Shoutout to Harley Earl for this one, as he requested a Jake Burger piece. I am a man of the peeps.
Although I’m a Fatburger guy, I do appreciate In-N-Out. The fries are terrible but the burgers are fresh and taste good. Many enjoy the Animal Style concoction, which contains mustard, extra Thousand Island special sauce, pickles, and grilled onions. I hate most sauces, so Animal Style is not my thing. Most sauces taste disgusting to me and make things messy. I’m a simpleton so I like things clean, especially when it comes to analyzing baseball players. Digging into Burger, though, was a difficult endeavor. It was messy, definitely not clean, and even as I’m writing this intro, I have no idea which way I lean. Maybe typing things out will help.
Let’s dig in.
Burger is 27 years old, 6-foot-2, 230 pounds, and bats from the right side. He was one of the top prospects heading into the 2017 MLB draft and was selected with the 11th overall pick by the Chicago White Sox.
During his first year in the minors, the walk rate was in the 6% range while the strikeout rate was in the low teens over 200 plate appearances. The ISO was only .138. Unfortunately, he missed the next three seasons due to an Achilles injury, a bruised heel, and COVID.
Upon returning to action in 2021, he played in Triple-A and slashed .274/.332/.513. The walk rate was 7.1% but the strikeout rate spiked to 26.8%. The ISO went up as well, though, to a respectable .239. He ended with 18 home runs in 340 plate appearances.
The following season, he accrued 168 plate appearances in Triple-A and 183 plate appearances in MLB. The walk rate was 10.7% in Triple-A with a 20.2% strikeout rate and .130 ISO. In the majors, the walk rate was 5.5%, strikeout rate was 30.6% and ISO was .208. Talk about a wide range of outcomes!
In 145 plate appearances this season, the walk rate is 5.5%, strikeout rate is 30.3% and ISO is .341. He’s smashed 12 home runs and has been the toast of the town.
Looking at the Statcast numbers, the EV is 92.3 mph while the maxEV is 118.2. If he qualified, that would put him in the top 25 for EV and second-best in maxEV! The barrel rate of 22.2% would place him second as well. MLBPipeline.com gave Burger a 55 power grade and described him as “one of the top power sources available in a draft class short on college hitters.” The power is real.
The batted ball data show some interesting things. For most of his career, he had a GB% in the 40% range. This season it’s at 32.2%. The FB% is at a career-high 45.6% after being in the 30% range. He is also pulling the ball 52.2% of the time after being in the mid-to-high 40% range.
Now we get to my favorite part, which is the plate discipline. Burger is chasing 44.3% of the time. Gross. That would place him in the top 10 among all MLB hitters. The contact rate in the zone is 77.7% while the overall contact rate is 66.9%. The swinging strike rate is 18.4%. There are only two other players with a SwStr% of at least 18% – Nick Castellanos and Teoscar Hernandez. Yuck. I currently have the same sensation as when I eat mustard.
In the past, I would pretty much dismiss a player with this profile, and I felt confident fading Christopher Morel, despite the fact that both he and Burger have similar profiles. There are just more divergent data points for Burger to give me pause.
The main one was the two seasons in the minors in which he posted a strikeout rate of 20% or below. He did it, so it’s in the range of outcomes and it’s possible that he can improve and get to that upper band. While Burger is 27 years old, he missed three seasons, so he is still relatively young from an experience standpoint.
Assistant hitting coach Chris Johnson said that Burger is “evolving as a player. He knows his strengths. We call it tunneling, he’s trying to work on his tunneling. Really focusing on one side of the plate of the other, or wherever he’s attacking that certain day. We’ll plug that into the iPtich and he’ll just attack there and work off of that line, in hopes that he takes those pitches, in the hopes that he stays right in that hot zone.”
Then this article by Malachi Hayes was great in breaking down at-bats in which Burger adjusts during a game.
Over the first month of the season, Burger has a 41.9% chase rate and 13.9% swinging strike rate. Since May, the chase rate has increased to 47.2% while the swinging strike rate has spiked to 23.5%! I always say that pitchers will adjust, so hitters will need to adjust to the adjustments. With Burger’s profile, there will be lean times due to the swing and miss in his game. The power is real, though, and he has exhibited the capacity to make adjustments and try to hone his craft off the field. I keep going back to those seasons when he showed excellent plate discipline in the minors.
I don’t think he will ever get to a 20% strikeout rate, but somewhere in the mid-20% range seems viable. We know the power is real. There is risk that he becomes a platoon bat, as Gavin Sheets was utilized at DH ahead of Burger the last few games. As long as he gets the plate appearances, I actually feel more confident with Burger’s trajectory than others with a similar profile. God help me.