Patrick Corbin
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The New York Yankees can immediately upgrade their starting rotation by making free agent Patrick Corbin top priority.

The New York Yankees need to improve their starting rotation and Patrick Corbin should be the front office’s top target.

That’s quite a statement to make, especially this offseason. This year’s free agency class is headlined by the two top players in baseball, Bryce Harper and Manny Machado. Moreover, Clayton Kershaw is also part of this class.

Oh, I’m sorry. Correction. Kershaw was part of the class, but agreed to a three-year, $93 million extension with the Los Angeles Dodgers on Friday. Not only that, but MLB Network Radio host and former New York Mets GM Steve Phillips tweeted the Yankees would not pursue Bryce Harper. Phillips also added Machado and starting pitching would be the team’s priority.

Whether the Yankees should pursue Machado is another conversation and article entirely, but Phillips is on the mark. If he’s Robin Hood, he just split the arrow. Revamping the starting rotation needs to be the Yankees’, as he put it, Plan A.

That means putting Patrick Corbin on the front burner and in power-boil mode. If 2018 is any indication, the results will speak for themselves.

Doing work in the desert

Patrick Corbin very quietly became a solid left-handed starter for the Arizona Diamondbacks for six seasons starting in 2012. He posted a 3.80 ERA his first two years in the league and logged 315.1 innings. That’s a lot for someone who turned 24 in June 2013, so it’s not a shock Corbin wound up missing 2014 with Tommy John surgery.

Corbin returned in July 2015 and the next two-and-a-half seasons produced mixed results. He went 6-5 with a 3.60 ERA upon his return but regressed to going 5-13 with a 5.35 ERA in 2016. Corbin was so ineffective that year, he actually lost his place in the rotation. He rebounded in going 14-13 with a 4.03 ERA in 2017, but one thing looked certain. Corbin was not ace material. Sure, his bad 2016 could be chalked up to his hard contact rate jumping seven points to 38.5 percent, but he had yet to produce ace numbers.

Well, Corbin turned a corner in 2018. The lanky lefty posted a career-best 3.15 ERA with respective FIP and xFIP of 2.47 and 2.61. This means for every home run allowed, strikeout, and walk he had, he pitched with the effectiveness of a pitcher with a mid-twos ERA.

What happened?

How did Patrick Corbin become such a different pitcher? Well, there are multiple answers to that question. Per Fangraphs, he threw his fastball a career-low 48.6 percent of the time and increased his slider use from 38 percent to 41.3 percent.

Corbin also got hitters to swing at 38 percent of his pitches thrown out of the zone. A career-high 15.6 percent of his strikes thrown came via swing and a miss. Naturally, this led to him posting a career-high K/9 of 11.07. He struck out 246 hitters in just 200 innings of work.

Most important of all, however, Corbin reinvented himself as a pitcher early on. As Craig Edwards of Fangraphs discussed in a piece written in May, Corbin moved away from his fastball. Instead, he relied more on two sliders, one fast and one slower:

In an era that has seen pitchers move towards the four-seam fastball and away from the sinker, Corbin has actually gone the opposite direction. Over the past two seasons, the lefty has cut his four-seam usage in half and shifted most of those pitches to his best pitch, the slider. He’s also shifted away usage from his change, which has meant doubling the combined usage of the slider and curve to nearly 50%, while his two fastballs have essentially been relegated to secondary offerings.

That Corbin was able to adjust his approach at such a young age is not only encouraging but amazing. He clearly took the time to understand why he struggled the past couple of years and adjusted accordingly. Sure, his average fastball velocity dipped to a career-low 90.8 mph, but does it matter? Corbin took a risk in adjusting his approach. It paid off. Why mess with or even worry about a good thing, even if it is just one season of many?

A perfect New York fit

Pitching skills aside, Patrick Corbin is a great fit for the Yankees for two more reasons. The first is the Yankees only have two locks for the rotation next year, Luis Severino and Masahiro Tanaka. Adding Corbin on a long-term deal helps fill a lot of what is a big void on the roster.

The second is a bit more sentimental, but it makes sense. Corbin grew up in the Syracuse, New York area, and grew up a Yankee fan. Bob Nightengale of USA Today interviewed Corbin back in April and the young southpaw definitely sounded interested in a move to the Bronx.

“It would definitely be great to play there,’’ Corbin says. “I grew up a Yankee fan. My whole family are Yankee fans. My mom, my dad, my grandpa, everybody. Really, every generation of my family has been Yankee fans.

“Living up in Syracuse, everybody’s a Yankee fan. Not too many Mets fans up there.’’

Nightengale’s piece also detailed Corbin owning a jersey signed by Andy Pettitte, one of his childhood idols. He even wears Pettitte’s number 46 on his back. That won’t be the case in New York, what with the number being retired, but the fit is still a great one.

Not only that, but ESPN’s Buster Olney reported New York as checking in on Corbin at last year’s Winter Meetings.

Final Thoughts

This is a great match just waiting to happen. The Yankees and Patrick Corbin go together like peanut butter and jelly; pancakes and syrup; the Miami Marlins and losing. The list goes on.

Corbin is the hero the Yankees both deserve and need. Adding him immediately puts the rotation, as the great Bronx native Ace Frehley said, back in the New York Groove. Now, all Brian Cashman needs to do is ask him to give a number and draw up a reasonable contract.

Josh Benjamin has been a staff writer at ESNY since 2018. He has had opinions about everything, especially the Yankees and Knicks. He co-hosts the “Bleacher Creatures” podcast and is always looking for new pieces of sports history to uncover, usually with a Yankee Tavern chicken parm sub in hand.