TDG’S Triple Play: Washington Nationals!
The Triple Play is back for a fourth season! This regular feature is broken down by writer Phil Barrington. He is joined by a rotating panel of some of the best Dynasty Baseball writers in the business. If you’re new to the Triple Play, this series breaks down an arm, a bat, and a prospect within each organization for your reading pleasure. Follow Phil (@barrington_phil), Aaron (@SABRtoothTigers), and Keaton (@TheSpokenKeats), on Twitter and read their analysis here at the site!
As this is the last Triple Play for the 2021 season, let’s say thank you to Paul Monte, who led the Triple Play for the first two-thirds of the season, as well as excellent contributions from writers Ken Balderston, Bob Osgood, Ben Sanders, Patrick Magnus, and Kyle Brown. Take a bow, fellas.
Patrick Corbin, Age: 32, Position: SP
Analysis by: Phil Barrington
Patrick Corbin had a terrible 2021. There is really no other way to put it. In 31 starts over 171 2/3 innings pitched, he only struck out 143 (7.5 K/9) walked 60 (3.15 BB/9) gave up almost two home runs per nine innings pitched, with a putrid 5.82 ERA, 5.41 FIP, and slightly better 4.29 xFIP. Just bad all around. He was drafted in NFBC leagues as the 50th overall pitcher taken at pick 139, which is an 11th round pick in most leagues, but by the end of the season was on most leagues’ waiver wire.
The Things We Know
Corbin’s bread and butter pitch is his slider, that he threw 38% of the time in 2021, and that pitch actually worked out as well for him as it did in his last year in Arizona and first year in Washington. His chase rate was still very solid, and he was in the top 87th percentile in the big leagues in 2021 (it was 90th percentile in 2020, and 92nd percentile in 2019). . Interestingly, his fastball was even two MPH faster (92.3) compared to 2020 (90.2) and closer to 2019 (91.8), but, as Corbin is not a power pitcher, made less of a difference. His trouble came on his whiff percentage, were he saw the biggest decrease from 2019, dropping from 86th percentile in 2019 to 39th last season.
What Corbin does well is pitch a lot. Since 2017, he has made at least 31 starts (and in the abbreviated 2020 season he made 11, which was tied for third in the bigs). Of the 31 starts in 2021, he went at least six innings 15 times, and of those, 13 were quality starts. So, if Corbin goes six innings, a quality start is usually coming. With many leagues using Quality Starts as opposed to Wins, that is valuable. Also, many teams already are pulling starters with only four innings pitched, so the number of pitchers that can pitch into the sixth inning is also become more valuable.
Was 2021 as Bad as it Seemed?
For mid-tier pitchers, which is where Corbin is now, I use the rule of 10 great starts, 10 average starts, and 10 stinkers. He gave up three or less runs 14 times, with 13 of those being Quality Starts. Problem is, Corbin’s stinkers were really bad, giving up six earned runs five times and in the second game of the season against his old team, the Diamondbacks, he gave up a putrid nine runs. He gave up four or five earned runs nine times. Half his starts hurt your fantasy team. But those other 13, they helped.
The hard part was knowing which starts would help. Two of his last three starts were against the Rockies, who pounded him in Washington and then he pitched very well against them in Colorado. In between those starts, he shut out the Reds in Cincinnati over six innings. That basically summed up his season, there was little rhyme or reason to how well Corbin did. It can and is maddening to roster a pitcher you do not feel safe starting against bad offenses, and then definitely not starting against good ones, hence Corbin being rostered in only 39% of Yahoo! leagues at seasons’ end.
What the Future Holds
Corbin is signed through 2024, so for the next three seasons, he is going to be part of Washington’s rotation, for better or worse. Corbin will more than likely be a late round flier or go undrafted in 12-team leagues. In larger Dynasty leagues he may be already seen as a streaming starter, as he is in a couple of mine. As the Nationals look to be pretty bad for the next few seasons, Wins are going to be tough to come by, but Quality Starts should be easier to attain. In Head-to-head leagues using Quality Starts, Corbin should be rostered. In 14-team or fewer roto leagues with Wins, he should be considered a spot starter. Just note that if Corbin starts out hot in 2022, he has the ability to assist a winning fantasy team simply added from the waiver wire, and if not, no big deal.
Lane Thomas, Age: 26, Position: OF
Analysis by: Aaron Cumming
To say Lane Thomas has bounced around a lot would be an understatement. He is racking up those frequent flyer miles like nobody’s business. Since being drafted in 2014, he has logged 18 separate stat lines on his Baseball Reference page, with various stops across three different organizations. He has rarely gotten a regular look or consistent playing time. In his seven professional seasons, he has played for at least two different teams (levels or organizations) in all but 2020, which could hardly be described as normal.
Stay In Your Lane
In 2014, Thomas earned High School All-American 1st Team honors playing shortstop for Bearden HS in Knoxville, TN. He was just two months away from turning 19 years old at the time of the draft, though, making him one of the older high school prospects. Despite the talent and production, a commitment to play at the University of Tennessee weighed into some teams passing him by, allowing him to slip to Toronto in the 5th round. What may look to some as defensive versatility (playing both SS and CF), translated to being a man without a position for major league teams. Toronto ultimately drafted him as a second baseman, and he entered their prospect rankings in the top 20 immediately.
Transitions, injuries and adjustments stunted and limited Thomas’s production. He quickly fell out of favor in prospect rankings and no longer factored into the organization’s long term plans. In the summer of 2017, Toronto sent the young player to St. Louis in exchange for international signing bonus money. The Cardinals embarked on the reclamation project that Lane had become.
The Cardinal (Give-A-)Way
Starting in 2018, Thomas’s first full year with the Cardinals, that reclamation project was hitting on all cylinders. He crushed the Double-A level to the tune of a 123 wRC+ with 21 home runs in 100 games. He earned a promotion to Triple-A and kept hitting there and throughout the Arizona Fall League that year. He continued to produce at Triple-A during the first half of 2019, earning a promotion to the major league roster. He was used as a pinch hitter and defensive replacement, but maintained a .409 OBP across 44 plate appearances. He had finally settled into a situation that gave him the comfort needed to be consistent.
2020 was less kind to Thomas, though. With the Cardinals glut of outfielders (plus a bout with COVID), he was still limited to a part-time role, and couldn’t muster the same level of productivity. He floundered and played in just 18 games before being sent to the alternate site. His poor showing meant he would start 2021 in the minors again. Aside from a 4 game injury fill-in, he didn’t get called back up to the majors until May. With all of these ups and downs, he managed just a .104 batting average in the first half of this past year. After another demotion, he was on the outside looking in when it came to Cardinal outfielders. He finally went the way of Randy Arozarena, Adolis García, and Dexter Fowler in being jettisoned out of the organization via trade, getting flipped to the Washington Nationals for Jon Lester.
Nationals Man Of Mystery
After the trade to DC, Thomas was born again. In 44 MLB games after the move, he had a 127 wRC+, finding a groove with an organization that put him out there every day. He even ended the year as the regular leadoff man. He will still just be 26 years old at the start of 2022, and has shown flashes of solid productivity. Assuming that Washington will continue to give him free run in their outfield and maximize his ABs by hitting him in front of Juan Soto, there’s no reason he can’t hit .270 with 20+ home runs, 12+ steals, and push 100 runs scored. He could easily have a breakout similar to what Jonathan India just did next season. With that potential, I’d happily offer Thomas the long-term roster stability he craves on my team.
Cole Henry, Age: 22, SP, A+
Analysis by: Keaton O. DeRocher
Mining For Cole
Originally drafted by the Detroit Tigers in 2018, Cole Henry declined to sign and give his commitment to LSU. In his freshman year, Henry worked his way into the #1 starters role posting a 3.39 earned run average over 58.1 innings striking out 72 and only walking 18. Ultimately his freshman season was cut short after an injury, a stress reaction in his upper arm, but coming back as the number one starter for his sophomore season, he showed no lingering effects of it. Over his four starts in the pandemic shortened season Henry accumulated a 1.89 earned run average and 23 strikeouts over 19 innings and four starts. With the small sample and improvement from his already stellar freshman season, the Washington Nationals saw fit to draft him in the second round and go well over slot to sign him at $2 million ($1.31 million slot).
Making Diamonds Out Of Cole
As a high schooler Cole was able to touch the upper nineties at times and has continued to add velocity as he’s grown into his big 6-foot 4-inch 215 pound frame comfortably sitting in the mid-nineties and able to ramp it up more consistently when needed. He has both a deceptive 4-seamer and an above-average 2-seamer that has a ton of movement. Both pitches have above-average grades and pair well with an above-average curveball. His change-up needs more work but it’s an average offering that compliments his others well enough at the moment. What also stands out about Henry, is his command. For a high-velocity high school arm with very little polishing at the college level, Henry’s feel for the strike zone and ability to control his pitches is advanced.
Hey Cole Sister
The Nationals believed in the skill set, going over slot to sign Henry as previously mentioned, and through a small sample in his professional debut in 2021, He’s delivered. After only 4 innings at the Nationals complex league, Henry debuted at High-A and continued to mow down opposing batters across 47 innings striking out 70 and only walking 12 on a 2.30 earned run average. An elbow strain brought a short end to Henry’s season in 2021, but he has been assigned to the Arizona Fall league to accumulate more innings. This will be a great test for Henry as the level of competition is usually seen as equivalent to Double-A. If Henry can have a solid showing, the Nationals could be aggressive with his assignment for 2022.
The top of the Nationals prospects ranks is loaded with starting pitches, Henry currently sits 7th overall in the system and the 4th starting pitcher, however his upside is right there with Cade Cavalli. With the build and the pitch mix to last as a starter, Henry has flown under the radar even with his power-packed strikeout rates. With a solid fall and distance from his injuries, 2022 could be a full breakout season for Henry, and he’s certainly a prospect I will keep a close eye on.
PREVIOUSLY COVERED TEAMS
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