Milwaukee Brewers: Corbin Burnes getting another shot in rotation

CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 13: Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers during the game at Wrigley Field on August 13, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images)
CHICAGO, ILLINOIS - AUGUST 13: Corbin Burnes #39 of the Milwaukee Brewers throws a pitch against the Milwaukee Brewers during the game at Wrigley Field on August 13, 2020 in Chicago, Illinois. (Photo by Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images) /

The Milwaukee Brewers’ starting rotation has been nothing if not volatile this season, and Corbin Burnes is back in after a few long bullpen appearances.

Last season, Corbin Burnes started the season in the Milwaukee Brewers’ rotation, but after less than desirable fastball command led to 11 home runs given up in four starts, he was taken out of the rotation and sent to the minors.

This year, he also started in the rotation, starting the second game of the season and throwing a solid 3 1/3 innings, giving up only one earned run. This time, he lost his spot in the rotation not because of anything he did wrong, but because it was just more of a spot start for the injured Brett Anderson who came back to take his next turn in the rotation.

Burnes then assumed a role as a long reliever or piggyback starter, throwing 12 2/3 innings over three appearances out of the bullpen and giving up five earned runs for an ERA of 3.55. He also has only given up one home run this year, so he’s moving the right direction in that respect.

So far this season, Burnes is striking out more guys, allowing fewer hits, and fewer home runs than not just last year, but also his 2018 season when he was a crucial bullpen piece in the Brewers’ run to the NLCS. He’s struck out 13.5 batters per nine innings, allowed just 4.5 hits and 0.6 home runs per nine. In his great 2018 season, those numbers were 8.3 strikeouts, 6.4 hits and 0.9 homers.

The one thing that has plagued Burnes has been walks. He’s given up 6.2 walks per nine, compared to 2.6 in 2018 and 3.7 in 2019. His fastball command has escaped him a lot this year and he needs to get it back on track if he’s going to be a consistent starter for the Brewers.

He also needs it to get ahead in counts so batters are on their heels and will swing at his slider outside of the zone. He likes to throw it for swings and misses, but it’s less effective when the hitter is ahead in the count and they don’t need to battle and try to fight it off.

When Burnes is locating the fastball, however, it’s a weapon. His fastball spin rate is in the 99th percentile in the entire MLB. That means when it’s up in the zone it stays up in the zone and barely drops at all which could help a hitter get to it. With all the backspin and how straight it flies, it almost gives the illusion to hitters that it’s rising.

Another key to Burnes success this season has been mixing his pitches better. Last year, he threw 52.5 percent fastballs and 31 percent sliders, making him basically a two-pitch pitcher even though he had more in his arsenal.

This offseason he developed a harder version of his slider, which baseball savant classifies as a cutter. You may have heard of the 94 mile per hour slider he threw in Spring Training. This “cutter” is that pitch and interestingly he throws it almost exclusively to left-handed hitters, in fact, he throws it more to lefties than his fastball and then throws the 86 mile per hour version from last year to righties.

All this is to say that cutter and slider are basically the same and last year his percentage of fastballs and sliders was over 83 percent, and this season, including cutters, it’s 71.9 percent.

So what does he throw with these extra ten percent of pitches that aren’t sliders and fastballs? A combination of curveballs and changeups.

It’s always been my opinion that Burnes should use his curve more as it has a spin rate in the 94th percentile and it’s average spin rate is actually slightly higher than his slider which is known as his best pitch. He’s used it slightly more this season, but only early in at-bats to try to get the hitter off-balance, not as a put away pitch.

Burnes is also using his changeup a lot more to left-handed hitters. He’s only thrown it to lefties and it’s accounted for 24.2 percent of his pitches to them. In 37 changeups, he hasn’t left a single one high in the zone or really out over the plate and there was just one harmless single by Victor Caratini when he pulled  a good pitch down the line on a play that Justin Smoak could have made.

The fastball and nasty wipeout slider are Burnes’ staple pitches, but the changeup, which tails away from lefties, and curveball, which should be used more in two-strike counts, are the keys to his success. Relievers can sometimes rely on two pitches if they’re good enough, like Hader with his fastball-slider combo or Corey Knebel’s fastball-curveball mix. However, if Burnes is going to stick in the rotaion, his other secondary pitches need to be more frequent.

From the first night I saw Burnes pitch when he was called up, I knew he had the stuff to be great for a long time. It’s just a matter of consistency with his command and keeping hitters guessing that could make or break his year and eventually his career. He has legitimate Cy Young stuff in terms of spin rate and velocity, but he’s not that caliber of pitcher yet because he hasn’t put it all together in a major league start. Hopefully, that changes against Minnesota and he sticks in the rotation for the rest of the season.

dark. Next. After Slow Start, Justin Smoak is Heating Up

What do you think of Corbin Burnes being back in the Milwaukee Brewers’ rotation and do you think he’ll last there? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @DairylandXpress.