His Shoulder Sound, Brocke Burke Was a Beast Out of the Texas Bullpen

Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Brock Burke broke out in 2022. Working out of the Texas Rangers bullpen, the 26-year-old southpaw logged a 1.97 ERA over 52 appearances, with 90 strikeouts and just 63 hits allowed in 82-and-a-third innings. Equally effective against lefties and righties, he held the former to a .192 BA and a .635 OPS, the latter to a .218 BA and a .629 OPS. Used most often in the sixth and seventh innings, Burke was credited with wins in seven of his 12 decisions.

Burke went into last season having made just six big league appearances, all in 2019 as a starter, with a balky shoulder the culprit. That he came back strong after returning to full health is an understatement. Along with the aforementioned numbers, Burke logged a stand-up-and-take-notice 27.4% strikeout rate.

First interviewed here at FanGraphs in 2017 when he was a 20-year-old Tampa Bay Rays prospect pitching in the Midwest League, Burke will head into the 2023 with a role that has yet to be determined. The Rangers are reportedly considering using him as a starter, while some have speculated that he could be the club’s closer. Regardless of how he is utilized, one thing is certain: When healthy, Burke has proven to be a very good pitcher.

Burke discussed his return to the mound and the evolution of his arsenal when Texas visited Boston last September.


David Laurila: We first talked in 2017. How have you evolved as a pitcher since that time?

Brock Burke: “There have been a lot of ups and downs, for sure. In Low-A, I was more fastball/changeup and didn’t really have a feel for a breaking ball.

Laurila: I believe you were throwing both a four-seamer and two-seamer?

Burke: “I was. I mean, I still use both the four-seam and two-seam out of the bullpen, but just very occasionally the two-seam. I would say that once I started developing a slider in High-A is what really helped me develop. I did well in Double-A, and in 2019 I made it up here, but I’ve since had to work through some some injury stuff.

“I had a shoulder problem in the beginning of 2019 and kind of pitched through it all year. I wasn’t myself, and then ended up having surgery in 2020. I finally started feeling a little bit better halfway through 2021, and started doing well. Then I had a whole offseason to get strong and back to where I wanted to be — back to getting my velo up, and having the sharpness with all of my pitches.”

Laurila: Was the shoulder injury a labrum?

Burke: “Yes. I had fraying in the labrum, so it was just a scoping cleanup. There was probably some impingement in there too. Some rest, some R&R, definitely helped. Now is the best I’ve felt in a couple of years.”

Laurila: Is your stuff the best it’s been?

Burke: “For sure. My changeup and my sider are both harder, and are very good right now. I’m able to control them in the zone a lot better than I had been able to. They also have that late action. We’ve messed with the slider a little bit to get some more velo, get it up to the higher 80s rather than mid-to-low 80s. That has definitely helped.”

Laurila: Have you sacrificed any movement to get the extra velocity?

Burke: “I’ve given up a little bit of movement, yeah — a little less depth on the pitch — but it definitely plays off the fastball a lot better. You can’t really see it out of the hand as much as you could the slower one. It’s more of a bullet slider, with a little more vert than zero-zero. It’s like four and one, I want to say. It kind of plays like a slider/cutter.”

Laurila: And that’s new to this year?

Burke: “It is. I just kind of switched up the grip and started throwing it a lot harder. I stopped trying to get it into the zone, and instead am trying to throw it through the zone. That’s my thought on it. The velo has gone up to close to 90, whereas it used to be 82-85.”

Laurila: How did the new grip come about?

Burke: “We just kind of kept trying new grips, new grips. That’s what pitching is: trying new grips and finding something that works for you. Everything is different for everybody. The grip is kind of what it all stems from.”

Laurila: Is the slider your best pitch?

Burke: “That and my changeup are probably pretty similar in usage, but I’d say my fastball is my best pitch. Everything works off of your fastball.”

Laurila: What is the story behind your changeup?

Burke: “[In 2021] it was hard and not moving very much. This year, talking to Garrett Richards, who has a really good power changeup… the thought of increasing arm speed, and hand speed, to get the later action on the pitch has helped a lot. I’m not worried that the velo is high as long as I’m getting the action on it.”

Laurila: It’s a hard changeup, almost like a sinker…

Burke: “Not really. I would say it’s like 88-89, and my fastball is mid-90s, so there’s a good enough difference there. My sinker has been more like 93, so it’s a little velo off that as well. But it is kind of a power changeup. Again, I’m not worried about how hard it is, just that I finish through it to get that action.”

David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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1 month ago

A 100 inning high leverage reliever in the Duane Ward mold is worth a lot more than a 60 inning “closer”. I hope guys like that get paid accordingly

1 month ago
Reply to  Ivan_Grushenko

I’d give him a shot at starting again.