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Berrios In Line for Some Hardware?

Posted by Ted Schwerzler , 04 February 2019 · 1,488 views

minnesota twins jose berrios cy young
The Minnesota Twins decided to forego an opportunity to upgrade their starting rotation this offseason. Michael Pineda returns from injury, and Kyle Gibson has rounded out into an above average hurler. The greatest development from the holdovers would be Jose Berrios taking another step forwards. An All Star in 2018, the Puerto Rican was recently tabbed as a dark horse for the AL Cy Young.

MLB.com’s Matt Kelly named the young Twins starter as one of six sleeper candidates for the 2019 AL Cy Young award last week. Coming off a season in which he posted a 3.84 ERA along with a 1.144 WHIP and just a 3.90 FIP, that seems like somewhat of a substantial leap. Turning 25 in the middle of this season though, there’s plenty of reason to believe that Berrios’ best days are still ahead of him. If indeed that is the case, the secondary numbers suggest trends flowing in the right direction as well.

At his worst, Berrios gave up far too many homers and often did so with men on base. Having honed in command year-over-year, he’s also drastically improved his ability to keep the ball in the park. In 2018 the 9.5 K/9 and 2.9 BB/9 were both career bests, and while the 1.2 HR/9 was a step backwards from the 0.9 HR/9 tally in 2017, it was a far cry from the ugly 1.9 HR/9 in his debut season. The ratios are all getting to a pretty solid place, but the percentages are what truly will help him to turn the corner.

Utilizing a devastating curveball, Berrios generated a career best 11.2% swinging strike rate, reaching double-digits for the first time in his career. He also produced a career best 32.8% chase rate and allowed contact just 76.2% of the time (you guessed it, another career best). To thwart walks, he pounded the zone with a 5% jump on first pitch strikes (64.5%) and he looks to be comfortable with a pitch mix that he replicated from 2017.

Something in between where Jose has been each of the past two seasons is likely the crossroads of optimal production. Hard hit rates were better in 2017, and he allowed just 9% of fly balls to leave the yard two years ago. Loud contact isn’t going to help a guy who will always battle against the plane of his fastball, but pitch tunneling, and sequencing can help to make the curveball an even more difficult offering to deal with.

Steamer projections look at 2019 as somewhat of a hiccup for the Twins blossoming ace. Marking him with a 4.26 ERA and just a 2.6 fWAR, he’d be taking a noticeable step backwards from the production that we saw in 2018. As a guy who routinely racked up strikeouts on the farm and turned in a 2.51 ERA with 10.1 K/9 and just 0.6 BB/9 in his final lengthy stay at Triple-A, there’s reason to believe the ability is there.

The blueprint going forward for Berrios remains similar to what it always has been. He’s a guy who works inside (as noted by his hit by pitch marks) and has struggled when giving up free passes or big innings. Although Minnesota has not done much in the form of additional high-level talent on the field this winter, the additions to the organization from a coach and development standpoint have been impressive. Wes Johnson is noted as a pitching savant, and both Jeremy Heffner and Josh Kalk will have a greater impact with another year of continuity. That foundation could prove to be what helps more than a handful of players take the next step.

I don’t know if I’m ready to get on board with Berrios winning a Cy Young just yet, but 2019 could certainly provide a strong foundation as the point looked backed upon that everything just clicked.

For more from Off The Baggy, click here. Follow @tlschwerz

  • howieramone2 likes this

Feb 04 2019 12:45 PM

I'm guessing it will take one more year after this for Berrios to hit his ceiling. Whether he ever wins hardware depends on a lot of things he can't control. I believe he will become the mythical ace the board is lusting for.

You mean, like a circular saw, or a cold chisel, or such?

Seems like a good guy to lock up long-term. If he turns into an ace, you have a star locked up at an almost affordable rate. If he remains inconsistent his whole career, well I'd rather pay a home-grown talent who is fun to watch and a good guy. And even if he never becomes a number one, he'll still be useful somewhere in the rotation, and you need those guys too. The only truly terrible scenario is a bad injury. I'd say, insure the contract, and keep him around. I really don't want to see him pitching for the Yankees.