In 12 starts in the 2020 season, Minnesota right-hander José Berríos posted a 5-4 record with a 4.00 ERA (4.06 FIP), 9.71 K/9 and a 3.71 BB/9. Overall, not too shabby, but in a shortened season, his reputation as a streaky pitcher had me, and likely others, buying in at his price from last year, hoping that his hot streak would cover the majority of the season. Well, that wasn’t quite the case, but Berrios was still solid. He got better as the year went on from a statistical perspective, but I would say he was far from perfect.
The walks for Berrios were up, and one thing in recent years that has been discussed plenty is his need to keep that walk rate down. He had posted a walk rate below 3.0 BB/9 each of the past three years but was unable to do so in 2020. Why? Well, it’s simple, via a basic equation.
More pitches out of the zone + less swings out of the zone = more balls thrown
More balls thrown doesn’t necessarily equate to more walks, but the likelihood is certainly increased. Correlation doesn’t always mean causation, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck!
The above graph corroborates the thesis. Less pitches in the zone, as well as fewer batters leaving the zone, resulted in elevated walk metrics. Berrios had such a good defense behind him in 2020, and should again in 2021, that he should look to pitch to contact a bit more. He’s got nasty stuff and his strikeouts will always be there but use that defense!
Again, correlation doesn’t mean causation, but Berrios failed to make it past six innings in a single start in 2020. Sure, it could have been by design, but pitching to a bit more contact will help him get deeper into games. Also, a more regular ramp up to the regular season should certainly help as well, so part of this can be explained by the coronavirus, not necessarily Berrios’ increased propensity to leave the strike zone.
Take a look at the graph below, courtesy of Baseball Savant, and tell me if you see the same thing first.
If you were like me, your first thought was “HOLY FASTBALL!” His fastball was lit up in 2020. His fastball resulted in an average exit velocity of 96.4 miles per hour, far and away a career high, and opponents turned it around for a .380 batting average and .780 slugging percentage. Sheesh! Some regression to the mean here should help, but it’s going to be hard to be effective over a full season if your fastball is getting shelled with regularity.
On top of that, his wFB metric at Fangraphs took a nosedive, and it should come as no surprise as the red line in the above graphic is heading straight up to the moon! In each of the three seasons prior, his wFB was above 11, but in 2020, it was -3.9. Ouch. On the other hand, his wCB (6.5) and wCH (1.1) were career bests, and the latter is imperative to his arsenal. He needs that changeup as a tertiary option, and as a secondary option against lefties. The further development, and success, of his changeup is imperative to his growth.
The Minnesota Twins made some moves this offseason that benefit Berrios in two ways:
- Bringing back Nelson Cruz : Cruz adds more pop to an already potent lineup, and alongside the likes of Josh Donaldson , Miguel Sanó and Byron Buxton , Berrios should continue to get plenty of run support.
- Andrelton Simmons : Simmons’ glove is extraordinary, and he should help keep Minnesota’s team fielding defense sky high. Minnesota had the second-best fielding percentage in 2020, and after a couple years of lackluster results, one could argue that Berrios’ defense in 2021 will be the best he’s had. KEEP THE BALL ON THE GROUND, MR. BERRIOS!
Per NFBC data, Berrios is currently the 31st pitcher (27th starter) off the board and I love the value. Yes, I’ve been a Berrios Believer for years now, but this is excellent value for a guy who should get plenty of wins, post a K/9 around 10.0 and bring his walk rate down in 2021. Sure, command issues may pop up here and there for Berrios, but he could be an above-average SP3 for your team, or mid-tier SP2, especially in 15-team formats.
Assuming his fastball returns to regular batted ball marks from recent seasons, his curveball remains lethal and if his changeup takes another step forward in 2021, he presents great value as an SP3, as he should post plenty of wins and strikeouts.