This is a series of evaluations that will be done this offseason on every player that closed the season on the 40-man roster for the Minnesota Twins, with one appearing every weekday from now until each player has been evaluated. The plan is to start with Mr. Albers and move all the way through the pitchers, then to the catchers, infielders, outfielders and finally those listed as designated hitters on the club’s official MLB.com roster. That means we’ll wrap it up with Miguel Sano sometime in the first week of December.
- Name: Jose Berrios
- 2016 Role: Bounced back and forth from MLB rotation to Triple-A Rochester due to ineffectiveness
- Expected 2017 Role: Battling for rotation spot in spring
- MLB Stats: 8.02 ERA (6.20 FIP) in 58.1 innings, 7.6 K/9, 5.4 BB/9, 1.9 HR/9, 38 percent groundball rate, minus-0.4 fWAR
- MiLB Stats: 2.51 ERA (2.91 FIP)
- Contract Status: Not eligible for free agency until at least prior to the 2022 season, and most likely 2023 based on rookie-year service time.
To say things didn’t go well for Berrios with the Twins in 2016 is like saying the Titanic hit didn’t mean to hit that iceberg some 104 years ago. Berrios successfully completed six innings just once in his 14 MLB starts, and as a result had just one quality start overall. Berrios also never threw 100 pitches in any start — but did throw over 90 on eight occasions — and while it could be construed as a lack of endurance, frankly it was just because of how poorly he was pitching in those starts.
In those 14 starts, Berrios allowed as many (or more) earned runs as innings pitched in exactly half of them. In five of his 14 starts, Berrios walked at least four batters, and in two more he walked at least three. In only half of his starts did he strike out more batters than he walked, and he didn’t exactly finish with a flourish in the strikeout department, either. After striking out 20 batters in his first 15 big league innings (12 K/9) — which amounts to four starts, and is the exact duration of his first MLB stint before being sent back — Berrios fanned just 29 batters (against 23 walks!) over the last 10 starts spanning 43.1 innings (6.0 K/9). That’s technically spanning two “stints” with the Twins, but he was really just sent back to get a tune up at Rochester before coming back. Oddly enough, it was two Detroit starts that got him sent back: May 16 at Detroit (seven earned runs, just two outs recorded) and Aug. 25 at Target Field (six earned runs in five innings).
When you separate his two stints out, it’s clear Berrios was hit much harder the first time around (1.102 OPS) than the second (.873). What’s interesting to look at is how much that first stint may have had on his pitch mix coming back for his second go-round. In his first stint, Berrios threw the four-seam fastball 40.5 percent of the time, the sinker 18.7 percent, the curve 23.7 percent and the change 17.1 percent. The second time around, he was at 54.3 percent with the fastball, 11.4 percent with the sinker, 20.4 percent with the curve, and 13.9 percent with the change. Basically speaking, he borrowed from each of the other three pitches to go all-in on the four-seamer. There could be a couple reasons for that.
For a guy who constantly found himself behind in counts, working ahead is paramount to getting to where you want to be, and throwing the four-seamer — the pitch that’ll move the least of the four — is probably the way to go. But while that makes sense for the bottoming out of his strikeout rate — since even a 95 mph fastball isn’t much of a swing-and-miss pitch — it still doesn’t explain why he walked to many batters. Then again, an 1.100-plus OPS might leave a young pitcher shell-shocked, and as a result unable to resist the temptation of nibbling around the plate for fear of getting battered like the first trip around the big leagues. It’s just a theory. Berrios didn’t fill up the zone more in the second trip (58 percent strikes) than the first (59 percent), at least not from a results standpoint. The Fangraphs splits tool says he threw more pitches inside the strike zone the second time around (46.2 percent) than the first (43.9 percent), but that isn’t always the right way to look at it either. Swing-and-miss pitches typically aren’t in the zone — sliders, curves, splits — and since Berrios was throwing fewer of them, we can’t really accurately gauge if he actually improved in that respect.
The old story about Torii Hunter telling Berrios he was tipping his changeup in spring training in 2015 rings true when considering that the pitch allowed the worst OPS against among his four offerings — and not by small margin. There was no single pitch that Berrios was very good with from an outcomes standpoint, but the changeup permitted a 1.108 OPS against, which would seem to be a pretty good indication that hitters knew something was up. That was never more evident than when team radio broadcaster Dan Gladden went ballistic over a 2-0 pitch that Kendrys Morales golfed into the right-center stands at Target Field.
Berrios executed the changeup by location rather well — zone eight on the strike zone, or in other words middle of the plate but down — but Gladden said that from his broadcast booth seat he could see the young right-hander slow his arm action. Surely if Gladden can see that from some 300 feet away, Morales saw it from 60’, 6’’. But just one pitch wasn’t Berrios’ undoing this year; every one of his four pitches induced an OPS against of .850 or higher.
Odds are, he’s one key adjustment somewhere, whether it’s in his mechanics or in his preparation, from where everything will click and he’ll be who he’s supposed to be, which is a No. 2-3 starter with really good stuff, but perhaps a penchant for giving up homers. At Target Field, that’s still a workable thing. He should still be special.
But even despite all this, it’s still not hard to see what made scouts and executives fall in love with Berrios in the first place. He’s the the heart of a lion, and the work ethic to match it. He sits in the mid-90s with the fastball, and has a lollipop curveball besides. His four-seam fastball carried a 9.0 percent whiff rate, which is very good all things considered. Odds are, he’s one key adjustment somewhere, whether it’s in his mechanics or in his preparation, from where everything will click and he’ll be who he’s supposed to be, which is a No. 2-3 starter with really good stuff, but perhaps a penchant for giving up homers. At Target Field, that’s still a workable thing. He should still be special.
Grade: D. It’s very difficult to fault Berrios for his struggles, but it’s not all the team’s fault either. The yoyo-ing of Berrios back and forth likely did nothing for his psyche or to build confidence in him moving forward, but at the same time, each instance in which he was sent down came after a stretch where one could feasibly say “How much worse can they allow this to get?” Berrios is always going to have an uphill battle — no pun intended — based on his frame and fastball plane, but don’t let a rough stretch like this deter the thoughts that he can still be a very, very good MLB starter. It’ll take some work in the offseason, but instead of the crazy workouts like seen in the video, it’ll be more heady, on-the-mound stuff he needs to work through as opposed to being in shape. Don’t rule him out just yet.