The Brewers burn Burnes erroneously

Corbin Burnes

No, it wasn’t Burnes’s fault the Brewers sputtered down the stretch last year.

If you had a dollar for every time you heard a sports bar drunk or saw a social media twit blame a team’s best player for its failure to make the postseason, you’d be rich enough to pay Corbin Burnes’s 2023 salary and still have seven-eighths of the fortune you earned. But what if you’d heard the team itself blamed their best player for such failure?

That’s what the Brewers did in beating Burnes during salary arbitration. And while I’m just a little bit on the skeptical side, considering the Brewers wanted to pay him a mere $10.1 million for 2023 while Burnes sought a measly $10.8 million, a $700,000 difference, Burnes’s comments after losing his case disturb.

It’s not that teams have been immune to trying to tear players down in salary negotiations before. If there was one thing the free agency era didn’t change from the reserve era, it’s that.

Maybe they don’t get as nasty as one-time longtime Yankee boss George Weiss did, threatening to make available to Mickey Mantle’s wife a private detectives’ report on his ¬†less-than-exemplary after-hours life to beat that Hall of Famer out of a raise. But they can and do get nasty enough even today.

Much if not most of the time, the team and the player who’s arbitration-eligible settle it before it goes to a hearing, the better to avoid the kind of nastiness Burnes described to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The kind in which the Brewers elected to blame Burnes for most of their failure to get even to the 2022 wild card game. They elected wrongly. And they may get burned (or should that be Burnesed) for it down the road apiece.

“They’re trying to do what they can to win the hearing,” Burnes said, “but I think there were other ways they could have gone about it and probably been a little more respectful with how they went about it.”

At the end of the day, here we are. They obviously won it.¬†There’s no denying that the relationship is definitely hurt from what transpired over the last couple weeks. There’s really no way getting around that.

Obviously, we’re professionals, and we’re going to go out there and do our job, keep doing what I can every fifth day that I go out there. But with some of the things that are said, for instance, basically putting me in the forefront of why we didn’t make it to the postseason last year, that’s something that probably doesn’t need be said. We can go about a hearing without having to do that.

The Brewers ended July 2022 with a 57-45 record. Burnes himself ended July with a 2.92 fielding-independent pitching rate, a 2.31 earned run average, a .187 batting average against him, a 5-1 strikeout-to-walk rate, and the Brewers were 13-7 in his starts.

They were also only three games behind the Cardinals in the NL Central race and looked as though they’d have one of the league’s four wild cards in hand at the finish.

But they went 12-15 in August and finished the month six games out of first. They went 15-13 in September and finished that month seven out of first. The Central was out of the question by then, even with Burnes himself ending September by outpitching eventual 2022 Cy Young Award winner Sandy Alcantara as the Brewers shut the Marlins out, 1-0. Come 3 October, they were eliminated from the postseason entirely.

Burnes himself had a rough August, at least by the standard of a defending Cy Young Award pitcher. His FIP for the month was 3.98, his ERA was 4.23, but the batting average against him was still .197 even if his strikeout-to-walk rate shrank to 2.7-to-1. And the Brewers were 3-3 in his six August starts.

They went 4-3 in Burnes’s September/October starts and 15-13 overall for the period. Burnes was better than in August: he had a 2.79 FIP for the final span, a whopping 6-1 strikeout-to-walk rate, and the batting average against him was a still-stingy .207. Overall, from August until his final season’s start, Burnes posted a 3.49 FIP, a 4-1 strikeout-to-walk rate, and the span’s batting average against him was a still-stingy .213.

The Brewers went 7-6 in Burnes’s starts from August through 5 October. Except for a 23 August game in which they were blown out by nine runs, with seven runs against Burnes only four of which were earned, the losses were by margins of three or less (and usually two) most of the time. The other exception: a five-run loss to the Mets on 19 September during which Burnes surrendered five earned runs out of the Mets’ seven on the day.

During the same stretch from August’s beginning until their season ended 5 October, the Brewers scored 251 runs but surrendered 254 runs in sixty games. Burnes was charged with 34 earned runs with 37 total scoring against him; by earned runs, he was charged with 13 percent of the runs against the Brewers for the span. The team averaged 4.2 runs scored and 4.2 runs against per game.

I don’t see overwhelming evidence that Burnes’s performance was the key reason the Brewers fell out of the postseason picture. But I do see a pitcher who’s going to go out, pitch the best ball he can pitch with what he has, and then look forward to his first free agency after the 2024 season with a long enough memory that—even if the Brewers can afford to extend him before or pursue him to return after—they won’t even be a topic when he begins to observe his potential suitors.

A team averaging four runs a game down a stretch that cost them a postseason berth should have been smarter than to try putting most of the blame on a single pitcher for a team effort (or lack thereof), just to win a mere $700,000 dollar difference in salary arbitration. To whom will they pay or in what will they invest that seven hundred large to prove it’s worth that kind of mistake?


1 thought on “The Brewers burn Burnes erroneously

  1. 10 million is cheap for a starting pitcher, especially one that gives you 200-plus innings. I read somewhere recently that a pitcher has value if he gives you 200 innings even if he’s average. Case in point–Cole Irvin. The Brewers never seemed like a nickel-and-dime, bush league franchise to me. Guess I was wrong.

    Liked by 1 person

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