Brewer Spotlight

Why They Can’t Hit The Man With Glasses

Corbin Burnes is 24-years-old and coming off his debut year as a multiple-inning reliever for The Brewers. Nothing big, he just went 7-0 down the stretch for a team in the thick of a pennant run. BREW MATHs zooms in on the small sample size Burnes’ career offers & proves you don’t need vision correction to see his greatness…


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45,000 Wisconsinites all gather to watch as their blood alcohol levels rise to levels that more appropriately reflect their surroundings. Nestled shoulder to shoulder in Miller Park, their inhibitions start to give way as the game comes into focus. The murmurs in the first two innings have become all-out chants. The ‘wave’ ripples the circumference of the upper deck. Politics, religion, taxes and the onslaught fans know as life take a back seat to the palpable energy crackling before them. The pressure builds in direct proportion to the stakes…

Corbin Burnes casually strolls to the mound.

Only his red cheeks and focused stare clue you in to what he is about to unleash. The baby-faced 24-year-old is here to take your damn lunch. He operates with a quick confidence and composure that evokes the greats. Burnes could have been a surgeon in another life but lucky for Brewers Fans, he’d rather employ his technical acumen to eviscerate hitters….

BREW MATHs takes a focused look at The Man With Glasses.

CAREER / 2018 Review

*** Advanced Metrics Link to Summaries / Explanations ***

By virtue of being 24, Burnes has not had enough time to amass a large sample size. So to begin the analysis, we will expand the dataset to include his minor league stats:

 

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2018 Final (MKE Only) Stats: xFIP 3.77 / SIERA 3.49 / ERA 2.61 / 7-0

Everything is better than MLB average… pretty good for a rookie

  • Well, OK then…
    • He is consistently above the average K% rate.
    • He was below the MLB average BB% rate last year.
    • If you take out the ‘2018 AAA’ anomaly in WHIP, his average is just over one.
  • This starts us off on the right foot…
    • He clearly controls the aspects of the game that are under his influence
    • He strikes guys out, does not give them free bases and on average, lets only one on per inning (via hit and/or walk)

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The trend in Burnes’ xFIP is fairly clear-cut… He starts by pitching out of his mind, has a bit of a rough spot in July-August and then settles in at the end of the season.

Let’s investigate to see if there was a reason for the midseason difficulty…

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Interesting… Burnes wasn’t striking as many guys out during the period his xFIP bounced up. Also of note, he was also walking guys less. The data pushes us to look more closely at how he controlled his pitches:

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This shows us how opposing batters were hitting the pitches that he was trying to get them to chase (and miss!). Suddenly, knowing which pitches he is using (and when) becomes paramount in our analysis:

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  • As the year progresses, he uses the four-seamer and curve more often while limiting use of the slider.
    • Therefore, it follows:
      • The reason he struggled was because Major League Hitters were starting to catch up to his slider
      • The reason he rebounded is because he learned to rebalance his pitch selection and keep guys on their heels by optimizing his pitch arsenal.

The video of Burnes’ debut shows him ending the eighth inning with a strikeout. Since it was early in the year, we can guess what kind of pitch it will be:


PITCH ARSENAL / SELECTION

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The overall trend here supports our theory that varying his pitches optimized his success:

  • The fast ball is used slightly more as the season goes on
  • The slider is used progressively less
  • The curve ball is sprinkled in more effectively as the season progresses and is what rebalances his approach.
    • The slider starts the year as his “go to strike-out pitch” but by the end of the year it is the curveball.
    • AHA! Finally the pitch breakdown helps make it clear… he effectively uses all of his pitches, all of the time… hitters are forced to guess:

This video shows him pitching later in the season when he learns to lean a bit more on his curveball. Turn the volume up and listen for the contact… it sounds like the bat hits a tomato. The only reason Yeli is able to gun the runner at home is because Burnes had Casali on his heels:

The pitch you just watched was 78.5mph. The hit’s exit velocity was 68.4… you don’t have to be a physicist to know that the ball was not hit well. It went 199 feet which wouldn’t be a homer in a little league park.


VELOCITY

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  • Burnes’ four-Seamer averaged almost 96mph to finish the year (Sep)
    • His fastball is lively and contains more movement than his effortless throwing motion would suggest
  • He throws a 86-87mph slider with late break
  • His sweeping curveball hovers around 80mph. Burnes has three primary pitches and they all come at different angles and speeds. This makes it very difficult on hitters… Somewhat predictably, The Man With Glasses plays mind games.

PLACEMENT

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CB pounds the strike zone with his pitches and wants you to chase his slider. Of note, the curveball is often thrown in a ‘hittable area’ which speaks to how difficult it is to make contact with. To make things worse on hitters, he does not show his hand. This budding ace makes all of his pitches look pretty much the same:


RELEASE POINT

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Everything comes from about the same spot making it difficult for hitters to distinguish what is being thrown until it is too late. Like a magician, he makes their reaction time disappear. There are a lot of pitchers on the planet that can throw hard. What separates the men from the boys is their ability to consistently keep hitters off-balance with deception and control. As we have already seen, Burnes is figuring this out quickly.

The radial chart below echoes his prodigal nature… Major Leaguers cannot make quality contact with what he is throwing. Specifically, he forced 63 batters into topped or under-hit balls while only allowing seven of his pitches to be barreled (Roll out the barrel!)

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So is he just getting lucky?

For that we need to consult his quality of pitch (QOP/QOPA) score.


Quality of Pitch (QOP)

The quality of pitch does a good job of taking the hitter out of the equation and focuses on rating what the pitcher can control. It uses PITCHf/x camera data to assign value to every pitch thrown. Ultimately, QOP/QOPA is too complex to get into here but please follow the link to BREW MATHs explanation page. Even if you are not a nerd, the scoring system is easy to grasp:

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Here the pitches he throws are broken into their separate components:

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  • What his pitches may lack in movement, they make up for in velocity
    • Only his slider can be considered ‘average.’ All the rest of his pitches are of very high quality. Keep in mind, he is still learning…

THE RESULTs

 1. Poor contact

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2. High Whiff Rates, and…

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3. Paltry batting averages

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In fact, the only time opposing hitter’s make solid contact with Burnes is when he is playing it safe while behind in the count. Even then, it can be a struggle in the batter’s box and mapping opponents average exit velocity (by pitch count) proves it:Screen Shot 2019-01-09 at 8.26.26 PM.png


BREW MATHs INTERPRETATIONs / CONCLUSIONs

  • Corbin Burnes has a fast ball with elite velocity (96+)
    • He couples that with an evolving slider and an effective curveballHe uses them both to strike hitters out but has been using the curve progressively more.
  • In his first year, he performed very well by any metric. He demonstrates wisdom beyond his years and navigates the strike zone efficiently.
    • His consistent delivery and release point keep hitters guessing. This leads to poor contact and below average exit velocities. Maybe even better, to high whiff rates and low batting averages.
  • Burnes is a young pitcher who is still getting better
    • He began 2018 throwing a relatively higher percentage of sliders which hitters figured out after a month or two.
    • Burnes showed great ability to adapt and started sprinkling in more curveballs as the year progressed.
    • The more balanced approach has translated to great success on the field. Even in the high pressure, high stakes games he pitched in last year.
  • The 24-year-old has immense potential and has received high praise from everyone he has played with.
    • A student of the game who has already shown that he has what it takes to exceed in a “sink or swim” profession… how to perform his best when his back is against a wall.
  • Ultimately, he has what it takes to be at the top of a rotation and for years to come. He has the God-given ability to overcome mistakes as he learns his craft. His fastball is consistently above 95mph and sets up the 16mph difference between itself and the curve.
    • While relief pitchers can get away with a more ramshackle approach, Burnes demonstrated growth in all the right areas. In 2019, he should get his chance to be a regular part of a Big League Rotation… On a real contender
  • After signing Grandal to a $20M contract it’s no secret… The time is now. Burnes has been refining his approach and seems to be putting it all together at the perfect time. How his skills translate as a MLB Starter remains to be seen but there is great reason for hope.
  • The Man With Glasses will have your lunch now…

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