Great, now I’m hungry for a cereal that leaves your mouth looking and feeling like a Saw filming location. YOU WANNA PLAY A GAME IN MY MOUTH? Wait, uh… And yes, that is not a typo, the actual name has two “Crunch’s” which I never really noticed until I actually had to type it out. I mean, why does the Cap have to be redundant like that? I know you’re Cap’n Crunch homey, why not just give us the berries? And will no one think of José Berríos here who has to be crunched twice for the metaphor to work? I will, for I am Jay, philanthropist, life coach, virtuous drunk, and that’s just before lunch! But enough about my over-qualified CV, let’s talk about the struggles of one Crunch-Crunch Berríos… yeah, definitely does not have a great ring to it. Nor crunch. All of them.
With eight starts already in the books, Berríos has noticeably taken a step back from 2021’s effort where, in 192 innings pitched, he struck out 204 batters with a 3.52 ERA. His K/9 of 9.56 accompanied a career-low BB/9 of 2.11. This is all to say that he had a great year and based on his career as a whole, looked to be entering perhaps a peak period of his career. But after a period of five seasons providing solid and consistent quality pitching for the Twins, he’s now flirting with career-low numbers with the Blue Jays. His current 6.15 K/9, 2.85 BB/9, and 1.32 HR/9 are all either tied or exceeded for worst in his career, and though his ERA is a bloated 4.83 ERA, there isn’t much better news when you look at the advanced metrics. An inflated 4.73 FIP, 4.75 xFIP and 6.86 xERA all show a troubling present and concerning future.
Considered a top prospect in the Twins system, Berríos, promoted back in 2016, made his debut as a polished pitcher who had solid command of three pitches. With plus “stuff” and a fastball that ranged from 95-97 MPH, at the time his projections generally landed him as a number two starter but with the potential to reach ace status if he could further improve his breaking pitches.
Now in 2022 and coming off a stellar season, there are some concerns. In what was supposed to be a huge breakout attempt with the Toronto offense behind him combined with the growth we’ve talked about (typed?), we now have a pitcher that has lost the ability to get swings-and-misses and who, for all intents and purposes, may not even be unlucky but just plain ole’ terrible. We delved into a few advanced takes on his output which confirmed just as much, there are a few positive aspects we can discuss.
While more a piece of the pie than the whole (mmmm pie…), his current BABIP of .313, while not tremendously inflated, does sit higher than his previous five seasons, but it also serves to highlight his incredibly deflated GB% of 32.4. Career-wise, he sat at 40.7% and achieved a 42.5% number in 2021. And while I’ll admit that his HardHit% and Barrel% are all going in the wrong direction, there is some small consolation in EV where even though batters are hitting him harder at volume, the numbers are still somewhat stable, at least perhaps implying that there isn’t really a hidden injury at play here. And all that being said, Berríos’ velocity also still remains the same, probably the most encouraging news from his profile. Still maintaining an on-brand mid-90s fastball, it’s interesting as well that his usage and implementation of his repertoire still remains the same. His fastball, curve, and change are being thrown at normal rates that we’d expect.
So what’s the deal then? A lot of metrics show that Berríos is struggling and that it’s not really anyone’s fault but his own. There is a possibility that this might be fixable though, and it has nothing to do with Berríos. Wait, what? Yeah, you heard me. Or I guess read me.
If you look at his plate discipline numbers, his Zone% is higher, his O-Swing% rate is lower while his Swing% has stayed stable compared to last season and his career. Also, Hyun-jin Ryu is struggling, even more so than last year. Random name drop? You might think so, but think of it this way, Ryu survives on the location and framing, he just doesn’t have the raw stuff to do it any other way. Now granted, Berríos has the stuff, but as has been true since he was a prospect, for him to find top-starter production, his off-speed pitches need to… you guessed it, be located and framed to work.
Thus enter the return of Danny Jansen from an oblique injury. With the catcher back in the lineup and at the backstop, I think you’ll see everything settle down a bit for both Ryu and the focus of this post, one José Berríos. I won’t enter into the exciting debate over the effect of positioning, netting calls and the art of framing, but I don’t think it’s crazy to call Jansen great at all three and at the very least, the best at all three on the Blue Jays. Granted, it was Kirk, not Jansen who was catching in Berríos’ last start (which was a good if not great performance) but be sure to keep an eye as time moves forward.
Remember, contextually, it’s still early in the season, and while the numbers show a struggling pitcher, there’s enough pushback and noise in the stats for me to say hold up! There still might be something here and as you can see from his results last season, it just might be worth waiting for. Just like eating condensed corn shrapnel with milk. What, you think Padres fans can’t masochist with the best of them?
Jay is a longtime Razzball everything who consumes an egregious amount of Makers Mark as a vehicle to gain wisdom and augment his natural glow. Living in the D.C. area, he also likes spending time visiting the local parks and feeding lettuce to any turtles he encounters, including Mitch McConnell. You can follow him on Twitter @jaywrong.