The Milwaukee Brewers have an Ace in the Hole

The Milwaukee Brewers have an Ace level pitcher you either forgot about or didn’t know about. Why RHP Corbin Burnes could put it all together in 2020.

After a positive showing in 2018, many pundits had Milwaukee Brewers RHP Corbin Burnes as a breakout candidate for the 2019 season. The Brewers gave Burnes a spot in their rotation and it was a Chernobyl level disaster. Burnes was tagged for an 8.82 ERA and couldn’t keep the ball in the yard with a 3.12 HR/9 mark that was one of the worst in baseball.

Pitchers and Catchers are reporting to spring training now and it’s time for optimism. Burnes is a breakout candidate for 2020. Hell, he might even become the Brewers ace.

There’s plenty to like in Burnes profile. Start with the fact that he struck out 30% of the hitters he faced and his 21.3% K-BB rate would have been top 25 among all pitchers had he qualified. His batted ball profile is quite appealing to as Burnes got GBs 45% of the time and infield pop-ups 18% of the time.

The fact that 63% of his batted balls do minimal damage and striking out nearly 1/3 of all hitters, Burnes is doing some things really well.

If you look at Burnes’ expected statistics you can see how unlucky his 2019 season was. Burnes had the second-largest difference in all of baseball between his opponents’ BA (.330) and xBA (.272) with a .058 point differential. His wOBA (.417) vs xwOBA (.352)  metrics weren’t good either as his he had a .068 point difference.

To put it all in perspective, Nelson Cruz ran an identical .417 wOBA in 2019. It’s going to be hard to be successful as a pitcher when every Burnes faced hit like one of the top offensive weapons in baseball. Burnes will need more than simple regression though as his xwOBA of .352 matched that of Shohei Ohtani.

Burnes raw stuff is impressive enough that he should have no problem succeeding. His fastball averaged 95.2 MPH and had nearly the best spin rate in all of baseball. As you can tell by this heat map, Burnes just left too many pitches in the most dangerous part of the plate. There’s further proof of this as his fastball had an xwOBA of .449 which was well below average.

His slider too is incredibly nasty visually and statistically. The pitch has above average vertical and horizontal movement and is equally impressive by spin rate. Burnes does an excellent job of throwing it for a strike and as a chase pitch.

Burnes should actually start throwing his sliders more than the 31% last season as it had a pristine .202 xwOBA which made it one of the best in baseball. For context, hitters were Jeff Mathis against the pitch. Corbin Burnes breaking out might be one Lance McCullers trick away from becoming an ace.

Those two pitches alone should give Burnes a floor of a #3 starter. Pitching is hard but Burnes has a ton of things already going for him. Any given pitchers is always one tweak away from breaking out. Corbin Burnes would be a good bet as any because has some of the best raw stuff in baseball. Even when he was getting rocked by MLB hitters he was still getting strikeouts and filling up the zone.

The Milwaukee Brewers will surely work on plan for Burnes to put 2019 in the past whether it is more slider usage or a completely different pitch plan. The Brewers weren’t able to get much pitching help this offseason but their forgotten former prospect could be on the verge of becoming their ace.

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