New Pitch Potentially Holds the Key to a Berrios Breakout

Please Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

A couple of offseasons ago, we ran a series similar to what we’re doing here, entitled “Minnesota Twins 40-Man Report Cards.” The only key difference to be aware of is since it’s happening now instead of during the offseason, we’re going to make it forward-looking — that is, with the current roster as constructed, looking back on their 2019 season.

Previous editions:

So in some cases, it’ll be looking at players who might not have necessarily spent all or even any of their 2019 season in the organization.

Let’s dive right in, starting with the pitchers:

  • Player: Jose Berrios
  • 2019 team(s): Minnesota Twins
  • Pertinent Numbers: 200.1 IP, 3.68 ERA/3.85 FIP, 4.4 fWAR/3.3 bWAR
2019 Lowdown

Berrios is a workout warrior who is coming off his third straight very good season, but he’s still a half-step or so from taking the next step up. The primary issue has been and continues to be his second-half performance, and 2019 was no exception.

Here are his ERA splits (first/second half):

  • 2017: 3.53/4.24
  • 2018: 3.68/4.15
  • 2019: 3.00/4.64

In those splits are some strange numbers. He’s struck out fewer batters in first halves (8.7 K/9) than second halves (9.0), but also issued fewer walks (2.3 BB/9 to 3.8) and allowed more home runs (1.25 HR/9 to 1.08).

It’d be hard to consider it a fitness issue keeping Berrios from finishing what he starts before the All-Star break, but regardless he’s not taking it lying down.

Berrios has reportedly been working on a new curveball with 12-6 movement to give his repertoire another look — and it’s hard to envision that not giving him an increased shot of taking the next step forward.

But as things currently stand, one would have to say Berrios is the team’s most physically-gifted pitcher since Francisco Liriano — if not Johan Santana.

Now the question will become if the Twins can keep him for the long haul. It’s not likely to be a decision about dollars, but sense. Berrios will most likely want to go year to year until he’s eligible for free agency after the 2022 season.

Going year to year is a risky proposition for a pitcher — due to their propensity for injury — but getting to the free market fully healthy would guarantee the largest possible payday. Signing an extension now would chew through the remaining arbitration years Berrios has and probably a couple years after that, but also diminish the chances that any team would commit significant money to him when he’s two-ish years older than he would have been had he just played out the string.

But that’s still three years into the future. A lot can change between now and then.

For what it’s worth, Steamer (4.47 ERA, 1.46 HR/9, 3.1 fWAR) and ZiPS (4.17 ERA, 1.28 HR/9, 3.6 fWAR) are bearish on Berrios’ chances of taking the next step — or in the case of Steamer, not regressing.

Jeremy Maschino‘s Take

Berrios features two fastballs — four- and two-seam — along with a curveball and changeup. His most frequently used pitch, the four-seam, sits around 93.1 mph along with a spin rate of 2,190 rpm and a spin efficiency of 98.0 percent. This all combines together to create a pretty average four-seam, with slightly below league average carry.

His two-seam sits around 92.1 mph with a spin rate of 2,110 rpm and a spin efficiency of 100 percent. But, what makes this different from his four-seam is the tilt puts on it. Berrios throws his two-seam with a 2:00 tilt compared to a four-seam tilt of 1:15. This leads to much less carry than the four-seam, but also means he gets much more arm-side movement out of the two-seam. This helps create separation from the four-seam.

The changeup he spent designing and working on last year is a pretty solid pitch now. It clocks in around 82.5 mph with a spin rate of 1,705 rpm and a spin efficiency of 92.4 percent. I really like how Berrios is able to kill spin with his changeup. That, combined with his tilt of 2:30, combines to create a pitch that tunnels very well off his two-seam as they have similar tilts but the changeup has a much lower spin rate, creating around six inches of vertical separation.

This leads me to Berrios’ curveball. It clocks in around 81.2 mph with a spin rate of 2,334 rpm and a spin efficiency of 93.6 percent. The big thing to take note of though is its tilt of 8:30. Due to its tilt, it behaves much more like a slurve than anything. But, when designing a pitch, we generally want to avoid a slurve and move the pitch towards a slider or a true curve.

Currently, both of Berrios’ offspeed pitches have large amounts of horizontal movement, but very little spin induced vertical movement so I would like to see him take the second route and develop a more true curveball. It seems Berrios and Wes Johnson thought the same as there were rumors of Berrios throwing a new, more vertical curveball coming out during spring training. Now, this isn’t to say he should ditch the old curveball though; I think if he tried to throw it harder (~85 MPH) he could have a pretty good slider, similar to the one Trevor Bauer throws.

Final 2019 Grade: Berrios is still on the fringes of being an ace as one might see it across the league, but he still took another step forward in 2019. We’ll go….A-.

Jeremy Maschino is an independent pitching analyst and researcher who specializes in data-driven baseball. Follow him on Twitter here.

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