Cleat Geeks

What Should The Diamondbacks Do With Free Agents Pollock & Corbin?

Sizzling starts to the 2018 season for SP Patrick Corbin and OF A.J. Pollock sparked chatter from fans and local media alike about contract extensions – both set to become free agents at the end of the year – for two of the three longest tenured Arizona Diamondbacks. After another injury to A.J. and a somewhat expected regression from Patrick Corbin, those conversations have proven to be all but premature with still over four months and 100 games to go. Unfortunately, regression to the norm and then creativity on behalf of the Dbacks brass will be the two biggest keys for retaining one or both players.

Pollock, who will be 31 by the start of next season, was a front-runner for MVP after the first month+ of the season after posting a .293/.349 & and league-high .620 slugging percentage. A.J.’s fast start came to a screeching halt during his 40th game of the season due to a left thumb avulsion fracture – his fourth DL stint since ’14; each requiring over a 1.5 month absence – that will more than likely keep him out of action through the month of June.

Image result for patrick corbin diamondbacks

While Corbin set the world on fire to open the season – 1.89 ERA to go with a 4-0 record through first five starts – regression to the norm (4.01 ERA through 821 career innings) was expected. What wasn’t expected was a drop in velocity that closely coincided with him seeing his ERA rise to a current 2.99 (19th in MLB) after Wednesday’s 6-run meltdown to the Reds in which he coughed up an early 4-0 lead in route to receiving the loss. Patrick has only three quality starts and just a lone victory over his last seven performances since the torrid start, but still ranks 4th in baseball in K’s and K/9s.

The dip in velocity could be nothing more than a dead arm phase, which isn’t unusual early in a season for starting pitchers, but it should at least be somewhat eye-opening for the Diamondbacks and any other team who might be interested in offering the lefty a long-term deal. In fact, since July of last season, P.C. has average at least 94 MPH on his fastball in exactly 0 of his last 29 starts. For comparison sake, the 7-year vet averaged above 94 MPH with his heater in all of his final five games in 2016.

You can see the gradual decline in velocity from even the beginning of ’17 to the start of ’18, per month, then the drastic drop from April to May of this season, via Brooks Baseball. Keep in mind each source has slightly different numbers, but the decline in velo is obvious no matter the source.

 

Corbin’s game by game average fastball velocity since ’16, via Fangraphs.

While Patrick’s heater is down, his slider – greatest swing and miss pitch – hasn’t suffered much at all and was actually faster in May than the previous four months, dating back to last season. Meaning the bite in his sliders action is still top notch. That lack of decline in velocity on his best pitch is a major factor in why Corbin currently has an 11.7 K/9, ranking fourth in baseball, only behind Gerrit Cole, Chris Sale and Max Scherzer, among qualified starters. Although, Corbin’s 11.7 strikeouts per every nine innings this season seems to be an outlier, as he’s never had a K/9 greater than 8.4 in his career entering 2018.

Considering the drop in cheese on his four-seamerCorbin ranks in the bottom 1/4 of qualified SP in Fangraphs FBv(velocity) – and there seemingly being no evidence that the slender lefty can sit in the mid-90’s anymore, to go along with the fact that the NY native has never had a season under a 3.41 ERA or sub-1.16 WHIP, there’s no certainty that an outside team will throw a big, long-term contract at the near-30-year-old, especially one who’s had Tommy John surgery. Yet, since he still, technically, should be in his prime for at least the next two seasons, some GM will more than likely take a gamble and overpay for a left-hander with an elite K/9 currently and who’s shown spurts of dominance, even with declining velocity and and a heavy reliance on one pitch – throws sliders at the seventh-highest rate in baseball.

Image result for a.j. pollock 2018

On the other hand, A.J. is arguably one of the better CF/OF in the game….when healthy. Since his first full big league season in ’13, Pollock has played more than 112 games in a season only twice. Only once has he played over 137 games. In that one season, the 30-year-old center fielder was an all-star, won a Gold Glove and finished 14th in MVP voting, as he hit .315 to go along with 20 HR, 76 RBI and 39 SB in 2015 when he appeared in 157 games. Other than his one fully healthy season in ’15, here are Pollock’s highs in each of the previously mentioned statistical categories: .302 avg (2014; played in only 75 games), 14 HR (Tied for 166th in MLB in ’17), 49 RBI (’17;T-99), 20 SB (’17;T-27)

After the offensive outburst during his healthiest season to date, A.J. suffered a fractured elbow the following spring right before the start of the 2016 regular season. He came back towards the end of August that season and finished with only 12 games under his belt before being shut down for the last three weeks of the season due to – that’s right – another injury.

Similar to Pollock, Corbin is a one-time all-star who’s really only put together a singular very good season,only to follow it up with a lost season before the year even began…due to injury. Anointed the opening day started for the 2014 season – due to his all-star year in ’13 where he finished 14-8 with a 3.41 ERA (2.35 in 1st half; 5.19 2nd half) – Patrick never made that season opening start in Australia as he tore his UCL – requiring Tommy John – just mere days before heading down under. In 505.2 innings since returning from his 1.5-year rehabilitation, Corbin has shown great flashes at times but also has shown plenty of inconsistencies. Since his return midway through 2015, he has a 4.14 ERA to go with an high WHIP of 1.37. That includes the 0.94 walks + hits/inning (7th in MLB) through 75.1 innings this season.

LAST OFF-SEASONS FREE AGENT COMPARISON’S

OUTFIELDERS:

The biggest name in free agency – at least as a hitter – was ex-Diamondback J.D. Martinez. While nobody should be concerned that A.J. will demand a contract similar to the 5yr/$125M deal that J.D. landed with Boston, we can still use it as a high-end baseline.

The second player we can use as the other end of the baseline’s spectrum is Colorado’s outfielder Carlos Gonzalez. The 32-year-old received a 1yr/$8M contract by the Rockies to remain there for at least this season. Last year, the .287 career hitter was hampered by injuries, but still played in 136 games and posted a .262 average to go along with 14 HR & 57 RBI. The previous season, in 2016, the slugging outfielder produced 25 HR & 100 RBI en route to a .298 avg. While the comparison isn’t the most accurate, it can still be useful in trying to project the lowest end offers that A.J. might receive if the D’backs center fielder comes back from his injury and struggles or finds himself on the D.L. once again.

Image result for Lorenzo Cain brewers

The most accurate comparison to sign over the winter would seemingly be Milwaukee’s Lorenzo Cain. He’s a .289/.346/.421 lifetime hitter to go with 63 HR, 337 RBI and 138 steals in 810 career games. In 564 career games, Pollock has 64 HR, 232 RBI, 99 SB’s and has hit to a tune of .287/.343/475. While Lorenzo has a lengthy injury history, similar to A.J., the Brewers outfielder has played in 74% of his teams games since his first full season in 2012. Since 2013 – his first full season – A.J. has played in just over 61% of games. In 2017, Cain finished with 14 HR & 49 RBI to go along with 26 SB’s, while Pollock finished with 14 HR, 49 RBI and 20 SB.

It’s not too far fetched to believe that if he can produce similar to 2018 pre-injury A.J., the dynamic CF could receive a similar 5yr/$80M deal that Lorenzo got from Milwaukee to leave Kansas City. Cain was 31 when he received his contract this off-season. AJ will be 31 this winter.

Projected Contract: $15M/year for 3 years. A.J.’s currently making $7.5M.

STARTING PITCHERS:

Even though they are more polished and have been consistently better than Patrick, he is still a couple years younger than our two high-end baseline signee’s from last off-season, Yu Darvish and Jake Arrieta. With his past inconsistencies it would be fairly shocking if Pat landed a contract over $20M like Yu (4X All-Star; Cy-Young runner-up; 6yr/$126M with the Cubs) and Arrieta (CY winner; Sub-3.00 ERA since coming to the N.L. in 2013; signed a 3yr/$75M deal with Philly).

The low-end standard on Corbin’s next contract could be compared to that of Tyler Chatwood, who is 28 and pitched to a 4.18 ERA in Colorado since 2012. Chatwood was one game under .500 during his time with the Rockies. Corbin is one game over .500 (50-49) in his career. Chatwood signed a 3yr/$38M deal with the Cubs prior to 2018.

Image result for alex cobb orioles

Maybe the most accurate comp is that of Alex Cobb, who signed a 4yr/$57M deal in the off-season with Baltimore. Take in account Corbin is about two years younger and a lefty, one would expect the Diamondback to command more money than Cobb, even though Alex has a better career ERA, WHIP and record of that compared to Corbin’s, so the deal shouldn’t be too much bigger than that of the current Oriole unless Corbin can hover around a 2.50 ERA and 1.00 WHIP for the remainder of the season.

Projected Contract: 4yr/$65M-$70M; Roughly $16M-$17M/yr. Corbin is currently making $7.5M

Keep in mind that we still over 100+ games to go in the season, so these projected contracts will keep fluctuating North or South due to production.

What do you think the Diamondbacks should do? What do you think they will do? If they decide not to re-sign them, should they make both of them available at the trade deadline to other teams? This is only part one of a two part article, in the next few days we will look into how they can, or why they should not sign these two superstars as we look at the projected financials of the club next season. Stay tuned!

 

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