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Why José Berríos is NOT the Twins' Game 1 Playoff Starter

Posted by GoGonzoJournal , 20 June 2019 · 1,836 views

jose berrios martin perez kyle gibson jake odorizzi michael pineda
Why José Berríos is NOT the Twins' Game 1 Playoff Starter With the Tampa Bay Rays set to make the 2019 MLB Playoffs and turn the 115-year-old approach to playoff rotations on its head, it’s well past time for questioning the effectiveness of the traditional approach to postseason pitching. But it’s the Minnesota Twins and José Berríos who present the most interesting postseason pitching situation.

This was originally published at FoulPlaybyPlay.com.

The Tried and Not-so-true Approach
I get it. Put your best pitcher out there in Game 1 of a playoff series to give him the best chance to pitch in as many games of the series as possible. But is that really the best way to go? We’ve seen Madison Bumgarner win three World Series games, but not every team has a Madison Bumgarner. In fact, most MLB teams don’t have a Madison Bumgarner. Most MLB teams’ best pitcher isn’t their best pitcher against every MLB team.
The Tampa Bay Rays aren’t even the best example of a playoff team without a bonafide number one starting pitcher, or ace. They have 2018 Cy Young Award-winner Blake Snell, who’s struggled in 2019, especially against the Yankees recently, but Brent Honeywell, Jr. might be even better someday. The Rays will still probably run an opener out there at some point if they make the postseason, but they shouldn’t feel the need to start their best pitcher in their first playoff game.

The Minnesota Twins shouldn’t either. Their ace is undoubtedly José Berríos, but even he’s a question mark, especially when it comes to throwing a new baseball with seams harder to grip in cold, October weather. Berríos himself has proven to struggle late in the season, with his career strikeout-to-walk ratio plummeting from 5.13 in March/April to 1.88 in September/October. That could be a mute point if Berríos continues to mow down batters into September, but that isn’t evidence that the Twins’ best shot to win the American League Division Series is to start Berrios in Game 1—or at all for that matter.

If the American League standings remain unchanged and the Twins win the pennant, they’d play their first postseason game at cavernous Target Field. It’s 29th in runs allowed and 28th in home runs allowed. That’s crazy considering the Twins are leading MLB in home runs with 140 through 73 games. Meanwhile, Boston’s Fenway Park is 12th in allowing runs and 25th when it comes to allowing home runs. Yankee Stadium is 28th and 22nd, respectively, and Minute Maid Park in Houston is 11th and 11th, respectively. Basically, regardless of whom Minnesota faces in the American League postseason, its coaching staff will want to consider the ballpark factors and opponents’ past success against its starters. If they do, they’ll find José Berríos shouldn’t necessarily start Game 1 of the ALDS or any playoff series.

Play Aces like a Poker Hand…Slow
Baseball’s been going about postseason pitching all wrong because instead of treating aces like aces in the hole, they’ve been playing them as if they’re bluffing—like they’re over-representing their hand as if they’re already beaten. And that could just be scared managers succumbing to the uncanny and inexplicable commitment to tired traditions in baseball. After completing a 162-game schedule providing plenty of data like ballpark and head-to-head splits repeatedly indicating that any pitcher or group of pitchers can win any game when put in a proper position to succeed given the circumstances, why is all that ignored as soon as the postseason begins?

Twins vs. Tampa Bay Rays
Just for fun, let’s assume the Twins face the Rays in the ALDS, a best-of-five series. At most, Berríos would be able to pitch two games, but should he, and if so, which games should he pitch? Judging from a simple analysis of pitching splits over a career, Odorizzi would be the Twins’ best option to start Game 1 of the ALDS against Tampa Bay at Target Field and Game 4 at Tropicana Field. Odorizzi has allowed the lowest OPS (on-base percentage plus slugging percentage) to Tampa Bay’s hitters, and is second to only Berríos in OPS allowed at Target Field. Odorizzi also has the lowest OPS allowed at Tropicana Field—a measly .655—while Berríos is considerably better at Target Field (.645 OPS allowed at home) than he is at Tropicana Field (.812 OPS allowed).

Michael Pineda’s .796 OPS allowed in Tampa Bay would be a perfect fit in Game 3 at The Trop, with Berríos taking the hill in Game 5, if necessary.

Twins vs. Boston Red Sox
Berríos doesn’t makes sense as an ALDS Game 1 starter against Boston either, even though he’s allowed an OPS of just .625 when facing the Red Sox and proved he can get them out on Monday, going eight innings and surrendering just five hits and one earned run. His .645 OPS allowed at Target Field is also a team-best, which is why he should only be pitching at Target Field, but not necessarily in Game 1.

Kyle Gibson is better at Fenway Park (.450 OPS allowed) than he is at Target Field (.757 OPS allowed). In fact, he’s the Twins’ best option to pitch Game 3 of any American League playoff series in which Minnesota has home field advantage and doesn’t include the Rays. His .593 OPS allowed in Houston is lowest on the team, as is his .647 OPS allowed in Yankee Stadium. But who should the Twins start in Game 1 against Boston?

Answer: Martín Pérez. Pérez’s .738 OPS allowed at Target Field is second-best on the team, and his .548 OPS allowed to Red Sox hitters is best on the team and 77 points lower than Berríos’. He gives the Twins the best chance to beat Boston in Game 1, and setting Berríos up to pitch Game 4 at Fenway Park (.871 OPS allowed at Boston) instead of Game 5 at Target Field (.645 OPS allowed) is setting him up for failure.

Twins vs. New York Yankees
To finally end the Twins’ playoff curse against the Yankees, it’ll take Michael Pineda pitching Game 1 at Target Field. His .689 OPS allowed against the Yankees is second only to Jake Odorizzi’s, who should only pitch in Minnesota because his .684 OPS allowed at Target Field is much better than him working the upper part of the strike zone with his sneaky fastball in the little league ballpark that is Yankee Stadium against the biggest hitters in baseball. Pitching Game 2 would line Odorizzi up to pitch Game 5, at home, if necessary.

Pineda pitching Game 1 lines him up to start Game 4 in familiar Yankee Stadium, where he has the second-best OPS allowed amongst Twins starting pitchers. Kyle Gibson would pitch Game 3, and Berríos could be used out of the bullpen in high-leverage situations against lefties. That’s right. José Berríos is a bullpen arm against the Yankees—and the Astros.

Twins vs. Houston Astros
Martín Pérez is the perfect pick for the Twins to start Games 1 and 4 in an ALDS against the Astros. His .711 OPS allowed against Houston is second only to Odorizzi’s, and his .655 OPS allowed at Minute Maid Park is also second to only Kyle Gibson’s .593 OPS allowed in Houston. Games 2 and 5 should go to Odorizzi, where his .684 OPS allowed at home will pair well with his team-best .689 OPS allowed to Houston’s hitters. Gibson should get Game 3.

Bad Arguments Against
People will incorrectly argue that Martín Pérez beating Justin Verlander is less likely than Berríos doing so. But it was Jake Odorizzi getting the shutout win over Verlander, pitching seven innings on April 29. And it was Pérez getting a win over Houston, pitching eight innings of four-hit, shutout baseball on May 1. Berríos backed him up with a win the next day, pitching seven innings and allowing two earned runs on seven hits.

People will incorrectly argue that not pitching Berríos as a starter in potential ALDSs against Houston and New York would negatively affect his ability if asked to start in the ALCS. But this, like any other, and especially in the randomness of the postseason, is a sport you approach one game at a time. You can’t worry about the ALCS until you get there. Also, it’s more likely, given the season thus far, that Minnesota meet either Houston or New York in the ALCS. Speaking of, how does this all look in a seven-game series?

ALCS: Twins vs. Yankees
In a seven-game series against the Yankees, do everything the same. Start Pineda in Games 1, 4, and 7, Odorizzi in Games 2 and 5, Gibson in Game 3. Pineda’s last action in an ALDS against Tampa Bay would be in Game 4 (if necessary), so he’d pitch on regular rest in Game 1 of the ALCS. ALDSs against Boston and Houston wouldn’t pose any problems. Use José Berríos out of the bullpen against lefties.

ALCS: Twins vs. Astros
Start Pérez in Games 1, 4, and 7. His last game in an ALDS against Boston would have been Game 4 (if necessary), so if it went five games, he’d start on regular rest. Start Odorizzi in Games 2 and 6, and give Game 5 in Houston to Gibson and his team-best .593 OPS allowed at Houston. Use José Berríos out of the bullpen against anyone but George Springer (6-for-12 with two extra-base hits) and Alex Bregman (4-for-7 with three extra-base hits).

ALCS: Twins vs. Rays
Start Odorizzi in Games 1, 4, and 7, unless he has to pitch Game 5 against the Yankees or Astros in the ALDS. If that’s the case, start Berríos in Games 1, 4, and 7, whose last game in an ALDS would be in Game 4 against Boston, which would be regular rest if it went five games. Start Odorizzi in Games 2 and 6, if necessary, and Pineda in Game 3.

ALCS: Twins vs. Red Sox
Pitch Pérez in Games 1, 4, and 7. His last action in an ALDS would come in Game 4 against Houston, so if it went five games he’d start on regular rest. Start Berríos in Games 2 and 6. That keeps his .871 OPS allowed away from Fenway. Gibson pitches Game 3.

So José Berríos doesn’t make sense as a Game 1 starter for the Minnesota Twins in any American League playoff series unless Jake Odorizzi is unavailable. Forget all that in the World Series, though, but worry about that when you get there.

  • Oldgoat_MN likes this



Berrios is our best current pitcher by a mile and should absolutely start game 1 of any playoff series.  

 

You're worrying too much about stats in ballparks or stats versus teams. These don't compare well in a player to player comparison. For instance how does Berrios sample size in Tropicano Field compare to Odorizzi who called it home for so many years? How does Pineda's sample size against the Yankees stack up to everyone who didn't play most of their career for them? Gibson, Berrios, or Perez versus Pineda or Odorizzi in Fenway/Yankee Stadium/Tropicano doesn't really work because Pineda and Odorizzi were in the AL East for a long time. These comparisons are almost never on an equal footing.

 

I don't see an argument that any of our current pitchers has better stuff or track record than Berrios and he should be used in as many games as possible in the playoffs. Game 1 starter all the way.

    • Danchat, ChrisKnutson, jkcarew and 1 other like this
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GoGonzoJournal
Jun 21 2019 07:38 AM

 

Berrios is our best current pitcher by a mile and should absolutely start game 1 of any playoff series.  

 

You're worrying too much about stats in ballparks or stats versus teams. These don't compare well in a player to player comparison. For instance how does Berrios sample size in Tropicano Field compare to Odorizzi who called it home for so many years? How does Pineda's sample size against the Yankees stack up to everyone who didn't play most of their career for them? Gibson, Berrios, or Perez versus Pineda or Odorizzi in Fenway/Yankee Stadium/Tropicano doesn't really work because Pineda and Odorizzi were in the AL East for a long time. These comparisons are almost never on an equal footing.

 

I don't see an argument that any of our current pitchers has better stuff or track record than Berrios and he should be used in as many games as possible in the playoffs. Game 1 starter all the way.

Theoretically, he'd have an impact in more games and could pitch just as many innings out of the bullpen as as a starter. Also, those outs would be more valuable than some of those against hitters most professional bullpen arms could get out. 

I like it that you're thinking outside the box.

While all of these stats are of a relative small sample size, it is the data we have for this year.

Not sure that you are correct, but I like it.

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LA VIkes Fan
Jun 21 2019 11:10 AM

I'm not sure I like this but it is interesting. I still remember us starting ErvIn Santana in Yankee stadium in the Wild Card game in 2017 when he had both (1) a bad record in that Stadium and against the Yankees in general, and (2) extreme fly ball tendencies, the worst thing you can have in that band box of a ballpark. I would like to see more thought going into the playoff rotation if we're fortunate enough to get there than just throwing out the same pitchers in the same order.

 

Having said that, it would takea lot of very convincing data to not start Berrios in game 1. He's the starter that gives us the best chance to win by a pretty wide margin. After him though, the other 4 should go in the order dictated by match ups and opponent. 

Hypothetically speaking, you toss Berrios in Games 2 and 5 in the 1st series and win the series.You go into the next series with your best pitcher in line to pitch not until Game 3 and only twice in the series IF it goes 7 games.  

 

IMO don't go by SSS in playoff series. Play your best.

 

Theoretically, he'd have an impact in more games and could pitch just as many innings out of the bullpen as as a starter. Also, those outs would be more valuable than some of those against hitters most professional bullpen arms could get out. 

In theory he could enter the game with a 10 run deficit as a reliever every time and not impact the outcome at all. 

 

Or we could just keep him where he has excelled and hope he hands our bullpen a late lead like he normally does.

 

Also noticing a trend where the super relievers from each post season get hurt or are ineffective the following season(s). Chapman, Andrew Miller, Corey Knebel, etc.

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diehardtwinsfan
Jun 22 2019 07:45 PM

the problem with this is small samples... not to mention some of the career starts at other fields are against teams that no longer exist.

    • adorduan likes this

I totally agree with you, Gonzo. To not pictch your ace against their ace increases your own ace's aceness. I feel the same way to start the season. Set the rotation so your #1 is facing off against their #2. And that follows your #2 against their #3, perhaps, and so on. The only disadvantage, in a sense, comes with their number one against your #5, in a rotation. But you could go their # 1 against your #3, and then their #2 against your #1 and their #3 against your #2, and your have pre-set the advantage in 2 out of 3 matchups. But I really dig your analysis even more. No need to go #1 against #1. If you beat their #1, which is not unreasonalbe, it sets up for a large advantage for the next two games. I like your thinking.