He throws a fastball. He throws a slider. He introduces the subtle slight-of-hand with a curve ball. The description could fit one of many relief pitchers who have walked through the doors of Miller Park in Milwaukee. The description is also specific to the debut of Corbin Burnes; a 95 MPH fastball, 2,900 RPM curveball pitcher who paints the plate with spinning fire. The diverse intersection between his fastball, curveball, and more commonly used slider makes Burnes another stable relief pitcher. However, the potential of a changeup with dazzling mechanics have Burnes on pace to fulfill his long-term projection as a starter. The 2018 extended relief situations are only a fine-tuning process, so his meticulous approach will become elegantly meticulous as a starter.
Burnes sample-size is small; three games small. Eventually, as all relievers do, one-bad pitch will create a problematic scenario. The question becomes how Burnes reacts toward that controversy, defining his understanding of strategy negotiation in the MLB. Mechanically, Burnes has the fundamentals to skillfully react, deriving strike-outs with a fastball hitting an average 95.3 MPH, his 87.7 MPH slider with control of a whistling 2,909 RPMs, and his curve ball at an equally mesmerizing 2,922 RPMs.
Comparatively, his slider is one revolution less than Luis Severino, and his curveball has greater spin than Rich Hill or Justin Verlander. Regard, greater effective spin rate does not intrinsically make a pitcher better, but it provides the mechanical solution and optimal projection to build intrinsic control. Spin rate is an essential sign of manipulating batters.
Burnes makes his spin rate effective with a quick release. His pace of pitching further assists in pitch disguise, sitting at 22.8 seconds above the average of 25 seconds. Release points are fairly-well grouped, albeit, the fastball does tend to be released a bit higher than the slider. Maybe more importantly is his curveball is released from the same position as his fastball. Hypothetically, once the change up is released, pitching charts should show that his fastball, curveball, and changeup are released from the same slot. Add in pace of play, and Burnes manipulates batters with intensity and deception.
There are two projection points for Burnes, both unfairly high in Severino and teammate Josh Hader. The purpose is not to heap on all-star expectations early in Burnes’ career, rather to show two optimal styles he can evolve into.
The Severino projection is based upon the quick-pace of play, spine rate, and indication Milwaukee prefers Burnes as a starter. Under this theory, he would need to add in a changeup that can assist in disguising his fastball, forcing batters to swing too early. Severino rose to all-star status on the changeup/slider interlay with distinguished velocity, presenting a velocity map that shows greater control of velocity as he advanced his career. Severino has added two MPH to his fastball (96 to 98 MPH) and increasingly tweaked his changeup – Burnes has the fundamentals to follow this model.
The Hader projection leaves Burnes in the bullpen if his changeup is slow to evolve or a curveball which falls to mediocre control. Hader built a deadeye slider into his arsenal to become a definitive relief pitcher. He has precise control over velocity and placement to set-up pitch one with a fastball, then strike back with a contrasting fastball or slider. Burnes has the fastball quality to match Hader and the ability to control left or right-handed batters. Add in a changeup, and Burnes complements Hader in Milwaukee by becoming a three-pitch, set-up pitcher for innings six through eight.
Through three games in the MLB, Burnes has a swinging-strike rate of 20.5 percent and a first-strike rate of 61.9 percent while hitting the zone 38 percent. His game arsenal shows a favorability to begin with an inside-pitch, then overwhelmingly attack the shadow of the zone. Five of his 20 sliders which have hit the corners of the zone have gone for swinging-strike outs, while another resulted in a ground-out. Six more went for balls, one for a foul, and seven for strikes. Hence, batters have had a hard-time locating his moving slider.
Burnes’ performance against the Los Angeles Dodgers offers insight into his awareness. He relieved Chase Anderson in the fifth with bases loaded and no outs. In a bamboozling play, he worked with catcher Erik Katz to obtain an out on Clayton Kershaw at home. He then threw two sliders to Matt Kemp resulting in swinging-strikes, a fastball outside resulting in a ball which set-up a slider for the final swinging-strike. More importantly, these were pitches with low-contact probability – the one thing which had to be avoided was Kemp obtaining a pop-up to scuttle Joc Pederson or Manny Machado home. Obtaining the punctual strikeout allowed Burnes freedom to throw inside the zone against Max Muncy – any result, including the resulting fly-out, was appropriate, thus Burnes hit Muncy with his 97 MPH fastball.
If Burnes maintains the elegance he showed against Los Angeles, he qualifies to build a skillful foray for Milwaukee either as a starter or reliever. He might be another generic reliever for now; time in the MLB, however, is the one-factor holding him back from creating powerful uniqueness with generic presentations.