Thursday, June 22, 2017

Berrios Making A Mirage Of 2016

Another Jose Berrios start, another dazzling performance. The former top pitching prospect for the Minnesota Twins has looked every bit the top tier starter he was billed to be. After an ugly start to his big league career a year ago, 2017 couldn't be more of a drastic turnaround for the Puerto Rican native. No matter where you look, the numbers jump off the board.

Surface numbers weren't kind to Berrios in his MLB debut during 2016. He made 14 starts and compiled an 8.02 ERA. He won just three of his starts and totaled a 6.20 FIP. A strikeout guy on the farm, he posted just a 7.6 K/9 and walked a ridiculous 5.4 per nine a season ago. He was allowing hard contact one-third of the time, and 16.2% of fly balls were leaving the yard. Batters were making contact with his pitches just under 81% and he generated swinging strikes just 8.2% of the time. You'd have to look lone and hard for anything that suggested promise.

Maybe most importantly, Berrios was just 22 years old, and a whole lot of maturity seems to have latched on over the course of the past year. In 2017, Berrios has made eight starts for the Twins, totaling out to a 7-1 record. He owns a 2.67 ERA backed by a solid 3.30 FIP. Strikeouts are there at an 8.8 K/9 clip, while walks are in control at a 2.5 per nine pace. The Twins hurler has kept hitters off balance allowing just 22.8% hard contact, and only 6.9% of his fly balls are leaving the yard. Contact rates have dipped to 77.2% and he's generating swinging strikes 10.4% of the time. In 2017, you'd be equally hard pressed to find a problematic area.

Despite making half the starts (Baseball Savant hasn't yet been updated to include his latest outing), Berrios has compiled 84 swinging strikes as opposed to 100 in 14 outings a year ago. He's getting batters to miss, and his breaking pitches have become the draw of many a GIF around the internet. Velocity remains the same across the board, and really, the only change to his repertoire is a higher amount of benders being thrown. Halving his changeup usage from 14.4% to 7.7%, Berrios has upped his curveball rate to 28.3% this season.

The knock on the Twins young star has always been his stature. Given his height, the lacking plane on his arm angle could be seen as problematic when getting pitches to appear as anything but straight. Recently, Baseball Prospectus' Matthew Trueblood penned a piece on a few tweaks he's made. In lowering his arm slot (as Parker Hageman diagrams in a tweet), and switching to the third base side of the rubber, Berrios has experimented with controllable options to make him more effective. While they may not be the golden ticket, it's hard to argue against the effectiveness in 2017.
As the season draws on, each start continues to give us more insight into what the Twins may have in Berrios. There's been more than a handful of times he's worked himself into danger this season. What has been different, is that he's avoided the big inning, and in general, not allowed the game to get away from him. Pitchability is something that seems to have taken an uptick, as Berrios is dictating at bats and getting the results he needs to escape a jam.

During the 2016 season, the game seemed to control how Berrios was going to react on the mound. As the flow progressed, Berrios reacted and the results followed. In 2017, the opposite seems to take place. Berrios is dictating the game flow, and allowing a heightened sense of maturity to keep him in charge regardless of the scenario. Pairing that with the minor physical tweaks seems to have unlocked the potential that was expected all along.

Right now it's not worth putting a numerical starter value on him, or discussing what his ceiling for the Twins may be. It's pretty apparent that Jose Berrios is a difference maker, and while it's still early, that much appears to be here for good.