The Evolution of Jose Berrios
Image courtesy of © Kim Klement-USA TODAY SportsDraft and potential
Berrios was drafted with the 32nd overall pick in the 2012 draft which also produced Byron Buxton, Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers, Corey Seager and Marcus Stroman, to name a few. When Berrios was taken by the Twins with the first pick in Round Comp A, his scouting report hailed his ‘absolute hammer’ of a power breaking ball. While some scouts were wary of Berrios’ smaller frame and lack of projectability, he was thought to be drawing interest from teams at the back end of the first round.
Berrios made short work at every level of minor league baseball. He eventually hit a K/9 of at least 8.5 at every level of minor league ball, with xFIP typically in the 2.00 – 3.00 range. Berrios was cruising through professional lineups without resistance for four years, until he arrived at Target Field in 2016.
Disastrous Debut to Solid 2017
When Berrios made his major league debut in 2016, there was a palpable air of excitement for Twins fans. The Twins faithful had been waiting on a frontline starter since Francisco Liriano’s emergence was derailed by injury. Berrios struggled initially at the major league level. In 58 innings, he put up an 8.02 ERA, BB/9 of 5.40 and an xFIP of 5.64. Berrios had never had to ‘figure it out’ in his journey through the minor leagues, 2016 was his first taste of professional baseball adversity.
One of the first major steps in Berrios’ major league evolution was developing a more well-rounded pitch mix. When first called up, Berrios threw his fastball up to 60% of the time. For secondary pitches, Berrios relied almost as heavily on his changeup as his excellent curveball. Berrios’ fastball and changeup were hammered in 2016, to the tune of a .813 and 2.000 SLG% in May respectively. Berrios had dominated hitters with his fastball throughout his major league career, but it was getting crushed at the major league level.
Berrios came back in 2017 with a new approach, throwing his fastball around 31% of the time and his curveball, on average 33% of the time. The impact was immediate. With the exception of a small sample in October, Berrios SLG% against on these two pitches fell to a month long high of .541 and .458 respectively.
Berrios made two small but important mechanical adjustments in 2017 which have been well documented by Jeff Sullivan and Matthew Trueblood, among others. Berrios lowered his arm slot and moved from the first base side of the rubber to the third base side. The cumulative impact of these seemingly small adjustments was to increase the verticality of Berrios’ spine and the consistency of his delivery. This also resulted in an uptick in spin rate on his fastball and curveball. Berrios additionally made significant improvements to both his control and command in 2017, lowering his BB/9 from 5.40 in 2016 to 2.97 in 2017.
Another aspect of Berrios’ 2017/18 evolution was his curveball. It began to take on more tilt and break more significantly down and away from right-handed hitters. This is exacerbated by his shift to the third base side of the rubber. For right-handed hitters, Berrios’ curveball is now more difficult to pick up as it’s traveling across their field of vision and their bodies more dramatically.
The final improvement in Berrios’ curveball is his ability to command it. Peek at the difference between his curveball heat map in 2016 (curveball only VS RHH) and the beginning of his 2018 season (curveball only VS RHH). As you can see, Berrios is significantly more proficient in spotting his curveball on the lower and outer half of the plate. This is in spite of a recent month-long stretch where he lost command of his curveball altogether.
It’s the difference between Berrios’ curveball looking like this (excellent)
Or this (unhittable)
Berrios lost his curveball in a recent four-start stretch which saw a significant reduction in strikeout rate (just 11 Ks). Additionally, Berrios gave up 18 earned runs in just 18.1 innings of work and had Twins fans concerned he might be headed for a stint on the DL. Berrios allayed those fears with a dominant 10 K performance against St. Louis on Tuesday. Given what Berrios has been through the get to where he is and the fanaticism with which he hones his craft, Twins fans shouldn’t be surprised at his quick turnaround. Berrios will be an outstanding major league pitcher for a long time. He’s shown his ability to adjust and evolve time and time again. La Makina is automatic.
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