By this point, everyone is aware of the success the Brewers pitching staff is having. I’m not here to convince you that they’re good, I’m here to tell you that they’re historic.
While none of them are threatening Bob Gibson’s live-ball AL/NL ERA record (1.12) or Nolan Ryan’s strikeout record (383), they are on track to set or threaten a handful of other records.
First up, the record for lowest batting average allowed by a starting pitcher (min. 100 IP) is .167 set by Pedro Martinez in 2000. As of right now, Freddy Peralta is blowing by that, allowing an opponent batting average of .142
Along that same vein, the record for fewest H/9 is 5.09 set by Dave Brown in 1920. Freddy Peralta, again, is on pace to shatter that record with a H/9 of 4.37.
Then there’s the strikeouts. The record for K% for a starting pitcher (min. 100 IP) is 39.9% set by Gerrit Cole in 2019. No Brewer is on pace to break that right now, but Corbin Burnes’ 36.1% isn’t far off and is good for fifth best all-time. Freddy Peralta is right behind him at 34.5%, currently sitting at 12th best all-time.
Burnes and Peralta’s strikeout percentages are the two currently the two best in Major League Baseball right now. If that holds it will be the third time since 1990 that the two best strikeout percentages by starting pitchers will be on the same team. Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling did it with the Diamondbacks in 2002 while Gerrit Cole and Justin Verlander did it for the Houston Astros in 2019.
The amazing thing about Burnes leading MLB in K% is that his BB% of 4.4% is currently tied for second among qualified starters, behind only Ryan Yarbrough’s 4.2%. If Burnes finishes the season with these percentages he’ll be the third starting pitcher to ever strikeout over 35% of batters while walking less than 5%. The other two players to do that were Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Max Scherzer in 2019.
Burnes’s K/BB ratio of 8.19, nearly two strikeouts higher than second best this year (Gerrit Cole 6.29), is currently the 10th best in the live-ball era. Interestingly enough, it’s still not quite good enough to be the best in Brewers’ history. Ben Sheets’ 8.25 K/BB ratio from 2004 is good for 9th best in MLB history.
Then there are the more intricate sabermetrics like fielding independent pitching, which measures a pitcher’s effectiveness in preventing home runs, walks, and HBP while generating strikeouts. With FIP, the lower the better. According to fangraphs an average FIP is 4.2. The record for lowest FIP in a season by a starting pitcher in the Integration Era is 1.39 by Pedro Martinez in 1999. Corbin Burnes is currently in second at 1.52, well ahead of Dwight Gooden’s 1.69 that he notched in 1984.
Burnes would be the 10th player to finish a season with a FIP below two. Six of the first nine ended up winning the Cy Young Award. Only Dwight Gooden (1.69 in 1984), Tom Seaver (1.93 in 1971), and Clayton Kershaw (1.99 in 2015) posted a sub-2 FIP and didn’t end up winning the Cy Young.
Keeping it to just the Brewers’ record books for a minute; if you go by ERA+, the best season by a Brewers’ starting pitcher was in 2000 when Jeff D’Amico had an ERA+ of 171. That was just ahead of more notable seasons by Teddy Higuera in 1988 and Ben Sheets in 2004 where they both had an ERA+ of 162. This season, however, has D’Amico’s mark beaten thrice. Brandon Woodruff leads this one with an ERA+ of 191, followed by Burnes at 187, and Peralta at 184.
Big 3 vs. Big 3
For a little perspective, the Braves’ big three from the 90’s (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz) best season in terms of combined ERA+ came in 1995. That year Maddux won the Cy Young while Glavine was third in Cy Young voting. Their three ERA+ combined that year was 530. Woodruff, Burnes, and Peralta this year are sitting at 562. Eat your hearts out, Atlanta.
So by ERA+ standards, we are currently experiencing the three best seasons by a Brewers starting pitcher simultaneously. It certainly feels that way.