Jose Berrios was drafted in the first round by the Minnesota Twins in 2012. He quickly made his way through the minors and made his major league debut in 2016. His first taste of the majors did not go well, as in 58.1 innings, Berrios had a 8.02 ERA to go along with a 1.87 WHIP. Gross. He started the 2017 season in AAA where he dominated to a tune of a 1.13 ERA and 0.81 WHIP before being called back up to the majors where he has stayed for good. So far this season, the 25-year-old righty is putting together his best season to date. The question is, what has he done to get even better. Let’s dig in and see.
The pitch Berrios uses the most is his curveball. Overall, he uses the pitch 30.4% of the time, which is up slightly from 29.6% he threw last year. The pitch has become a bit more hittable this year; batters have a 0.244 AVG and a 0.220 xBA this year. The increase in average makes sense since he is throwing it in the zone 44.5% of the time, which is up from 37.7% last year. What is interesting is that even though he is throwing it more in the zone, he is getting more called strikes as opposed to whiffs. His called strike percentage is up from 16.6% last year to 21.1% this year. The curve gets an insane amount of horizontal movement and some of the most side to side movement in the entire league. What is interesting is that he is getting about 17.3 inches of break this year, which is up from 15.4 inches last year.
Berrios typically uses the curve against righties but he has increased the usage of the pitch against left-handed batters this year. In 2018, he threw curves 11.7% and now he throws them 12.3% of the time to lefties. With an xBA of 0.150, xSLG of 0.239, and a strikeout percentage of 45.1% last year, I can see why. However, the curve has not been as effective against lefties this year. The main reason why is the location. Last year, he was able to get the curve down and into the left-handed batters.
When Berrios was able to get the curve into lefties, they had no chance. Lefties went zero for 26 when Berrios was able to come inside with the curve. So far this year, lefties are one for 13 so it is still an absolutely devastating pitch when he is able to put it there. This year, even with the increase in side-to-side movement on the curve, he has not been able to get the pitch to come into righties.
See that big red spot, well lefties have been killing that pitch this year. They are hitting 0.364, which is not a good combo seeing as that is where Berrios is throwing the pitch this year. If Berrios is able to get back to last year, it would do wonders for him.
Berrios’ best pitch by far is his four-seam fastball. He uses the pitch 30.2% of the time which is down from 34.4% last year. It has been a bit more hittable this year, as batters are hitting 0.239 which is up from a 0.221 AVG last year. However, the four-seam has an xBA of 0.224 which shows he might be getting a bit unlucky with the pitch. Last year, he was getting lucky as the four-seam had a 0.240 xBA. Like the curveball, the four-seam gets excellent side-to-side movement. The pitch gets about 9.7 inches of break, which is above league average for horizontal movement. He is really pounding the zone with the four-seam this year. His zone percentage has increased from 55.5% to 60.8% this year. With that being said, he has also been able to increase called strikes and whiffs. His called strikes have increased from 20% to 21.8% and whiffs have increased from 11.1% to 12.3%.
Even though the average exit velocity has increased two miles per hour, Berrios has been able to decrease the barrel% on his four-seam from 11.6% to 7.9% and increased his weak% from 60.5% to 66.7%, so he has essentially traded barrels for weak contact. The weak contact is also, obviously, showing up in his average exit velocity. This year, the league average exit velocity on a four-seam fastball is 89.8 MPH and Berrios has an average exit velocity of 87.5 MPH. Berrios has also been able to increase his extension this year on all his pitches, but especially his four-seam.
He has been able to increase from 6.3 feet of extension to 6.5 feet of extension. So even though his velocity on the four-pitch has decreased this year, the effective velocity has increased from 93.2 MPH to 93.4 MPH.
Along with the four-seam, Berrios also throws a two-seam fastball, which he throws about 25% of the time. Like most of Berrios’ other pitches, it gets an insane amount of break on the pitch. He gets about 16.2 inches of break, which is 1.6 inches more than a league-average two-seam. However, unlike some of his other offerings, this pitch has more of a batter split. He throws the two-seam only 19.7% of the time to lefties and there is a good reason for it. Lefties are hitting 0.291 with a 0.509 SLG. Against lefties, the pitch is getting the same amount of strikeouts and walks but there has been a steady drop of two-seam usage against them.
Berrios’ two-seam to righties is a whole other story. He throws it about 31% of the time and they are only hitting 0.206 with a 0.284 SLG. One reason for this is the pitch location. This is where Berrios was throwing his two-seam in 2018.
Other than looking like Stewie from Family Guy, he was not able to locate the pitch into righties effectively. Now take a look at this year’s pitch location.
It is coming into the hands of a right-handed batter. As mentioned before, batters are having a hard time getting a hit on the pitch. While it generates a bunch of contact, it is poor contact and into the ground. The average launch angle is 2.8 degrees with an average exit velocity of 83.9 MPH. For context, the league average launch angle is 4.7 degrees with an average exit velocity of 88.7 MPH
The biggest change to Berrios’ pitch mix this season has been an increased use of his changeup. He is now using the pitch 14.6% of the time as opposed to 9.1% last year. The pitch has become a very effective offering for him. Batters are hitting 0.229 with a 0.325 SLG. Just like most of his other offerings, Berrios is throwing it in the zone more, up to 29.4% of the time. It is also generating more swings and misses in the zone. It was 19.6% last year and is up to 24% this year.
However, when he does throw it out of the zone, batters are swinging more. Last year, o-Swing% was 30.9% and it is all the way up to 39.1% this year. The changeup is also generating more contact but it is pretty poor contact. Last year, the changeup was getting tattooed, has he gave up five home runs for a 33.3% HR/FB ratio and 0.304 ISO. This year, he has only given up one home run, a 7.1% HR/FB ratio and a 0.098 ISO. The biggest difference is that Berrios has traded fly balls and ground balls for infield fly balls. His IFFB% has increased from 25% last year to 57.1% this year.
As you can see from the spray charts, he is getting those weak pop-ups to the shortstop. Add that to an increase in strikeout percentage from 12.5% to 20.9%, the changeup has become pretty elite.
Featured Image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)