The Brewers haven’t had a Cy Young winner since 1982. Corbin Burnes could be on track to change that.
If you’re a returning reader to Reviewing the Brew, you’re probably thinking “Here this guy goes again about Corbin Burnes winning a Cy Young award”. Yes, I’ve been talking about this for two years now, and while 2019 was a bust, things were looking a lot better for the Brewers young starter in 2020.
As the 2020 season went along, Burnes kept pitching better and better and was actually garnering some recognition as a Cy Young candidate.
In the end, he finished one out shy of qualifying for league leaderboards after leaving his final start due to injury. He wasn’t named a finalist for the award in 2020, but he’s likely to have at least some votes when the final tallies are released on Wednesday night.
UPDATE: Burnes finished 6th in NL Cy Young voting with one 4th place vote and ten 5th place votes, totaling 12 points.
2019 wasn’t the year for him, and he fell short in 2020. But perhaps 2021 is going to be the year where Corbin Burnes wins his first Cy Young award. Here are three reasons why.
1. A full year entrenched in the starting rotation
The reason Burnes fell short of the 60 IP necessary to qualify for the league leaderboards was because he wasn’t fully entrenched in the starting rotation to begin the year. He got the start his first time through, but didn’t make it past the fourth inning.
Then the next few times through he was in the bullpen, acting as back half of a piggyback with Brett Anderson. It wasn’t until an opening popped up in the rotation that Burnes was able to slide back in as a starter full time, and from there he was lights out.
In a stretch of five starts from August 28th to September 19th, Burnes went 29.2 IP, allowing just one earned run, six walks, and 47 strikeouts with a 0.30 ERA. In that stretch, he lowered his season ERA from 3.42 to a miniscule 1.77. He went six full innings for the first time in his career and then made it through seven for the first time.
Coming off a rough 2019 season, the Brewers were initially hesitant to trust Burnes going that deep and having a permanent role in the rotation. After his performance in 2020, Burnes has eased those concerns and he’ll enter 2021 as a co-ace of the staff with Brandon Woodruff.
Craig Counsell is going to be comfortable letting Burnes ride as long as he can in 2021, which will give him more innings, the chance to rack up more strikeouts, and impress Cy Young voters even more.
Durability and going deep into games is very important when it comes to deciding a Cy Young winner. Now that Burnes has shown Counsell he can be trusted going deeper into games, he’ll get the chance to do so more often next year.
2. Burnes is still improving
What we saw of Corbin Burnes in 2020 was not a completely finished product. It was an improved product to be sure, but he was still making adjustments as the season went along.
His cutter usage continued to increase towards the end of the year and it turned out to be his best pitch and the one he most often threw. Prior to 2020, Burnes’ slider was seen as his best pitch, but he didn’t even need to use it that much.
Burnes possesses five pitches in his arsenal, giving him a number of different ways to attack hitters. He previously relied on a fastball-slider combo, but in 2020 switching to a sinker-cutter-slider heavy approach with a changeup and curveball also mixed in every now and then.
With the pitching lab still at his disposal and his increased mental strength, Burnes is poised to be an even better overall pitcher in 2021. He may not get an ERA below 2.11 next year in 30+ starts, but he’s going to be dominant. Burnes has the ability to slow the game down mentally and that will only help him going forward as he refines that ability and keeps it for every single start.
3. Limiting the long ball
What was Burnes’ biggest problem in 2019? He kept giving up home runs. He allowed 11 home runs in his first four outings before he was pulled from the rotation. For whatever reason, he kept serving up meatballs in the middle of the strike zone with a fastball that didn’t move very much.
Burnes allowed 17 home runs in just 49 IP that year. In 2020, Burnes gave up just two home runs in 59.2 IP. That’s good for a 0.30 HR/9, which is a big improvement over his 3.12 HR/9 from 2019.
His HR/FB ratio went from 38.2% in 2019 down to just 4.7% in 2020. He actually gave up a higher percentage of fly balls in 2020, but they stayed in the ballpark this time around. With Burnes changing up his arsenal and improving his command within the strike zone in 2020, he was able to keep the barrels to a minimum.
Should this continue in 2021 and he keeps the ball in the ballpark, that will help propel him to a Cy Young victory. He limited the homers in 2020 and because of that, among other factors, he entered the discussion for the award.
Limiting home runs generally speaking means limiting the amount of runs you give up. Limiting the amount of runs given up leads to a lower ERA, pitching deeper into games, and being recognized as one of the league’s best. Being recognized as one of the league’s best puts you up for awards like the Cy Young.
Everything is trending upward for Burnes and since he’s going to continue to improve in 2021 and have a permanent spot in the Brewers rotation, he’s going to get the innings necessary and most likely the results necessary to push him to a Cy Young award.
The Brewers have had two Cy Young winners in their history, with Pete Vuckovich in 1982 and Rollie Fingers in 1981. They’ve never had a winner in the National League.