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How José Berríos Can Ride His Changeup Past His Projections

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#1 Matthew Trueblood

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Posted 19 February 2020 - 10:00 PM

José Berríos became a full-fledged four-pitch pitcher in 2019. That makes him more well-rounded, and it might allow him to be better than even advanced models forecast him to be.José Berríos threw more changeups in 2019 than in the previous two seasons, combined. He’d had a good change when he first reached the majors in 2016, but lost confidence in it, and his lack of a second reliable off-speed pitch had been a lingering problem. In 2019, he developed more confidence in using the changeup as a swing-and-miss pitch against right-handers, and used it as a replacement for his sinker against lefties. Despite his struggles late in the season, Berríos made a major breakthrough when he rediscovered the changeup, and that improvement could vault him to ace status in 2020.

Adding (or increasing the usage of) a pitch is one of the key ways in which a pitcher can find a new gear. In Berríos’s case, that would be an especially welcome development, because his projections aren’t overly optimistic, and they don’t even come with especially wide error bars. His metronomic consistency over the past three years, in terms of final, full-season numbers, belies both his real development and struggles as a pitcher, and fools projection systems.

Baseball Prospectus’s PECOTA system generates not just one projection for each player, but a dozen of them. A player’s median projection is the default, but the system spits out projected values for each decile from 10 through 90, plus a couple of even more extreme possibilities. That allows us to look at the range of plausible outcomes for a player, rather than just a single, most likely one. The longer and more consistent a track record a player has, the less those decile projections differ from one another. For young players who have had uneven careers, however, they tend to vary widely.

It’s a bit surprising, then, to note just how little the projected outcomes for the 25-year-old Berríos vary. His median projection includes a 4.20 ERA, 98 DRA- (meaning he’d be slightly above-average, relative to all big-league pitchers), and 1.6 wins above replacement player (WARP). In 184 innings, he projects for 190 strikeouts and 63 walks. In his 20th-percentile projection, he’d have a 4.90 ERA, a 105 DRA-, and be worth 0.9 WARP, with 185 strikeouts and 70 walks. His 80th-percentile projection would only nudge him to a 3.58 ERA, a 91 DRA-, 2.3 WARP, 195 strikeouts, and 56 walks.

To see a real, significant chance of Berríos becoming the dominant starter for whom Twins fans have so often hoped, then, one has to believe he can do something the system can’t foresee. Because pitch types and pitch usage are two things PECOTA does not include in its modeling, Berríos throwing a changeup more frequently and strategically would be just such a blind spot. He’s now deftly using his four-seamer, curve, sinker, and changeup, blending them relatively evenly against batters who stand on each side of the plate. That keeps batters guessing, in a way PECOTA is only beginning to understand that Berríos can do.

More importantly, perhaps, Berríos can command the sinker and the changeup really well when pitching to the third-base side of the plate. He can do the same with his four-seamer and curve to the first-base side of the dish. It’s great when a pitcher can command a given pitch to all quadrants, and to some extent, Berríos can do so with his four-seamer. In a huge majority of cases, though, a given offering is effective mostly when thrown to one side of the plate, because of the way its movement and the pitcher’s mechanics interact. That’s why it’s tremendously valuable for Berríos to have improved his feel for and confidence in the change; it gives him two pitches that are excellent on each side of home plate. Even if a batter decides to cut the plate in half in a given situation and lay off anything else, they have only a 50-percent chance of being right about what they’re swinging at.

The Twins and Berríos have worked hard to ensure that he’s prepared for the long haul of baseball’s long season this year. He’s changed the way he recovers and is working to maximize flexibility, the better to promote his chances of staying healthy. If all of that works, he might emerge this year as the best pitcher in the American League Central, thanks to an improvement he’s already made.

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#2 MMMordabito

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 09:08 AM

Great article!

 

Berrios establishing himself as firmly in the top three of the ALC would even be great accomplishment. That would mean he's pitching better than one of Giolito, Bieber or Clevinger.Of course, Clevinger might not pitch enough and make it easier to attain.


#3 Ruven

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 09:17 AM

The way the pendulum swings, if MLB in its infinite unwisdom overdoes the inevitable changearoo coming to deaden the balls to keep them in the park, it isn’t hard to imagine pitchers all around the league who have good stuff and a live arm having career years that would legitimize comparisons with Koufax and Gibson at their best.

#4 Aerodeliria

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 09:57 AM

I also loved the read. I'd say your theory has much merit. If he can get confidence throwing the change in any count and situation as well as keeping his fastball around 94-95, it could be shades of Johan.

#5 Linus

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 11:12 AM

I also loved the read. I'd say your theory has much merit. If he can get confidence throwing the change in any count and situation as well as keeping his fastball around 94-95, it could be shades of Johan.


Read my mind. Johan went from good to great once that change up was mastered. Here’s hoping.....
  • Aerodeliria likes this

#6 REPETE

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Posted 20 February 2020 - 02:22 PM

 

The way the pendulum swings, if MLB in its infinite unwisdom overdoes the inevitable changearoo coming to deaden the balls to keep them in the park, it isn’t hard to imagine pitchers all around the league who have good stuff and a live arm having career years that would legitimize comparisons with Koufax and Gibson at their best.

How can you put Sandy Koufax and Kyle Gibson in the same sentence??!??

  • wabene likes this