Looking back on the 2019 season, it looked as though Corbin Burnes was aboard the struggle bus with no real expected departure. He was the minor league pitcher of the year in 2017, had an amazing 2018 major league debut but things in 2019 just didn’t go the way he expected them to.
By May of last year, Burnes had lost his spot in the starting rotation and began the cycle of taking trips to the minors; All while continuing to work in the bullpen to improve his performance so he could get back into the rotation. When you thought the work was going to be worth it, it wasn’t; Burnes was heading towards a downward spiral.
Corbin Burnes put a lot of blame for his failure on his approach. He had a good high-spin fastball, but it wasn’t enough. The slider was something Burnes was really good at, but was throwing a fastball low in the zone, making it a bad pitch in his arsenal.
In the beginning of 2020, Burnes said that he was going to make this year his turn around year. Back in February of this year, Burnes talked to reporters in Arizona, telling them he had almost completely thrown away his fastball approach and was working the much loved slider to ensure a spot in the starting rotation. He also mentioned to reporters that he was working in the offseason to improve his slider and make it one of the best in baseball.
Burnes had started 2019 with four pitches; A fastball, a slider, a curveball and a splitter. He focused a lot on his fastball, throwing that over 50% of the time, while his praised slider was only being thrown 31% of the time. Rarely did he use the curveball or splitter when he was on the mound.
So using two pitches in the rotation wasn’t going to get him very far or add to the success. Though he’s limited his fastball to only 44% of the time, he’s picked up some velocity and added some speed to said pitch. In working that fastball, Burnes found comfort in throwing a sinking two-seamer. That pitch has been a big contributor to his success.
Going into this weird 2020 season, Corbin Burnes had sealed a spot within the starting rotation but things weren’t looking promising. Replacing Eric Lauer in the rotation as he was sent to the Alternate Training Site, Burnes has made a name for himself and put himself in the conversation of Cy Young Award candidates.
Currently posting an ERA of 1.98, here’s Burnes’ stats in comparison to the rest of the National League:
-ERA: 1.98 (4th)
-Strikeouts Per 9 IP: 13.320 (1st)
-Hits per 9 IP: 4.860 (1st)
-Strikeouts: 74 (4th)
-FIP (Field Independent Pitching): 1.94 (1st)
In his start against the St. Louis Cardinals on Monday, Corbin Burnes knocked out his second straight 10+ strikeout game, his third in the last four starts. He’s only two away from his career high of 12 strikeouts in a game, which he obtained on the 31st of March in 2019 against the Cards.
To put Burnes’ name in the Cy Young Award discussion next to names such as Trevor Bauer, Jacob deGrom, and Yu Darvish, sounds a little crazy, right? To me it was crazy at first to even think that he would be back in the starting rotation since the Brewers had acquired Eric Lauer. But, looking at Lauer’s performance, I didn’t really have high expectations for our starting rotation. Corbin Burnes has quite literally done a complete 180 from being sent down to Triple-A and posting an 8.46 ERA, to a Cy Young candidate.
As the Brewers continue to truck through September with a little less than two weeks of the regular season left, Corbin Burnes just might be the saving grace for their team. If it’s anything like last year, Burnes will be a huge part of bringing the Brewers into the postseason and playoffs picture.