Closing Time: Can Patrick Corbin really be this good?

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It’s time for another talk about surging Arizona lefty <a class="link rapid-noclick-resp" href="/mlb/players/9168/" data-ylk="slk:Patrick Corbin">Patrick Corbin</a> (left) (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)
It’s time for another talk about surging Arizona lefty Patrick Corbin (left) (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Last month, we encouraged you to draft Patrick Corbin. Two weeks ago, we initiated a Corbin victory lap.

And today, on April 18, we wonder what the heck to do with Corbin. Is he really an ace now? Are we really talking about a potential season-winning pick here?

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Corbin’s made four starts in 2018 and they’ve all been outstanding. He’s struck out 8, 12, 9, and 8 batters in those turns, with five collective walks. Tuesday’s start against San Francisco was the best of the bunch, a dazzling one-hit shutout that required just 100 pitches. The only Giants hit was an accidental one — Brandon Belt’s check-swing dribbler in the eighth inning turned into an infield hit against the Arizona shift.

Corbin is currently the No. 2 rated pitcher in the Yahoo game, with those three wins, 37 strikeouts, 1.65 ERA and 0.70 WHIP. Max Scherzer has been an eyelash better, Justin Verlander a speck worse. Corbin stockholders walk around with a bounce in their step.

The first thing we need to consider when evaluating Corbin long-term is that he’s been a legitimate all-star before. In his breakthrough 2013 season, he had a 2.45 ERA and 1.02 WHIP as late as Aug. 20. If you grade all the starters for the first 20 weeks of that season, Corbin was the No. 7 guy before a rocky finish. Corbin had a rough turn at Philly on Aug. 25, and never seemed at full health the remainder of the year, though he gutted through it through six September starts.

Corbin’s career has been up-and-down since then. He blew out his elbow early in 2014, had Tommy John surgery. He was solid in a partial 2015 season, and knocked about in a mediocre 2016. Last year was a mixed bag — 14 wins, 178 strikeouts in 189.2 innings, a tidy ERA at home (3.15), a jagged one on the road (5.09). Corbin’s biggest struggle was getting right-handed batters out — they slashed .292/.348/.482 against him.

Although Corbin looks like a two-pitch pitcher in some raw-stat collection — fastball and slider — he’s really throwing three pitches, as he tinkers with the speed of his slider. His change-up has been scrapped. Corbin is dominating lefties as usual, and the new approach is mowing down righties as well (.446 OPS). Maybe this is a pitcher putting things together in his age-28 season.

The schedule has fallen well for Corbin thus far — three home starts (where he was great last year, and hello, humidor), and a road start at the Giants. But when someone pitches this well and has the back class that Corbin does, I’m not going to automatically shift into doubt mode. The question we need to ask ourselves right now is what can go right, what is Corbin’s upside? We’ve seen a 20-week run before where he was a legitimate needle mover. We might be back in that pocket now.

Heck, every pitcher has a downside — the fear of injury. The moment any name arm has a bad couple of starts or a velocity dip, intense worry kicks in. Throwing a baseball is an unnatural act. If MLB clubs knew how to really protect the pitcher, they’d be doing it. Starting pitchers aren’t taxed like they were in previous generations, but the DL churn hasn’t gone away.

I own multiple Corbin shares, but not as many as I’d like. Looking to test the market, I floated a Corbin for Dallas Keuchel offer this morning. The other guy named his team after Keuchel, and it’s a league based out of Houston.

About 30 minutes later, the result filtered in.

(That trade rejection might be more about Keuchel’s tricky value than Corbin’s early surge, but it’s still an interesting data point.)

Is Corbin as good as he’s looked thus far? Doubtful. No one’s really that good. But exposing the outlier does nothing helpful; we can’t scream “Regression!” and drop the mic. My advice to Corbin owners is simple — if you don’t love the Corbin offer you field this week, if it doesn’t basically accept itself, I’d simply say no. I believe this breakthrough is real, or at least has a strong chance of being real. I’m thinking anyone who drafted Corbin a month ago is going to still be beaming and proud, several months down the road.

Share your Corbin love letters, correspondence and advice in the comments. And curses to you, Brandon Belt — everyone knows you don’t hit a check-swing infield single when a no-hitter is intact. Sic transit gloria.

• I wish I had a happy song to sing on Kenley Jansen, but my television shows me the same stuff yours does. (And if you’re blocked from viewing Dodgers games, yes, vent away. That unmistakable greed cannot be accepted. I’ll never forgive those guys for denying some people the Vin Scully victory lap.)

Jansen blew his second save of the year Tuesday at San Diego, allowing a Eric Hosmer homer and a game-tying hit from scuffling Chase Headley. It could have been worse — Christian Villanueva missed a home run by a couple of feet (and Chris Taylor made a nifty catch on the play). Jansen’s strikeout rate is down, his walk rate is bloated, his velocity is two MPH down from his norm.

This is usually where teams speak of mechanical fixes and trusting in a proven veteran. And maybe that’s where Jansen will go — maybe this blip will be something we laugh about later in the summer. But I don’t blame anyone who makes a speculation bet in this bullpen. I think it would take a lot for Jansen to be benched for any length of time, but maybe a DL stint could come calling, even if it’s just a brief break for Jansen to get his feet back under him.

Josh Fields (1.00/0.78, 12 strikeouts in 9 IP) is my first target as a save hedge. Ross Stripling has been effective, despite five walks; it’s one of those cases where the ERA (0.79) doesn’t match the WHIP. He’s getting about a strikeout per inning. Place your bets, handshake chasers.

Bud Norris doesn’t look like an imposing, prototypical closer. He checks in at 6-feet, 215 pounds. His career ERA, mostly from starting assignments, is in the mid-4s. Norris has been a ticket-to-ride pitcher through a 10-year career, playing for seven different teams. He’s a renter, not a buyer.

But Norris is on a handshake run for the Cardinals, his latest team, and maybe this story will stick for a while.

Norris had a working-class save at Wrigley on Tuesday night, getting the last five outs. He struck out three, and needed just 21 pitches. Greg Holland, the guy signed to be the closer a few weeks ago, worked the eighth and made another mess (two walks, Javier Baez homer). Holland already has seven walks (one intentional) through 2.1 innings of work.

Momentum is a thing in the saves chase. The guy with the baton is often the man to bet on. Norris has three straight save conversions, four in all, and he’s collected 17 strikeouts against just one walk. No matter what the long game is for the Cardinals, Norris probably holds the ninth until some natural events give Mike Matheny a clear pathway to change. Managers generally aren’t risk-takers and proactive thinkers. They want defined buttons to push, and Norris is presenting an easy one.

Milwaukee’s best (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)
Milwaukee’s best (AP Photo/Aaron Gash)

• While Norris might not be electric, even with that juicy K/BB ratio, Josh Hader is a bolt of adrenaline. Hader wrapped up Tuesday’s 2-0 victory over Cincinnati, a tidy 29 pitches over two smooth innings (1 H, 3 K). The seasonal stats read like a gigantic misprint: 11.2 IP, 3 R, 2 R, 1 BB, 25 K. And the moving pictures look even better.

Unfortunately, the save-desperate among us can’t kick other Milwaukee options to the curb. As fun as two-inning saves are, you can’t rely on them every night. Hader still might be more valuable for Milwaukee as a rover, a “go where needed” guy, their version of Andrew Miller. Maybe Corey Knebel will eventually have a smooth return from his hamstring injury. Matt Albers is going to see some leverage work, even if it’s hell to watch at times. Jacob Barnes isn’t bad.

In the meantime, my plan is to watch Hader every time he pitches. Isn’t that the ultimate endorsement for any pitcher? You trust him so much, you enjoy him so much, you can watch him live and not feel that twinge of anxiety. Have a big glass of the Haderade. This could be another league-winning pick, blossoming before our eyes.

Follow the Yahoo fantasy baseball crew on Twitter: Andy Behrens, Dalton Del Don, and Scott Pianowski. 

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