a regression to the norm to be expected in 2019, forecasting a 3.58 ERA and 3.6 WAR in the coming season. While those numbers would not exhibit Cy Young material, they would still represent a solid middle of the rotation starter. And as the old adage goes, you can never have enough arms.

Corbin’s Fit on the 2019 Rockies

As things stand, Kyle Freeland, German Márquez, Jon Gray, and Tyler Anderson should be the Rockies’ top four starters, with one of Antonio Senzatela or Chad Bettis serving as the fifth starter. But wherever Corbin fits in to the rotation, he will bring an improvement. MLB Trade Rumors predicts that Corbin will land a 6-year, $129 million contract, which wouldn’t necessarily be out of the Rockies’ price range, but may preclude General Manager Jeff Bridich from being able to add a significant piece on offense.

Corbin is not a necessity for the Rockies, as the rotation is already their biggest area of strength. But if the Monforts open the financial floodgates and the team goes all-in this offseason, Corbin could further advance the starting staff into elite territory.