Corbin Burnes has been great for the Orioles, but one trend is pretty troubling

As good as he has been with the Orioles, Corbin Burnes is not the pitcher he used to be.
Milwaukee Brewers v Baltimore Orioles
Milwaukee Brewers v Baltimore Orioles / Scott Taetsch/GettyImages

The highlight of the offseason for the Baltimore Orioles was trading for Corbin Burnes and it was not even close. The rotation was a glaring need coming into the season and Baltimore went out and added the 2021 NL Cy Young winner and one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, albeit for just for this season.

Once the 2024 season started, Burnes announced his presence in a big way and has been great overall with a 2.76 ERA in his first five starts with the Orioles. For a guy that has a chip on his shoulder from how the Brewers handled him in arbitration and is looking to get paid this offseason, Burnes has done little to hurt his case so far.

However, one somewhat troubling trend for Burnes has continued (albeit in a small sample) with the Orioles, and that is his diminished ability to finish batters off himself.

Orioles ace Corbin Burnes' declining strikeout rate isn't ideal, but has a plausible explanation beyond wear and tear

Up through his Cy Young win in 2021, Burnes was one of the game's premier strikeout pitchers, averaging 12.8 strikeouts per nine innings pitched. That number dropped to 10.8 in 2022 and 9.3 last season. Through his first 29.1 innings with the Orioles, his strikeout rate has dipped once again, albeit slightly, to 8.9 K/9. Obviously that hasn't stopped Burnes from finding success so far, but anytime a pitcher misses fewer and fewer bats over time is cause for concern.

While there is always the possible explanation that all the miles on Burnes' arm are catching up with him at 29 years old and in his seventh season, there is actually a simpler explanation. Back in 2021, Burnes was one of the pitchers that was hurt the most by the sticky substances crackdown by MLB in terms of spin. It stands to reason that if he was indeed leaning on the sticky stuff to get that extra edge to strike batters out more consistently (which we don't know for sure), the Ks are going to be harder for him to come by now.

All of this means a few things. One, Burnes is still a tremendous pitcher who Orioles fans should be thrilled to have around this season. He simply makes this team a whole lot better. However, it also means that anyone clamoring for the Orioles to give him a big contract extension may want to pump the brakes, as while he is insanely good right now, he is starting to show some cracks in his armor. Big-time pitcher deals like the one Burnes is absolutely going to want almost never end well.

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