keyboard_arrow_uptop

I grew up in Madison, Wisconsin, which has an interesting dynamic of simultaneously being urban and rural. It’s the state capitol and stereotyped to be overwhelmingly liberal, yet the landscape is peppered with farm after farm no more than five minutes outside the city’s borders. You’ll find so-called hippies hanging out on State Street, playing guitar and singing for peace, and tractors blocking an entire lane of a highway just a mile or two apart from each other.

My father came from an Irish-Catholic working-class family on the west side of the city. My mother grew up on a traditional farm in Fitchburg, Wisconsin, which would’ve been considered a suburb if it was anything more than a conglomeration of farms and a couple of small subdivisions that surrounded a small three-engine fire station.

My father brought me up on R.E.M., Crowded House, and The Smithereens. He despised country music and couldn’t change the radio station fast enough when the twang hit his eardrums. My mother brought me up on Garth Brooks, Brooks & Dunn, and Alan Jackson. She was the reason the car’s radio mysteriously found itself on one of the five local country stations on occasion.

One of my mother’s favorite songs was “Unanswered Prayers” by Garth Brooks, which hit no. 1 on the Billboard Charts in 1991. When I was old enough to understand the message of the song years later, she always used to say, “Remember that, honey. Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.” It’s not a song that I hear frequently, as I gravitated to more of my father’s taste in music, but I have a soft spot for Garth and always hear my mom’s voice in my head whenever I happen to hear his name.

Patrick Corbin was my dude in fantasy this year. Whatever chips I had during the preseason, I had pushed them all in on Corbin and then asked a couple of buddies to chip in a few more bucks so I could wager a bit more on the left-hander. I adored his 3.60 ERA and 3.35 FIP in his first 16 starts back after recovering from Tommy John surgery. He had the strikeouts, the velocity, and the command that he displayed during his breakout season in 2013—and too many people, I felt, hadn’t realized that he was back in the truest sense of the term.

I wound up with Corbin in exactly zero of my fantasy leagues this year. To be sure, I tried to acquire him in a couple of dynasty leagues, but it didn’t quite work out in the end. I got sniped in my two re-draft leagues that utilize a snake draft. No Patrick Corbin felt like a moral failure on my part in many ways, but I accepted my fate after the regular season began in April.

Corbin owns a 4.88 ERA in 31 1/3 innings. His strikeout rate has fallen from 21.9 percent a year ago to just 14.3 percent, while his walk rate has risen to 7.5 percent, the highest of his career by over a percent. His 117 cFIP suggests that he’ll be 17 percent worse than the average big-league starter from now until the end of the season. Finally, he’s been the 126th-ranked fantasy starter in ESPN leagues—far from the stud I hoped he’d be.

As Garth Brooks would say, the greatest gifts in fantasy baseball are the players you’re dying to draft, but never do.

Just a month into the season, though, I feel my heart wondering if it’s time to re-pursue that dream and target Patrick Corbin on the trade market. His value is undoubtedly lower than it was four or five weeks ago. Perhaps now is the opportune time to capitalize on early-season variance. Right?

It’s a complicated question to answer. His velocity numbers look good, as Brooks Baseball indicates that he’s not suffering from declined velocity that would make one wonder about a potential re-injury or something of that sort. His ground-ball rate has actually increased from 46.9 percent to a career-high 52.5 percent, which would make one think that maybe his home-run issues this year aren’t that sustainable.

Corbin has given up seven homers in 2016. Going into Sunday’s slate of games, that was tied for the most home runs allowed in Major League Baseball. To make matters worse, the lefty has the ninth-highest average batted-ball velocity (min. 30 batted-ball events) in the league. That may not be predictive of future events, I suppose, but it does lend empirical proof to the idea that he’s been torched at the plate this year.

Player

Team

Avg EV (mph)

ERA

Bud Norris

Braves

94.28

8.74

Mike Leake

Cardinals

93.53

5.83

Chris Archer

Rays

93.11

5.01

Michael Pineda

Yankees

92.62

6.33

Jerad Eickhoff

Phillies

92.40

4.15

Nathan Eovaldi

Yankees

92.20

5.46

Ubaldo Jimenez

Orioles

92.00

3.91

John Danks

White Sox

91.97

7.25

Patrick Corbin

Diamondbacks

91.92

4.88

Nathan Karns

Mariners

91.90

3.63

As evidenced by the earned run averages, it’s pretty clear that Corbin is amongst undesirable company at the top of the batted-ball velocity charts. Again, I do want to be clear about this: It doesn’t mean that Corbin will continue to give up hard-hit balls. It’s only a month’s worth of data. It does, however, seem to suggest that Corbin (and the other pitchers) have deserved their lofty ERAs. For those who don’t have terrible ERAs—i.e. Jimenez and Karns—they should probably thank their lucky stars.

What this doesn’t address, though, is why Corbin has gotten hit so hard. And it comes down to missing something vitally important about his performance last year. In 2015, righties hit .286/.326/.462 with a 1.10 HR/9. In 2016, righties are hitting .295/.342/.553 with a 2.08 HR/9. He’s only seen 21 lefties this year, compared to 112 righties. If the latter have traditionally teed off against the southpaw, it would make sense that his overall performance would decline significantly this year—since he’s seeing a significantly higher percentage of righties than he did in 2015.

To make matters worse, his performance against righties has declined. After a 10.21 percent whiff rate against right-handed hitters in 2013 and a 10.75 percent whiff rate in 2015, Corbin has seen his whiff rate versus righties drop to 7.81 percent. That’s single-handedly why his overall strikeout numbers have dropped. He’s tried to employ a changeup more often than in previous years; however, it remains supremely ineffective. He doesn’t miss bats with the pitch and opponents are hitting .348 with a .478 ISO against it.

Changeups are important to eliminate platoon splits. For Corbin, though, the pitch appears to have made things worse. He’s probably best sticking with his fastball-slider combination against both righties and lefties, flipping up a changeup once in awhile to keep opposing hitters honest, but not as a key piece of the arsenal.

In the end, it seems that Corbin has a key weakness in his game that I (probably willingly) overlooked. His overall numbers masked a difficulty against righties. Teams have rightfully exploited that by only sending lefties up against him 15 percent of the time, which is down from 22 percent of the time a year ago. As Corbin faces more right-handers and struggles with his changeup, he’ll be forced to either improve the pitch dramatically or find success with a two-pitch mix, which is possible, just difficult.

I still like the talent. He managed to make it work in 2013 with just a fastball-slider combination, but there’s too much that we need to see before it would be wise to invest in Corbin in fantasy leagues.

BUYER’S ADVICE: HOLD

I want to see how Corbin adjusts, whether he’s willing to scrap the changeup or whether it simply improves with more reps on the mound. I want to see how he rebounds from the league’s adjustment. Until there are signs that the underlying issues are being resolved, though, there’s no reason for fantasy owners to invest assets into the left-hander. Then again, there’s too much talent in his arm to jump ship. The best course of action is simply to hold tight and ride out the storm. Perhaps it’s sunny on the other side, much like it was a year ago. And two years before that.