Burnes is a pitcher that’s often been viewed as having a high upside, but after shifting to the bullpen we were left wondering if that’s where his future truly lied. However that changed in 2020, as he spent the bulk of the year starting (9 starts, 3 relief appearances) and thriving as he pitched to a 2.11 ERA over 59.2 IP and displayed the skills we look for:
- Strikeouts – 13.27 K/9
- Control – 3.62 BB/9
- Groundballs – 46.4%
Obviously the skills don’t justify quite such a good ERA, as he benefited from a bit of luck (80.1% strand rate). He also will likely struggle to keep the ball in the ballpark a little bit more, after yielding just 2 HR in ’20. That’s a far cry from the 17 he allowed in 49.0 IP the year before, and while his struggles won’t be that severe they need to be monitored.
That said, could a change in approach justify the improved results? Burnes shifted away of a fourseam fastball (53.55% in ’19) and slider (31.12% in ’18) pitcher, using six pitches to garner his success:
- Sinker – 30.82%
- Cut-Fastball – 29.73%
- Slider – 12.59%
- Changeup – 11.0%
- Curveball – 8.72%
- Fourseam Fastball – 7.14%
All of the pitches were productive, with a .250 BAA on his sinker being his “worst” mark. His changeup (20.72% Whiff%) and slider (27.56% Whiff%) were his best swing and miss pitches, though his curveball (18.18%) and cut-fastball (16.67%) also did the job. Those marks do justify the gaudy strikeout numbers, while the groundballs should be solid as well.
With always solid control, it all comes together nicely. Maybe he’s not an elite groundball pitcher, but with the strikeout rate he doesn’t need to be. Burnes appears to be truly emerging, and the time to buy appears to have come and gone.
Sources – Fangraphs, Brooks Baseball