How close has Burnes come to a walk?

May 12th, 2021

returns for the Brewers on Thursday hot on the pursuit of a record. He’s struck out 49 batters so far this season and has yet to issue a walk. That’s already a record for a starting pitcher to start a season since the mound was moved to its current distance in 1893, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. But he is close to the overall record, held by a reliever, too. Kenley Jansen had 51 strikeouts before his first walk in 2017, which stands as the mark -- for now.

Just how close has Burnes come to walking a batter this year? Well, he’s thrown 23 pitches in three-ball counts this season, and all but one of those have been in the strike zone. Thirteen ended the plate appearance, including eight that were strikeout pitches and two base hits. He’s thrown 22 three-ball cutters and one three-ball sinker. He’s gotten into at least one of these counts in each of his five starts thus far.

Let’s take a look at all 23 of those pitches in three-ball counts, in chronological order.

1) April 3, top 1: 3-2 (Luis Arraez K swinging)

The first time Burnes reached three balls this season was to the first batter of the game in his first start of the year, long before we knew where this streak would end up. The result? A swinging strike for the strikeout -- on a 97.6 mph cutter right down the middle. Arraez’s 12.3% whiff rate is among the lowest in the Majors (minimum 50 swings), so that’s no small feat, either.

2) April 3, top 2: 3-2 (Max Kepler K looking)

Burnes got to three balls the next inning, too, but again got the strikeout. This time, the pitch wasn’t right down the middle. Instead, it was a 96.8 mph cutter low in the zone, but decidedly a strike to Kepler, who watched it sail in and knew he was out.

3) April 3, top 3: 3-2 (José Berríos K looking)

The next time Burnes reached a three-ball count, it was to the pitcher, and an American League pitcher, at that. Facing Berríos, who was 2-for-14 in his career at the plate before 2021 with one walk, Burnes got to 3-2 before painting the corner of the zone with a 96.3 mph cutter to catch the Twins’ starter looking.

4) April 3, top 6: 3-2 (Luis Arraez K looking)

Arraez became the first player to see multiple three-ball pitches this season from Burnes, albeit in separate innings, in the sixth of that first start of the year. This time, Burnes got him looking, on a 96.7 mph pitch on the black. You guessed it, another cutter. Burnes became just the fourth pitcher to strike Arraez out twice in a game in the regular season, joining Josh Lindblom (2020), Drew VerHagen (2019) and Zac Gallen (2019).

5) April 8, bottom 1: 3-2 (Tommy Edman foul)

After those first four three-ball pitches all ended plate appearances against Burnes in his first start, Edman became the first player to foul at least one off and extend the battle. Burnes offered a 96.6 mph cutter in the upper portion of the zone, and Edman fouled it off to stay alive.

6) April 8, bottom 1: second 3-2 (Tommy Edman foul)

Burnes came back with another cutter, of course, but this time, threw the 97.1 mph offering low, looking for a chase. He got that out-of-zone swing, but it came in the form of another foul. This pitch was below the zone, a ball if Edman hadn’t swung -- the only out-of-zone pitch Burnes has thrown in a three-ball count this year, and thus the only one that would’ve definitively resulted in a walk if not for the swung that occurred.

7) April 8, bot 1: third 3-2 (Tommy Edman triple)
Edman’s persistence paid off on the third three-ball pitch he saw from Burnes, hitting a 98.0 mph sinker up in the zone past a diving Christian Yelich for a triple. That’s the only non-cutter Burnes has thrown with three balls in a plate appearance this season, and the triple is the only extra-base hit he’s allowed in those counts. The nine pitches Burnes threw to Edman in the first are tied for the most he’s thrown in a single opponent plate appearance this season.

8) April 8, bottom 6: 3-0 (Tommy Edman called strike)

This was the first time Burnes had to battle back from 3-0 to avoid a walk, one of just two 3-0 pitches he’s thrown all year. Edman was taking at 3-0, and Burnes came in with a 95.3 mph cutter on the inner part of the plate to make it 3-1.

9) April 8, bottom 6: 3-1 (Tommy Edman swinging strike)

Burnes fired off another cutter, this time at 96.0 mph, straight down the middle to Edman. He swung and missed to bring the count to 3-2 -- taking Burnes from the precipice of a walk, at 3-0, to the same for a potential strikeout, too.

10) April 8, bottom 6: 3-2 (Tommy Edman K looking)

This was the sixth three-ball pitch Edman saw from Burnes in the game -- the most such pitches anyone has seen from him so far this year. But unlike in the first inning, when Edman laced a triple in the third three-ball pitch of the at-bat, this time, he struck out. Burnes threw a 95.9 mph cutter low in the zone and Edman did not swing. Burnes did not get to three balls to any other Cardinals batter in the start.

11) April 14, top 3: 3-2 pitch (Ian Happ K looking)

In a 3-2 count to the Cubs’ leadoff hitter in the third, Burnes fired off a 97.7 mph cutter on the outer edge of the zone to get Happ looking. But that wouldn’t be the last three-ball pitch Happ would see on the day.

12) April 14, top 6: 3-2 (Ian Happ foul)

The next time up, Happ was not going to be caught looking again. On the first 3-2 count, Burnes threw a cutter 95.4 mph down the middle of the plate and Happ fouled it off, keeping the plate appearance going.

13) April 14, top 6: second 3-2 (Ian Happ foul)

That determination to keep the plate appearance going continued, as Happ fouled another pitch off -- this time a 96.5 mph cutter in the lower, inner third of the zone.

14) April 14, top 6: third 3-2 (Ian Happ foul)

And so they continued, another 3-2 pitch from Burnes, at 95.7 mph in the upper and inner third of the zone. The result? Another foul, as Happ continued to battle.

15) April 14, top 6: fourth 3-2 (Ian Happ groundout)

After three pitches fouled off with three balls, this was the ninth offering from Burnes in the plate appearance, tied with the Edman at-bat for the most in any trip to the plate against the Brewers starter this year. Happ was able to make contact with the 96.6 mph, middle-middle cutter from Burnes. But unlike Edman, he didn’t manage a hit out of it, instead grounding out to the second baseman. Happ was the only Cubs player to see a three-ball count against Burnes in that outing.

16) April 20, bottom 1: 3-2 (Jurickson Profar foul)

Facing Profar with one out in the first, Burnes got to 3-2 before inducing yet another foul in these counts. Profar lifted a 97.5 mph cutter on the inner and upper third and sent it a long way, but foul, into the right-field seats.

17) April 20, bottom 1: second 3-2 (Jurickson Profar groundout)

This matchup did not last as long as Edman’s or Happ’s, instead ending on the second 3-2 pitch. Profar made contact with a 97.1 mph cutter in the lower portion of the zone, but grounded it to second baseman Keston Hiura.

18) April 20, bottom 4: 3-2 (Jurickson Profar single)

When Profar came up again, he got to three balls and was swinging again. It was just one three-ball pitch this time: a 95.5 mph cutter on the lower, inner third, which he lined to right field for the second hit Burnes has allowed in a three-ball count this season.

19) April 26, top 3: 3-2 (Jazz Chisholm Jr. flyout)

As he’s done so many times this year, Burnes attacked this 3-2 count with a pitch down the middle. Chisholm took the 95.6 mph cutter and flew out to left field. The batted ball had just a 92.6 mph exit velocity, part of a 89.8 mph average exit velocity Burnes has allowed on contact with three balls this season.

20) April 26, top 5: 3-0 (Jon Berti called strike)

Here’s that other 3-0 pitch Burnes has thrown so far, along with the one on April 8 to Edman. Burnes’ pitch was a 94.5 mph cutter that caught the lower part of the zone, coming in for a strike with Berti taking.

21) April 26, top 5: 3-1 (Jon Berti called strike)

This time, Burnes threw it down the middle, but Berti was still taking -- on the 95.5 mph cutter. All of a sudden, it’s 3-2, and Burnes has almost worked his way back from that 3-0 hole.

22) April 26, top 5: 3-2 (Jon Berti K swinging)

Berti was not taking here on another three-ball pitch, swinging and missing at a 95.3 mph cutter in the middle part of the zone. That cemented Burnes’ seventh strikeout in a three-ball count this season, with 3-0 to Berti now a distant memory.

23) April 26, top 5: 3-2 (Sandy Leon K on foul tip)

Burnes got to 3-2 on a second consecutive batter, the only time so far this year he’s gotten to three balls against batters in the same inning, let alone those who were back-to-back in the order. But it still didn’t matter, as Burnes threw a 95.8 mph cutter on the inside corner that Leon got a small piece of, foul tipping it into catcher Manny Piña’s glove. That was the eighth strikeout Burnes has gotten in a three-ball count this year.