Corbin Burnes broke out for the Brewers in 2020. After nearly everything that could go wrong in 2019 did, Burnes fundamentally reinvented himself as a pitcher. Here’s how he can take another step forward and become the best pitcher in baseball.
Brewers RHP Corbin Burnes broke out in 2020. Could he take it a step further by avoiding barrels by throwing more cutters?
In 59.2 innings, Burnes allowed nine barrels across 125 batted balls allowed in 2020. Barrels are batted balls that, given their combination of launch angle and exit velocity, have a minimum batting average of .500 and OPS of 1.500.
7.2% of all batted balls in 2020 against Burnes, which was down from his 11.7% in 2019, which was among the worst in baseball (Josh Hader had a Barrel % of 12.6%). His 7.2% barrel percent in 2020 placed him in the 48th percentile among MLB pitchers.
When breaking down the pitches that Burnes allowed barrels on last season, six of them came on sinkers. After 2019, Burnes became a sinker-baller, throwing his sinker one-third of the time last season. Burnes’ sinker favored the inside edge of the zone, one of his two home runs allowed was a sinker that got away, and ended up in the zone.
In 2019, a vast majority of Burnes’ barrels allowed came on the 4-seam fastball. Burnes nearly eliminated that from his repertoire in 2020, only throwing 25 on the season (2.5% of all pitches he threw).
Burnes averaged 16.5 inches of vertical drop and 11.8 inches of horizontal movement on his sinker last season, both of which were under league average.
Two of the barrels that Burnes allowed in 2020 came from his cutter, which he threw 31.5% of the time. Burnes preferred to throw his cutter low and outside, his cutter averaged 21.7 inches of vertical drop, and 4.3 inches of horizontal movement last season.
Burnes was able to reinvent himself, switching from a four-seam fastball pitcher, to a sinker baller, with a strong cutter.
His cutter has been oft-posted by Pitching Ninja.
Corbin Burnes’ 2020 was amazing. It is not yet clear if he can replicate the success for a full 162 game season, but indicators out of Arizona show that he is on that path. To have an even better season, it may be worth looking at his cutter, and making it his primary pitch.
In 2020, Burnes’ cutter induced whiffs on 32.9% of all that he threw. His Sinker induced whiff’s 18.4% of the time. Looking at expected statistics, the xSLG (expected slugging percentage) on his Cutter was .285 compared to .581 for his Sinker. His Put Away%, which is two-strike pitches that resulted in strikeouts, was 29.5% for his cutter, opposed to 21.7% for his sinker.
This is not to say he should stop throwing his Sinker, it is a great pitch for him, he has had past success in revisiting his pitch selection, and perhaps making his Cutter his primary pitch would allow him to take the next step forward, and lock up the 2021 NL Cy Young Award.
Burnes has found success by hammering pitches low, and making batters chase. Another offseason of working with Manny Pina, Omar Narvaez, Chris Hook, and his own development, will continue to benefit Burnes. And if he continues to effectively throw his Slider and Cutter, the ascension we saw will reach new heights.
The cutter has turned Burnes into the dominant pitcher the Brewers always thought he could be. By throwing it more, he could be even better.