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Corbin Burnes is a spin rate darling

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The rookie has been electric so far in the big leagues.

Milwaukee Brewers v Miami Marlins Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

Corbin Burnes entered the 2018 season ranked as Milwaukee’s top minor league pitching prospect. He began the year in the rotation for the AAA Colorado Springs Sky Sox, but given the needs of the organization, the front office decided that the best way to break him into the big leagues would be in a relief capacity. The 23 year old made his MLB debut on July 10th, and in the two months since then has become an important member of this year’s bullpen while shining some light on what his future may hold as a starter.

To say that Burnes has been successful as a multi-inning and high-leverage reliever would be understating the level at which he’s contributed this season. Put simply, the right hander has looked electric. He’s racked up 29.0 innings across 22 appearances and has pitched to a terrific 2.79 ERA. Burnes has struck out 28 batters against nine walks for a K/BB ratio of better than 3:1. He’s been taken deep only three times, has kept the ball on the ground at a 48.7% clip, and has allowed hard contact at a slightly better than league-average rate. Deserved Run Average believes that the rookie’s overall body of work has been 24% more effective than that of the league-average hurler.

Coming up as a starter in the minor leagues, most of the scouting reports indicated that Burnes didn’t have outstanding pure “stuff,” but rather four solid pitches that played up due to his plus command. Pitching in relief may be a factor here, but so far Burnes is showing some of the best “stuff” in baseball in terms of spin rates and whiffs.

Corbin Burnes Arsenal

Pitch Avg Velo (MPH) Whiff Rate Avg Spin Rate (RPM) Spin Rate Percentile
Pitch Avg Velo (MPH) Whiff Rate Avg Spin Rate (RPM) Spin Rate Percentile
Four-seam 95.5 10.57% 2559 98
Slider 86.9 25.64% 2701 92
Curveball 80.2 14.29% 2767 88

As a starter, Burnes works with a fastball/slider/curveball/split-change cache. In relief, Burnes has essentially dropped his cambio (which Pitch Info classifies as a split, but Pitch F/X says is a normal changeup) and has relied mostly on his fastball and slider while also mixing in a curveball. Although Burnes’ 8.69 K/9 doesn’t exactly jump off the page in this era of increasing strikeouts, his ability to miss bats is among the best in baseball. 506 pitchers have thrown at least 20 innings in the big leagues this year; among that group, Burnes ranks #17 overall with a 15.7% swinging strike rate. His total places him in the top four percent of all pitchers in baseball this year.

Swinging strike rate correlates closely with spin rate, so it should come as no surprise that each of Burnes’ individual pitches places him in elite company in terms of RPMs. His fastball seemingly explodes out of his hand, approaching the plate at 95-96 MPH with a spin rate that ranks among the top two percent (!!!) of all players who have thrown a pitch this season. The slider has been Burnes’ best swing-and-miss pitch, drawing a whiff more than a quarter of the time its thrown with a spin rate ranking in the top eight percent of the league. In fact, batters have hit only .121 against the offering. And that curveball is no slouch either.

Going forward, a slight adjustment in terms of location may help Burnes reconcile his elite swing-and-miss rates and only ‘good’ strikeout totals. Unlike most of Milwaukee’s arms, Burnes has not pitched up in the zone very often with his heater this season, focusing his location mostly in the lower portions of the strike zone. A high-velocity, high-spin fastball like Corbin’s is going to be most effective and draw more swings and misses when it is elevated. An modification in fastball location similar to the one made by Jimmy Nelson in 2017 could be in order, and may very well assist Burnes in taking his game to an even higher level.

Corbin Burnes has already proven that he has the ability to be a dynamic reliever against the best hitters in the world. He has shown that he can throw three excellent pitches - plus a split-change that is still waiting for its moment in the sun - with terrific command, and he boasts both the body build and delivery to be durable innings-eater. Burnes will get the chance to win a spot as a starting pitcher next spring, and it doesn’t seem like he’s too far away from becoming a force in Milwaukee’s rotation. The kid looks like every bit of a future stud.

Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs, Baseball Prospectus, Brooks Baseball, and Statcast