I think I found out what's wrong with Jose Berrios
“Baseball is a relative sport.”
By nature we often remember the really good or really bad things, and not the okay or decent things that someone does. I bet you can vividly remember the last time you won an award, but perhaps not the last time you went to the grocery store, or who your 10th grade history teacher was.
It’s a core principle to how memories are formed. Those that stand out are often fueled by the emotional context the situation derives from.
Say me for instance, I remember when Adrian Peterson nearly clipped the 2,100 yards or when Jason Zucker beat the Blackhawks in 2013, and conversely when Blair Walsh's epic failure from 27. These were momentous occasions to me personally, and culminated milestones of jubilee and heartbreak with lots and lots of backstory.
Why is that such an important thing to consider when discussing the plight to Jose Berrios? It’s these disaster moments to fans in a season, where we can get way over our heads and make truly outrageous statements, and during the offseason in retrospect be like ---”Did I actually say that?”
He began the season on a pristine pinnacle. Logistically, Jose was exerting his mechanical best in how he was driving through his hips along with his delivery, and keeping his hands back in sync with driving those hips, which was a bad tendency he would commit in his youth.
You can in the video how the different the glove placement is imperative to gaining that 2 to 3 ticks in velocity to the plate. In hardcore pitching circles they call this the kinetic chain, where the components of one’s mechanics are at an equilibrium, where the joints are in a symphonic harmony, making it all a simplistic, clean, and efficiently repeatable delivery.
And Berrios looked really good. He proved with the results to bear, and added a new wrinkle into that much anticipated pitch mix, the changeup. In that 2019 opening unveiling we saw the changeup being fruitfully showcased 12.5% of the time, more than his total the previous season (9.1%) and the cumulative average during his very short career (10.7%).
He wasn’t deliberately delaying his arm speed, and everything in that start was sublime. Pristine. You could say Berrios was perhaps an “ACE” in that start had things not turned sideways and pearshaped just a handful of months later.
Now fast-forward to today. Fresh or perhaps rotten from that second consecutive all-star appearance, Jose Berrios is showcasing his most agonizing and problematic struggle points of his career. He’s been hittable, hit very hard with declining velocity, and to boot; seemingly single-handedly taking baseball’s 3rd best offense (in wOBA and wRC+; .348 and 115 respectively) out of critically important games.
What’s even more frightening? That the strength of the opposition over the past 4 games has sported a 91 wRC+, with 100 being league average. He’s struggling mightily against bad opponents, compounded with the fact that they shouldn’t be hitting him this hard, period.
So far, we as all seperate pitching expert entities haven’t found the culprit to what hindering subset of pitching statistics is responsible for pruning our Johan of today, devoid of the attributes that made us reminisce of Johan, the great killer of men, sheep, and those brave enough to step into the battered boxes of right and left.
But jokes aside, what’s really been the inhibitor to Jose’s velocity and coincidentally his release point since his dynamic beginning?
Let’s zoom into one of his particular starts, this one against the Indians on June 6th as the start to our inquiry.
In that one start, Berrios didn’t feature the curveball that we have become expected of. He would throw a whopping 25.4% changeup, nearly double his career-total and triple his season percentage to that point. But something interesting of note lied in that changeup subgrouping.
In that start he would throw 27 changeups of his entire 107 pitches in those 6 strong innings. Only one ball was hit harder than 85mph, and here’s a mapping of those pitch velocities with their extensions metrics.
Notice anything weird? For a guy throwing from an average release point of 6.5ft away from the pitching rubber, the extensions point were remarkably scattered and the changeup release points also dropped, along with the average pitch velocity.
Increasing extension would typically incite would velocity, (Josh Hader’s extension would come in mind) and it’s a very peculiar trend into Jose’s portfolio.
If we critically analyze even more into Jose’s pitching approach, we wouldn't have anything particularly striking about his movements.
Berrios has a unique windup, something of another other beast where he utilizes his windup as a vehicle to increase the movement and velocity of his pitches. Whereas others use their windup as a balancing point or to find their zen, Berrios uses his windup like a stress ball where he curled himself into a ball, and breaks out of the ball in smooth rhythm to swing his front side and lurch the back end, and launch the pitch.
Looking at the progress he’s made since his debut, where his arms and legs need a lot of refinements, he’s made noticeable and encouraging strides. When he was young he would treat his arms and legs as separate mechanism, and he now manages to keep his core in rhythm and not out of motion with his elbows, knees, and front stridding foot.
So nothing abundantly different with the windup, and not that much difference in the general technique with his hand placement, etc.
Berrios, technically speaking hasn't changed anything with the conducting of his delivery, until Glen Perkins spoke about it during Jose’s latest start. I’m paraphrasing what Roy Smalley said during the game, but here’s what he said:
“This is what Glen Perkins was talking about in the pregame shows, where (Jose) coils up and then has to uncoil and gets way spun around and his arm either lags or he’s gotta really rush to catch up, and that’s what happens when you spike that curveball….. And just you’ve opened up way to quickly and your arm just whips around.”
“They are trying to get (Jose) to alter his mechanics a little bit, but he’s very rotational and he gets really turned around and can’t get his arm back through, so when his hips come way around behind him he coils up, and his arm has to speed up to catch up. That’s why you see so many fastballs up and into lefthanders, and spiked breaking balls.”
You can see that his windup is almost, where he isn’t riding with the energy generated by his windup as much and through that back heel, that the great Parker Hagemen discussed during the offseason as a foundation through building and sustaining velocity. We can see the locked back leg not pulling through, anchored and dragging his weight in a counterproductive direction. It’s slinging and stopping, preventing him from riding through that back leg and pulling in his follow through. It’s a sign of stress and unease to rip through, as young pitching are taught today to rip through with elastic bands at data driven developmental programs. You can see the lazy back leg grappling with the front side and the glove holstered to his side, almost as if he’s more location conscious then ripping the back leg through for the additional ticks of velocity he needs to be at his best.
This looks more like a fatigue and midseason swoon related dilemma than a mechanics dead-gone disaster, but the velocity problems and mechanical technique are very much redeemable.
Additionally I wanted to dive into more of what’s causing the lower arm slot, and perhaps an aggravator of the lower velocity readings and the dropping of the arm slots.
This graphic below shows the release points of all of Jose’s pitches horizontally since the beginning of the season. I postulated the changeup he’s been throwing has played role in why the release point has waned lately, so I consulted with two acute baseball minds to at least minimally come to a conclusion.
Through some research and conspiracy thinking, changeups might play a part in cannibalizing fastball velocity. Now take with a grain of salt, but changeup reduces fastball velocity for youth pitchers, and Paul Nyman theorized that an intentionally manipulated change for sink and drop would lead to fastball velocity dropping.
Coupled with the fact that Jose played with the changeup in the Cleveland start I spoke of, and that his deviation of his velocities are so wide, maybe the changeup is playing with his repetiore and his mehanics. It’s certainly cause for concern given that the more he’s thrown his changeup the more his velocity as dropped.
So I talked with Bill Hetzel, Manager of Mechanical Analysis at Driveline and Analysis, and former pitching coach and Michael O’Neal, former pro-ball pitcher and Driveline pitching trainer, and now SIUE baseball assistant coach about the changeup possibly curtailing Jose’s potential.
ME: Hey Guys. I was recently diving into a pitcher (Jose Berrios), and just wanted to ask that if….. say a righthander where to increasingly lower their arm slot, which just so happened to coincide with an increase in spin rate and decrease in velocity, would you say an increase to using a changeup could be a detriment of this?
I look at some of the side effects of short-arming a changeup (like slinging from the side) and couldn’t find anything, but I did however find that Jose’s changeup spin rate has increased. Do you think that a lowering of the arm slot on a changeup and an increase in spin could lead to decreased velocity? Or perhaps the lowering of arm slot could increase spin in general?
Michael (Former MLB Player); It depends on the guy, but lowering the arm slot would help to create more sidespin on a changeup, which also would increase horizontal movement on the pitch. Jose’s arm slot might also be more natural for him which could be an increase in spin rate.
Bill (Driveline Pitching Analysis Expert); Unfortunately you can’t (increase spin on arm slot) when it comes to increasing spin rate. Raw spin rate that is, there is not anything definitive that has been found to increase it outside of the use of foreign substance.
Michael (Former MLB Player); Me personally, I have the same tendency when I try to “get on top” of my fastball. I laterally trunk-tilt more causing a higher arm slot. This also negatively impacts my spin rate. When I stay taller and don’t tilt so much (unlike what Jose has been doing), my spin rate increases and also causes my arm slot/release point to be lower on the Z axis.
Bill (Driveline Pitching Analysis Expert); Now increasing true spin is different. Pitchers increase true spin all the time by improving spin efficiency. In terms of a change up you ideally and in most cases want to kill or decrease spin. Most changeups, whether it is a circle change or a split type change are trying to kill total spin, kill lift on the pitch to create separation from the heater and kill velocity. I would have to look at Berrios’ pitch metrics to really tell you anything in regards to arm slot changes or spin total changes. Traditionally a change up is predominantly side spin. The spin direction or spin axis for a righty usually needs to shift in the direction of 3:00. Sometimes pitchers won’t have a good feel for how to do that so they will manipulate theirs arm action or arm slot to try to get there instead of pronating the pitch more to create that side spin. In the case of Berrios and knowing how exceptionally good Wes Johnson is with utilizing Trackman data, I’m sure Wes has him trending in the correct direction at the very least.
Michael (Former MLB Player); (It) Depends. A laggy arm could be possible, BUT better changeups have a fast arm speed. Also though, his changeup could play close to the 2 seam fastball, so hows his usage on the 2 seam changed?
So that was the end to this conversation and the article. I hope you enjoyed. As far as what I would expect the Twins to do, we saw earlier in the season when Michael Pineda’s velocity was hitting a rough patch so they placed on the DL. I could conceivably see Rocco buying some time by giving the duo of Lewis Thorpe and Devin Smeltzer a start against the lowly White Sox and Tiger on this coming road trip, and perhaps recharge the rotation (Gibson and Odorizzi velocity has been down lately). Wes Johnson in the splendid piece by Dan Hayes of the Athletic during a makeup interview of his sudden unavailability, said something of significance.
“We’re getting him back on his heel and trying to get him to rotate, get his chest velocity back up,” Johnson said. “It’s not just to get José to survive. We want more of the start against Chicago that he had when he was 94 mph and was dominant. Or even you go to the Miami start when his velocity was down a little bit. The pitch execution was through the roof for seven innings.
“Our focus isn’t to find a way just to get this guy through. We have to try to get him better every time he goes out.”
Which again corroborates with what Wes has done with biomechanics velocity induction. If you want to read more, I would encourage you to read this.