Twins

Why Jose Berrios' Slow Start Seemed Worse Than Taylor Rogers’

Photo credit: David Richard (USA TODAY Sports)

As questions swirled about how Minnesota Twins manager Rocco Baldelli has used his bullpen and the added weight of key pitchers struggling or getting injured early this season, two names have stood out. Both Taylor Rogers and Jose Berrios did not live up to expectations early this season, but why has Berrios’ slow start been more impactful than Rogers?

Comparing Jose Berrios and Taylor Rogers early this season

Both Rogers and Berrios have started the season with some difficult outings, and the numbers don’t look good at the moment. However, both appear to be making changes that could be huge for Minnesota in their final 30 games.

This season Berrios was placed at the top of the Twins rotation after being named the Opening Day starter. The homegrown ace has been working on the velocity of his fastball while coming off of a career year, and he was looking to have another dominant season.

However, this season Berrios has an ERA of 4.75 through six starts with a 2-3 record and has looked shaky on the mound.

Even though he has continued to raise the velocity of his fastball, it is currently his most hittable pitch. Batters are hitting an average of .384 and slugging .871 when he uses it, while batters are hitting an average and slugging just .094 when he uses his curveball.

Whatever was throwing him off his game, you wouldn’t have been able to tell after his last win. It was arguably his best of the season: He started to look like the Berrios of old, collecting six shutout innings with nine strikeouts against a decent Milwaukee Brewers team.

On the other side, Rogers has appeared in 12 games, pitching 11.1 innings. His ERA is almost double his career-low last season at 4.76, with batters hitting .313 against him. While Rogers has blown two games this year, he still has seven saves. The only question is whether or not he can find the same consistency that has been seen in the past.

Rogers has made adjustments to his approach since being drafted in the 11th round of the 2012 draft, moving from a starter to reliever in the minors and transforming from a lefty specialist to a closer in the majors.

He also seems to have made some changes in his pitch usage this season. His slider that he started using in the 2018 season, and that he used 35% of the time in 2019 according to baseballsavant.com, is no longer being used. Instead he is using is his sinker. He uses it a little over 50% of the time and batters are averaging .400 and slugging .600 against it. His curveball has also seen more usage according to MLB data.

While both pitchers have not looked great coming out of the gate, Berrios’ slow start has been more impactful than Rogers’. With the need for starting pitchers growing, closers are not as important as they once were in the days of Mariano Rivera.

Matchups have mitigated the need to have a single closing pitcher. Rocco Baldelli is using his often bullpen pitchers when he thinks they have a favorable matchup in the ninth inning. This results in pitchers like Rogers not being used as a closer every time out like they may have been 10 years ago.

Baldelli has used a variety of pitchers to close games this season. This illustrates that in most cases it is easier for a bullpen pitcher to step up and throw the ninth than it is for them to be thrown into the starting rotation. The only question is whether we will see a day where “proven closers” are needed in every bullpen again.

Either way, the Twins will need Berrios to step up and string together some impressive starts like his starting counterparts, Kenta Maeda and Randy Dobnak. Closing games will be easier to resolve as Baldelli has more depth coming out of the bullpen. With half the season done, hopefully both Berrios and Rogers can figure out their game to set the Twins up for another postseason appearance.

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