The past two years
Everybody's raven about Patrick...
By just about any metric, Patrick Corbin was the best starting pitcher the Diamondbacks had last year; expectations are generally high that he'll be the same in 2014. Last year was truly a season of two halves, with Corbin enjoying a 12-2 record along with a 2.24 ERA through the end of July, before going 2-6 with an ERA north of six over his final 11 starts the rest of the way. There was a first All-Star appearance for Patrick at Citi Field, but early talk of Cy Young contention faded away after the break, and he ended up without a mention on any ballot. So, which Corbin do we get in 2014? The sleekly lethal version that guards the Tower of London, or a plucked and roasted fowl?
The truth is likely somewhat in the middle, not least because a chunk of the difference was powered by fortune of one kind or another. If we divide his campaign in two equal parts, Corbin was "lucky" early on, with a BABIP of .244 in his first 16 starts, then "unlucky", as that figure regressed to .332 thereafter. He was also helped by a freakishly-low home-run rate during initial going, allowing nine home-runs in 21 starts and 144.1 innings. Again, that regressed, and then some, down the stretch, Corbin giving up ten homers over his final 64 innings. Though both BABIP and HR rare are subject to further variance, it's reasonable to expect overall numbers nearer the average, than either extreme.
Corbin himself isn't aware of any particular mechanical reason for the difference in results. He said, "I really don't understand why. The only thing, maybe, because it's such a long year and it was kind of my first season, and it's about a month longer than the minors so it's a little different step for me... I think this year I understand how long the season is, so maybe that's something I need to focus on. Whether it's working out a little more or backing off a little bit; these are things that you learn year-by-year and you develop a routine. Coming into my second year, I think I understand a little better."
To help address that, over the off-season Patrick reported that he "tried to put on a couple pounds and put some weight on my legs and have a stronger core." But he had to fit that in around a trip to Australia where Corbin was one of the leading spokesmen for the team and their upcoming trip there. It's very likely he'll be one of the starting pitchers used for the two games, possibly even going head-to-head against Clayton Kershaw on Opening Day, a prospect which seems not to faze our young player: "To be the best you have to beat the best. You know it's another great guy out there, that's going to have another great game, and that makes you step up your game."
If the Diamondbacks are to compete in 2014, better performances from their starting rotation are almost a must-have. That starts at the top, and if there's no "ace" by normal standards, Corbin occupies the de facto position, due to his success last season. We likely need a performance from him which is at least the equal of his 2013, and at his age, I am hoping for some improvement through experience, as he enters his second full season as a major-league starter, with his slider becoming one of the most consistently lethal out pitches in the game. We saw that on occasion e.g. in Coors Field, so if he can perform like that, and sustain it for the whole year, we'll have few grounds for complaint.