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Assessing Jose Berrios' Pitch Arsenal

The Minnesota Twins starting staff is being led to October by two-time All-Star Jose Berrios. What makes him so good? What might he be able to do to improve? I take a deep dive into his pitch arsenal in this post which involves four different pitches. Also, he had the worst start of the season last night so perfect time for a Berrios post, right?
Image courtesy of © Ben Ludeman-USA TODAY Sports
Jose Berrios is an emerging ace on this young Twins team and he will most likely be at the top of the rotation for years to come. He works with four pitches and all of them can be extremely effective when he is on. He throws a four seamer (30.2%), sinker (24.7%), curveball (30.4%), and a changeup (14.7%). I will be touching on each one of them but my main focus will be on the curveball and the changeup.

Here is a graph showing how often he has thrown each of the four pitches to right-handed batters in his first four seasons.

Attached Image: pitch ratios.png

Four seamer

Let's begin with the basic fastball, shall we? Jose is throwing the fastball around 30% of the time and that is normal for him, but the velocity has dropped from 94 mph to 93 mph since his debut in 2016. That's obviously not a huge drop off, but it has allowed for better control as his BB% has gone down every single year on the fastball from 20.2% in 2016, 10.1% in 2017, 8.3% in 2018 and now just 4.5% this season. With the drop in walks came an uptick in strikeouts every season on the fastball and the percentage of strikeouts now sits at 28.8% for Berrios.

Opposing hitters have not been doing too well against for the four seamer and the expected stats show that they will get even worse. The fastball gives up an expected batting average of .233, an expected slugging% of .383 and an expected weighted on base average of just .273 so basically opposing hitters against the fastball are just as good as Joe Panik who was just DFA'd by the Giants.

One of the main reasons it is so good is because of how it builds off of the other pitches (you will see evidence of this later). For now, here he is fooling Khris Davis with it.



Sinker/Two seamer

This two seamer from Berrios is one of the nastiest two seamers you will see from any pitcher in baseball when it is working, especially against right-handed hitters where he throws it nearly 30% of the time. He only throws it against lefties 19% of the time and it gets hit pretty hard (.282 xBA against). It is definitely effective against right-handers, allowing just a .208/.256/.292 line.

The velocity hangs out around 91-92 mph and he is throwing it more than ever against right-handers. He is striking batters out at a career high 15% as well. This pitch can work well with any of the other pitches, but especially the curveball because of how much they break in opposite ways.

I will show another videos from the amazing @PitchingNinja on Twitter. This will outline just how effective the two seamer can be when paired with the curve.



Curveball

I gave you all a small taste of how effective the curve from Berrios can be with that video above, but I'm going to go a bit more in depth on it. Last season it was easily his best pitch and he was putting hitters away with it at a career high 38.2 whiff%, but it has been a different story in 2019. Hitters went from a .201/.274/.417 line against it in 2018 all the way up to .269/.310/.452 in 2019. The main reason for this has been the location of it.

I'll use the right-handed hitter heat maps against the curve for this example. The first one is where his curve was located the most in 2018 and then the second one will show the location in 2019.
Attached Image: savant curve 2018.png

Attached Image: savant curve 2019.png

There is a pretty noticeable difference here in the middle of the zone. While Berrios is at a career high in zone%, a lot of that is due to curveballs left in the hittable part of the zone. In 2018 he didn't throw as many strikes, but that wasn't necessarily a bad thing, as he rarely left a hittable curveball for the hitter.

Here is an example of one of the hanging curveballs from this season.


Then this is one of the better curveballs from 2018 with some mean break on it.


Now I am by no means saying that Berrios has a bad curveball this season. I am saying he has a much higher tendency to hang one than he did last season. There is a ton of good that comes from the curveball. It has insane break which I will show in a moment, it improves the other pitches like I showed above and it is nearly unhittable against left-handers. I'll show a couple of my favorite examples of the curveball next.



If he can get the curveball back to where it was last season, he will take another huge step towards becoming the Cy Young caliber pitcher he can definitely become and that is because of how effective his changeup is becoming.

Changeup

The final pitch in Jose Berrios' arsenal is the changeup and this is the first season he is throwing it more than 10% of the time. It has shown signs of being an elite pitch to pair with the curveball and fastball and with a little bit more time this will be his third or fourth outstanding pitch to throw against opposing hitters. It has been nearly unhittable against right-handers which is surprising because usually you don't see a lot of righty-on-righty changeups but hitters have just a .133 AVG against it in limited appearances.

Left handed hitters have given him some trouble when they hit the changeup with a .246/.267/.369 line with the expected stats looking worse by at least 30 points in each category. When Berrios has the changeup working in his favor, it is likely going to be a good day for him. The best improvement for the changeup has been Berrios' ability to keep it down in the zone so hitters are forced to swing, otherwise it'll be a called strike. Here is the changeup location from 2018 (top) compared to 2019 (bottom).
Attached Image: savant heatmap 2018.png
Attached Image: savant heatmap.png

Here are a couple of his best changeups along with what an entire team looks like when the pitch is working well.


Final remarks

I was actually going to write a "could Berrios win Cy Young" post but then the Braves basically shoved that in my face so I changed it up and stayed up a bit later to write this instead. I think I had some interesting finds with the curveball and changeup location from last year to now. If Jose Berrios has both of those pitches working how he likes, along with his elite two seam fastball then the opponent doesn't stand a chance. Berrios is quickly becoming the ace the Twins need and a lot of people would say he may already be there. It's always pretty cool to have a two-time All-Star starting pitcher at just 25-years-old leading the pitching staff.

Here is one final video of his three better pitches when they are all on.

Big shoutout to PitchingNinja on Twitter. Everyone go follow him for daily pitching highlights.

  • rukavina, Minny505, Patrick Wozniak and 1 other like this

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10 Comments

Thanks for this article... a little encouragement after a career worst night. They happen to everyone. I expect he will bounce back but the Minnesota Sports fan in me says he is about to hit the IL for the stretch run....

 

Let's begin with the basic fastball, shall we? Jose is throwing the fastball around 30% of the time and that is normal for him, but the velocity has dropped from 94 mph to 93 mph since his debut in 2016. That's obviously not a huge drop off, but it has allowed for better control as his BB% has gone down every single year on the fastball from 20.2% in 2016, 10.1% in 2017, 8.3% in 2018 and now just 4.5% this season. With the drop in walks came an uptick in strikeouts every season on the fastball and the percentage of strikeouts now sits at 28.8% for Berrios.

 

Can you elaborate on the percentages further? I don't understand what you are saying regarding BB% using his fastball or strikeout% using his fastball. Is this the percentage of the walks/strikeouts he issues when throwing that pitch as the final pitch in an at bat?

 

Love Pitching Ninja. The overlays he creates really help to show how difficult hitting MLB pitching (especially of Berrios' caliber) really is.

Love Pitching Ninja. The overlays he creates really help to show how difficult hitting MLB pitching (especially of Berrios' caliber) really is.

Has he ever done an overlay of an ineffective pitcher to show why? It's fine, and fun, to see a curve and a fastball (or whatever) diverge, but probably that looks similar no matter who is throwing. Or, maybe not?

    • Minny505 likes this

 

Has he ever done an overlay of an ineffective pitcher to show why? It's fine, and fun, to see a curve and a fastball (or whatever) diverge, but probably that looks similar no matter who is throwing. Or, maybe not?

I don't know if he has done anything to highlight ineffective pitchers. I imagine that would mostly just be a gif of someone hitting a homer.

 

One of the really cool gifs Pitching Ninja created was of Adam Ottavino's slider and 2-seem FB ending up in the exact same spot (low and away to a righty) despite taking drastically different paths to get there.

    • ashbury likes this

I don't know if he has done anything to highlight ineffective pitchers. I imagine that would mostly just be a gif of someone hitting a homer.

 

One of the really cool gifs Pitching Ninja created was of Adam Ottavino's slider and 2-seem FB ending up in the exact same spot (low and away to a righty) despite taking drastically different paths to get there.

Unless you're comparing Berrios video to some base case, it's just a pretty picture. :)

 

Which doesn't reduce the enjoyment.

From the very beginning of the year, he seems to have been more aggressive throwing the ball over the plate to get ahead early in the count. The results have been pretty predictable. Walk rate has declined a bit, and hits allowed rate has increased a bit. The extra hits have not resulted in more HR’s allowed. And the aggressiveness in the zone has resulted in an improvement in pitches per PA, (although probably contributing to a slight decrease in his K rate.) Other than that, his results are almost identical to last year’s. He’s improved marginally. He’s good. But, he wasn’t a legitimate Cy Young candidate as of 7:00pm on Tuesday, let alone 9:00pm.
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Patrick Wozniak
Aug 07 2019 06:57 PM

That was a really fun and informative read. Love the use of the videos as well! 

    • Cooper Carlson likes this
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VivaBomboRivera!
Aug 07 2019 07:31 PM

Tom Froemming and I have both noted that of late batters are frequently laying off the curveball.Tom tracked down the Chase-Miss stat that validates this.It is possible that something in Berrios' delivery is tipping hitters off to this pitch.. 

    • Minny505 likes this
This was great, thanks. I was thinking the same thing about how difficult tracking these pitches would be, damn. With the naked eye you can see how filthy Berrios is sometimes. The key for him is a strong finish this year. It will be fun to watch.
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VivaBomboRivera!
Aug 09 2019 10:09 PM

Smalley's latest podcast provides new insights.


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