Bert Blyleven On Fixing Jose Berrios
On Friday night in Kansas City, Bert Blyleven honed in on an aspect of Jose Berrios’ delivery that he felt needed attention.
“Right...there!” Blyleven exclaimed as Berrios delivered strike three to the Royals’ Jarrod Dyson in the bottom of the first. “EXPLODE towards home plate.”
Blyleven further elaborated his point by saying “once you get to that balance point, utilize the rubber and explode towards home plate” and that Berrios needed to “push off” the rubber more. For those who are able to see the embedded Twitter post, you can watch and listen to the entire conversation here:
Now, regular Twins broadcast viewers will recall this piece of advice. This, along with a “good downward plane”, have become common pitching jargon slung around for years. It has come to the point where if any Twins pitcher is struggling, the inevitable cure from the broadcast booth would likely be one of those two remedies.
When it comes to utilizing the rubber by pushing off, as Blyleven suggests, science might not agree with the Dutchman’s assessment. According to Kyle Boddy and his Driveline Baseball think tank in Seattle, Washington has studied the “push off” phenomenon and his preliminary research shows that the back leg push off is not the velocity-inducing catalyst that people think it is.
Boddy offered the Mariners’ Arquimedes Caminero as a good example of how velocity isn’t generated off the back leg. When he gets to his balance point and goes forward, his foot disengages the rubber area but doesn’t push off.
When it comes this particular pitching cue, Blyleven is incorrect. By Boddy’s account, coming someone who has dedicated their career to understanding the science behind it, pushing from the back leg has little influence with velocity or command. What we hear from players, former players and coaches is a disconnect between what they FELT and what is actually happening during the process. To Blyleven, the act of driving off the back leg may have felt like pushing off the pitching rubber but that is not what actually transpires in the kinetic chain.
There is no question Berrios needs some refinement. When it comes to his fastball command, he has found the zone just 46% of the time -- compared to the 53.5% major league average. In fact, of those who have thrown 350 or more fastballs, Berrios’ in-zone rate is the fifth lowest. Beyond that, Berrios also struggles to command his fastball in the zone, missing the glove by a wide margin and winding up in a hitter’s whump-em zone. That being said, in spite of the poor command, Berrios’ movement and velocity on his fastball has incited plenty of swing-and-misses making it a very good weapon.
[Berrios' fastball location vs Kansas City]
In the case of Berrios’ development, as Mike Berardino of the St Paul Pioneer Press recently phrased it, the Twins are using a “village” approach. In addition to Blyleven, Berrios has been receiving advice from Neil Allen, Eddie Guardado and teammate Ervin Santana. While the guidance of multiple experienced baseball men can be beneficial, there is also the danger that a young prospect has too many messages being communicated -- especially when some of the advice, in spite of the well-meaning nature, is wrong.