Leaders Have Become Laggards on Twins Pitching Staff
Image courtesy of Jesse Johnson and Benny Sieu, USA TodayWhen the All-Star Game rolled around last summer, Berríos was there representing the Twins, thanks to his 3.00 ERA and 1.11 WHIP through 18 starts. The closer Rogers easily could have joined Minnesota's No. 1 starter on the All-Star roster with his 1.82 ERA and 2.84 Win Probability Added, which ranked fifth among MLB relievers.
Since the 2019 All-Star break, Berríos has a 4.93 ERA and 1.44 WHIP in 19 starts. Rogers has a 3.96 ERA with six homers allowed and a negative WPA (-0.18) in 38 2/3 innings.
It's been strange and saddening to watch these former stalwarts stall out and show their warts. Both are great stories who've earned their way into the hearts of Twins fans – Berríos a scrappy spark plug known for his heart and relentless work ethic, Rogers a washed-out starter who reinvented himself as an elite bullpen arm. They were rightfully viewed coming into this season as the entrenched leaders on a staff poised for championship contention, but both have come up noticeably short during the first month of action.
Whatever is afflicting these hurlers, the symptoms are similar. They're getting hit, hard. A look at their batted-ball profiles shows a clear shift away from soft/medium contact and toward harder contact.
First Half 2019 – Soft: 21.0% | Medium: 43.7% | Hard: 35.3%
Since Then – Soft: 15.4% | Medium: 44.2% | Hard: 40.4%
First Half 2019 – Soft: 18.4% | Medium: 52.0% | Hard; 29.6%
Since Then – Soft: 22.0% | Medium: 43.0% | Hard: 35.0%
Last year, batters barreled up 6.5% of offering from Berríos, this year it's up to 12.3%. Rogers is up from 6.4% to 11.1%.
What is at the root of these struggles? In neither case has there been a significant drop-off in velocity or stuff. Quite the opposite in Berríos' case; he's up a couple ticks of MPH across the board (perhaps to his detriment). Physically, these guys both seem okay, and whatever issues they're going through look to be correctable. Rogers in particular has been overtly a victim of bad luck, paper-cut to death by bleeders and bloopers in a couple of his rough outings. His 2.29 FIP and 2.36 xFIP, compared to a 4.82 ERA, serve as evidence.
I can't say I'm especially worried about the long-term outlook for either of these pitchers. They're 26 and 29 years old, both healthy. The performance dips are ultimately covering small samples in contrast to their impressive bodies of work in years preceding, and neither has lost the ability to reach the mid-90s or miss bats.
The real takeaway for me here is that even with the incumbent ringleaders on the Twins' pitching staff this year both dragging down rather than lifting up their respective units, this team is still shutting down opposing offenses consistently. Entering play Wednesday, Minnesota ranked second in the AL, behind Cleveland, in ERA and runs allowed.
That speaks to the admirable job this front office has done in proactively adding talent to supplement Berríos and Rogers, as well as the coaching staff in developing pieces around him. The emergence of Randy Dobnak and Tyler Duffey during the same period as those two have slid, for instance, has provided a stark counterbalance – not to mention the additions of Kenta Maeda and Sergio Romo.
The Twins now have a variety of "ace" candidates for both the rotation and bullpen, relieving pressure on Berríos and Rogers while also allowing the Twins to be patient as the duo seeks to find their grooves once again.
With that said, it'd sure be nice to see the lapsed leaders of this pitching staff could emphatically reclaim their titles, and soon. I miss watching them dominate, and I know I'm not alone.
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