Jose Berrios Goes as His Fastball Does… Even If He Doesn’t Like to Throw It Anymore

Photo: Hannah Foslien - Getty Images

Jose Berrios is a hard pitcher to pin down. One start, he’ll look like an ace but then goes through weird stretches that make you question his place in the league. He’s caused plenty of headaches among fans and, likely, the Minnesota Twins front office (whether they’d admit it or not).

After an abysmal start to the 2020 season, Berrios seems to be bouncing back, but yet again, we’re left to question whether we should trust Jekyll or run from Hyde. With the Twins staying pat at the trade deadline, Berrios is going to have a lot asked of him, as the Twins prep for the postseason.

We don’t know where Berrios will be slotted, come playoff time. That’s sad in itself, but Michael Pineda has been really good in his first two starts back from suspension and the Twins have Kenta Maeda, Randy Dobnak and playoff veteran, Rich Hill also jockeying for positions.

Jose is back on the mound for the opener of Tuesday’s double-header vs the St. Louis Cardinals. With only 16 games remaining on the Minnesota Twins’ schedule (2-3 starts for Berrios), I wanted to dig into what caused his issues to start the season and what he’s done to improve recently.

Hint: My research led to fastballs and luck.

Change in Pitch Mix

Like many across the Twins’ pitching staff in 2020, Jose Berrios is throwing more offspeed pitches than ever. In 2019, he used his fastball 32.2% of the time but that has dropped over 5 percentage points, to 26.8% in 2020. His curveball usage has jumped up, from 28.9% to 30.5% but the biggest change comes with his changeup. Last season, he threw it 15.9% of the time. So far in 2020, he’s chucked it 19.3%.


Berrios’ change in pitch mix has actually provided him with some great outcomes. His curveball has been especially lethal, holding batters to a .125 batting average, .146 slugging percentage and a 38.8% whiff rate. So why is he still struggling?

Early Fastball Issues

There’s a reason why Jose Berrios is throwing less fastballs. They are getting smacked. Currently, Berrios’ 4-seamer is surrendering a .417 (!!!) batting average, an atrocious .861 slugging percentage and a 96.1 mph exit velocity. Something is clearly with his heater.

When you take a closer look under the hood, some of his issues pop out. First, his fastball is averaging just 2177 rotations per minute. That’s Jose’s lowest since taking the mound as a rookie and places him 56 for pitchers who have thrown 500 or more pitches in 2020. Spin rate isn’t everything, but does look like a contributor to Berrios’ issues.



The spin rate may not be there for Berrios’ heater, but the heat is. His fastball averaged 93.1 on the gun in 2019. In 2020, it’s up 1.4 MPH to 94.5. Clearly, throwing harder doesn’t necessarily equate to more quality fastballs… unless you’re looking at how hard his opponent smacking them.

Berrios was hit hard just 38.1% last year but that is up to 53.6% this season.

Hold Your Breath for Progress…

In his last outing against the Chicago White Sox **fingers crossed**, Jose Berrios’ fastball was better. The difference? He threw it even less often, but when he did, he threw it inside AGGRESSIVELY, for strikes. It worked and helped to setup his nasty breaking ball vs righties.

Luck May Be A Factor

I hate talking about luck when actually analyzing sports but it’s a real thing and now we have numbers to help prove it.

Batting average on balls in play (BABIP) is often used to help gauge how unlucky a pitcher is. Essentially, how often are batters hitting it where fielders aren’t? Currently for 2020, Berrios is sitting at .306. That’s seven points higher than last year (.299) and a drastic 36 points higher than in 2018 (.270).

BABIP isn’t the only way to show how luck can be a fickle part of baseball, though. We can also look at “expected averages” to gain a better understanding. As mentioned earlier, Berrios’ fastball has led to an extremely high opponent batting average (.417) and slugging (.861). The expected outcomes of those same pitches, however, are a .338 batting average and .746 slugging. That’s still aren’t very good, but they’re a lot better than his real numbers.

The Home Stretch

So which Berrios will we see down the home stretch of this season? Hopefully, it will be that same guy we saw last outing. The Twins need it.

While he is still far from the ace we once projected to be, a good Jose Berrios could make or break the Minnesota Twins’ World Series hopes. Hopefully, he’s found the right usage for his fastball and enough luck to last deep into October.

Jack Kewitsch | Minnesota Sports Fan

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