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2021 Milwaukee Brewers: Burnes Is Still Brewing

Entering the season pitching near the top of the 2021 Milwaukee brewers rotation, Corbin Burnes is coming off a season where he would finish sixth in the Cy Young award voting. In his massive 2020 breakout, Corbin Burnes would pitch to an ERA of 2.11 while striking out 13.27 hitters per nine innings.


The Brewers received several calls about the now 26-year-old right-handed pitcher but opted to hold on, right they were as Corbin Burnes now enters the season headlining the rotation with teammate Brandon Woodruff. In his 2020 breakout campaign, Corbin Burnes was dominant in the shortened campaign that resulted in only a nine start sample size over 59.2 innings, but there"s reason to believe this might not be the best yet from Burnes.

2021 Milwaukee Brewers: Future Pitch Mix Change?

In an article written by Ben Clemens of Fangraphs called “The Sinker Paradox," the article discusses how Sinkers aren"t as valuable as they seem and how many teams are moving away from throwing sinkers/two-seam fastballs. While some teams are still moving towards the analytical movement, Corbin Burnes threw his four-seam fastball 52.5% in 2019, and that number shrunk down to 2.5% over a ten-inning increase.

Corbin Burnes doesn"t throw a lousy sinker; he doesn"t throw a great sinker. On his sinker, opponents have a .250 batting average against the pitch and only homered off the pitch once all of 2020. But the pitch also surrendered an xSLG of .581 and an xwOBA of .420; the pitch would have a subpar 18.2% whiff rate compared to the other elite pitches he had in 2020.

Despite the massive drop in four-seam fastballs, the 2021 Milwaukee Brewers could increase the pitch given the small changes made in his small 2020 sample.

The location on the four-seam fastball from Burnes through his first two seasons made a drastic change in 2020.

Burnes had two completely different years with his fastball in 2018 and 2019. Burnes four-seam fastball has averaged 95mph consistently and features spin rates in the 100th percentile in 2018 and 2019. In 2019 opponents hit .425 and had a slugging percentage of .823 off of the four-seam fastball; Burnes sample size on his fastball is so small given how Burns career-high in innings was in 2020 where he threw 59.2 innings pitched.

Corbin Burnes 2020 four-seam Location: Chart courtesy of BaseballSavant.com

Yes, it is an insanely small sample size, but the increased share of pitches up high is intriguing given the league-wide movement towards the high fastball/low-breaking pitches in recent years.

Corbin Burnes fastball has the potential to be great; the small sample size in 2020 results isn"t worth going into. They were really good, but he only threw 25 four-seam fastballs all season but with a different location, It could be nothing, but it will be interesting to monitor how the 2021 Milwaukee brewers staff uses Corbin Burnes"s pitch mix to its full potential.

Sky High Potential:

The 2021 Milwaukee Brewers will look for Burnes to carry his spring training performance that includes 11 strikeouts through 6.2 innings without allowing a run. Despite the small sample sizes each year, the 2020 major step forward for Burnes looks legit and will be capable of the high ceiling we saw in 2020.

Each season Corbin Burnes has increased his strikeout rate, and it took a huge bump when his 29.8% strikeout rate from 2019 soared to 36.2% in 2020. Burnes walked less than 10% of the batters he faced in 2018/2019, and in 2020 that number just reached 10%. The swing and miss “stuff" from Burnes is elite, and it"s for real; over the past three seasons, Burnes finished each season with whiff rates in the 97th percentile in 2019 and 89th in 2020.

Chart courtesy of BaseballSavant.com

Burnes will head into 2021 off an impressive year suppressing hard contact. Corbin Burnes in the 2021 season looking to continue his improvements in the batted ball category that saw him in 2020 keep hitters to an expected batting average (xBA) of .191 and a hard-hit rate of only 34.4%.

Burnes did an impressive job limiting home-runs in 2020, with a HR/9 of 0.30; it was a huge step forward from the 2019 HR/9 of 3.12. Corbin Burnes batted ball profile through the years gives even more reassurance of what the upside could be. Burnes has a career 46.6% ground-ball rate and an even better fly-ball rate of only 32%.

When Corbin Burnes takes the mound for the 2021 Milwaukee Brewers in just a few weeks, the right-handed pitcher will look to pile onto his numbers from 2020 and make the jump into the upper tier of pitchers in MLB. If the Brewers aren"t major competitors in 2021, you could see the right-handed pitchers" value on the trade market tested where the price will surely be high.

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Main image credit: Embed from Getty Images

TJ Horrego
805 days ago
great analysis. the graphics pack a powerful punch.
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