Analyzing Detroit Tigers’ rookie Beau Brieske’s early game struggles

DETROIT, MICHIGAN - MAY 12: Beau Brieske #63 of the Detroit Tigers throws a pitch in the first inning at Comerica Park on May 12, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images)
DETROIT, MICHIGAN - MAY 12: Beau Brieske #63 of the Detroit Tigers throws a pitch in the first inning at Comerica Park on May 12, 2022 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Mike Mulholland/Getty Images) /

Detroit Tigers’ rookie starting pitcher Beau Brieske has developed a habit of getting off to a rocky start, only to rebound in the middle innings. Why is that?

Many fans were excited when Beau Brieske was called up to take Matt Manning’s spot in the rotation after he went on the 10-day IL. He had developed a lot of hype after an impressive 2021 campaign with High-A West Michigan and Double-A Erie.

Brieske, a 27th-round pick in 2019, had a 3.12 ERA in 106.1 innings pitched in the minors last season, with 116 strikeouts to just 23 walks. This was good enough to earn him Tigers Minor League Pitcher of the Year honors.

Here’s what MLB Pipeline had to say about the 24-year-old:

"“With a high arm angle and a delivery that starts on the first-base side of the rubber, Brieske essentially takes the shortest path to home plate and throws downhill from there. His four-seam fastball averages 92-94 mph, but he commands it well to all parts of the strike zone and complements it with a changeup about 10 mph slower. That was his primary arsenal when he entered pro ball, but his breakout 2021 season came after adding a tight slider that he can locate and a 12-6 curveball that can freeze hitters as it breaks. The total package is four pitches at different speeds with different movement.”"

Sadly, reality smacked Brieske in the face in form of a solo homer off the bat of Colorado Rockies’ outfielder Connor Joe on the second pitch he threw in the big leagues. He would go on to give up another homer in the third inning of that game to Charlie Blackmon.

This quickly became a pattern. Brieske gave up another leadoff homer to Mookie Betts of the Los Angeles Dodgers on April 30 before settling in and pitching five innings of one-run ball. Then he gave up two early homers to the Houston Astros on May 6 before finding his groove.

Then yesterday against the Oakland A’s, while he didn’t allow a home run, he gave up three runs in the first inning, throwing 35 pitches. But again, that’s all he allowed.

Opposing batters have an OPS of .956 against Brieske in innings 1-3, but that plummets to .285 in innings 4-6. So what’s going on here?

Most of the damage done to Brieske has been done in the first inning, which leads me to believe that he’s just a rookie going through early game jitters. Walks have also been an issue for him through his first four big league outings, with 10 already in 21 innings pitched with just 11 K’s.

Command has been Brieske’s biggest issue to this point, which is obviously quite common with young pitchers. He’s really struggled with his breaking pitches, with both his slider and his curveball having a negative runs above average according to Fangraphs. He’s actually thrown more balls than strikes with his slider, so he really needs to work on that pitch.

His changeup appears to be his best pitch to this point, with s 22.2% strikeout rate on that pitch, and hitters are hitting just .148 against it with a 37 wRC+.

He doesn’t really give up a lot of hard contact either, with his average exit velocity against coming at a solid 87.8 mph, slightly below the MLB average of 88.3 mph. However, he does give up a lot of flyballs, which has led to the high amount of homers so far.

So what’s the deal with Beau Brieske’s early game struggles? It really seems to either be a case of early game jitters or he just needs a couple innings to settle in. The only thing I can think of to maybe remedy this situation is perhaps to lengthen his warmup routine? I’m really just spitballing with that suggestion.

The important thing to remember is that he’s four starts into his major league career. It’s really difficult to read into anything due to the small sample size. This was just an interesting trend that has developed so far.

Beau Brieske has performed admirably given the circumstances. It’ll be interesting to see what the Tigers decide to do when Casey Mize and Matt Manning come back from the injured list.

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