The next Brewers Cy Young Winner? Why Corbin Burnes deserves baseball’s top pitching prize

September 30th, 2021

Corbin Burnes is no stranger to hype.

Entering 2021, the fourth-year righty was a trendy breakout pick after producing some eye-popping numbers and finishing sixth in Cy Young voting during the shortened 2020 season.

Even with those lofty expectations, Burnes has managed to take his game to an even higher level this year, establishing himself as one of baseball’s elite aces and a bonafide Cy Young candidate.

With the regular season winding down this week, here is the case for Corbin Burnes to win the National League Cy Young Award in 2021.

Limiting Damage

Burnes might just be baseball’s stingiest pitcher in 2021.

For one, he leads the Majors in ERA (2.29) and ranks second in WHIP (0.93) and average against (.200) – three of the most commonly used metrics in Cy Young evaluation. But Burnes especially separates himself from the pack when factoring in the outcomes he controls the most. 

Perhaps the best example is Fielding Independent Pitching – a stat comparable to ERA that heavily weighs pitcher-controlled outcomes like strikeouts, walks and home runs.

Burnes leads the entire Majors with a 1.55 FIP, a sizable lead over Zack Wheeler’s second-best mark of 2.58. That number is no surprise considering he also leads the Big Leagues in walks per nine innings (1.80), home runs allowed per nine innings (0.3), and expected ERA (2.01).

When factoring in those underlying numbers and his hitter-friendly home ballpark, it’s fair to say Burnes’ 2.29 ERA – already an elite mark – is underselling just how dominant he’s been in 2021.

Elite Swing & Miss Stuff

Burnes isn’t just containing opposing hitters. He’s completely overwhelming them.

Relying on a rising cutter and his wipeout curveball, Burnes leads the Majors in nearly every strikeout-related stat. The list includes strikeout percentage (35.5%), strikeout-to-walk ratio (6.97), strikeouts per nine innings (12.5), and swinging strike percentage (16.8%).

Burnes has put his swing-and-miss stuff on display time and time again in 2021: he ranks first in the National League with eight performances of 10 strikeouts or more this season.

Whether it’s cruising through innings or getting out of jams, Burnes’ strikeout ability has proven to be a major weapon in his record-breaking season.

Impact on Winning

While good fortune can define a pitcher’s win percentage, Burnes’ impact on winning has been anything but luck in 2021.

On top of carrying a sparkling 11-4 record on the season, Burnes’ advanced numbers demonstrate his contributions to one of National League’s top teams – he ranks first in the NL in fWAR (7.6), first in ERA+ (185), third in adjusted pitching wins (3.9) and fourth in Fangraphs’ win probability added (3.45).

Burnes has also gone six or more innings in 20 of his 27 starts, effectively eating innings for his manager and helping to preserve the bullpen on his start days.

With his ability to keep the game script in his team’s favor, it’s no surprise the Brewers have won 19 of the 27 games Burnes has started this year.

Records and Accomplishments

While Burnes’ statistical profile is Cy Young-worthy in its own right, he also brings a laundry list of notable accomplishments to the discussion.

Most recently, Burnes pitched eight innings of a combined no hitter on Sept. 11, striking out 14 Cleveland batters in the process. Exactly one month earlier, he tied an MLB record while punching out 10 in a row during a 15-strikeout performance against the Cubs.

Burnes’ record-setting years started from the season’s onset. He struck out 58 batters without issuing a walk to begin the year, setting MLB records for strikeouts without a walk to start a campaign AND over any stretch in a season.

Combine those historic accomplishments with arguably the best statistical line in baseball, and Burnes has an air-tight case to become the Crew’s first Cy Young winner since 1982.