Corbin Burnes entered this season with high expectations. He's one of the favorites to win the Cy Young and after a contract dispute with the Brewers, the right-hander seemed prime for another dominant season.
Unfortunately, the former Cy Young winner has not performed to his standards, and with multiple injuries to the Brewers starting rotation this is not the best time for a cold streak. With the season now almost two months in, some have raised the question, Is it time to press the panic button on Corbin Burnes?
As of May 24th, Burnes has posted a pedestrian 3.97 ERA in 10 starts this season. Considering what the expectation is for Burnes, this is concerning. The big difference with Burnes this season is an increase in walks and a decrease in strikeouts. In 2022 Burnes was in the 89th percentile for strikeout rate and 72nd percentile for walk rate. Jump forward to 2023 and Burnes is now in the 40th percentile for strikeout rate and 46th percentile for walk rate. He quite literally went from having one of the best K/BB ratios in baseball to being below average in that regard.
What is causing Burnes to generate less strikeouts?
It's difficult to pinpoint the issue, when digging into mechanics and pitch sequence you will not find a notable difference comparing this year with the previous. Burnes' command has been slightly worse but nothing to write home about. It's more likely that the lower production is a product of hitters changing their approach against Burnes. Many hitters have started sitting on the low cutter, Burnes' bread and butter pitch. The cutter is still a good pitch and Burnes is still pitching at a pretty high level, the hitters have just made adjustments.
How can Burnes counter this?
One thing Burnes could experiment with is throwing more high fastballs, this would help prevent hitters from being able to sit on his cutter. That's an approach that has worked well for Adrian Houser, who currently owns a 2.25 ERA in four starts this year. Burnes, much like Houser, pounds the bottom quadrant of the zone with his best pitch. This is great but in order for that to be effective, it can't be predictable, and by giving hitters a different look Burnes can prevent them from being able to sit on the cutter.
So is it time to press the panic button on Corbin Burnes?
I'm going to say no. This has been a rough stretch but Burnes' track record speaks for itself, he has earned a long leash. Every player goes through tough stretches, every player has to make adjustments to stay on top, that's just the game and that's what separates the Hall of Famers from the All-Stars. Hopefully, Burnes can make the necessary changes to get back on track sooner than later.