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The Season That Was: José Berríos

MLB: SEP 27 Yankees at Blue Jays Photo by Julian Avram/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

José Berríos came to us in trade from the Twins for Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson. At the time, we said the price was pretty steep. Martin and Woods Richardson were both top 100 MLB prospects, two guys that I was looking forward to seeing wear Blue Jays uniforms.

But the shine was coming off Martin and Woods Richards. Of course, Simeon had a great season in the minor this year, and made one start for the Twins. And Austin seems to have remembered how to hit in the Arizona Fall League (he did get 8 at-bats with the Twins this year) after a poor season with the Twins’ Double-A team.

Down the stretch, last year, José was excellent with a 3.58 ERA in 12 starts. And he was richly rewarded for it.

The Jays signed him to a seven-year $131 million contract (with an opt-out after five years, which, at the moment, seems unlikely to be used).

This season did not go well:

Standard Pitching
12 7 5.23 32 32 0 172.0 199 103 100 29 45 0 149 11 3 753 74 4.55
Provided by View Original Table
Generated 10/15/2022.

Baseball Reference has him at a -0.5 WAR. Fangraphs has him at a 1.1 WAR, making him worth $8.8 million to the Jays.

José had a 4.55 FIP and 4.21 xFIP, which explains why the fWAR is so much better than his ERA. I’m unsure if using FIP is better than using ERA for WAR. It depends on whether you feel FIP or ERA is a better description of how a pitcher performed.

He had a .328 BABIP (up from .277 last year). 70.9% of the baserunners he allowed were stranded (down from 72.3 from last year).

Batters had a 20.0% line drive rate (down from 23.3) against José. His ground ball rate was 40.3% (down from 42.8). And flyball rate was 39.7% (up from 34.0). 13.5% of his fly balls left the park (up slightly from 12.6).

His strikeout rate was way down (19.8% down from 26.1), and his walk rate was up a tiny bit (6.0% from 5.8).

José’s soft contact rate was exactly the same as last year (15.9%). Hard contact was down a little (30.7% from 32.5).

Left-handed hitters (.298/.351/.514) hit him better than right-handers (.276/.327/.412).

Jose was much better at home (4.24 ERA, batters hit .273/.330/.404) than on the road (6.36, batters hit .303/.350/.532).

He was the same in the first half (5.22, .279/.327/.482) as in the season half (5.25, .300/.357/.442).

Berríos by month:

  • April: 5 starts, 2-0, 4.13. Batters hit .287/.357/.475.
  • May: 5 starts, 1-2, 7.01. Batters hit .305/.336/.514.
  • June: 5 starts, 2-2, 6.28. Batters hit .257/.311/.532.
  • July: 6 starts, 3-0, 3.00. Batters hit .248/.289/.383.
  • August: 5 starts, 1-1, 6.92. Batters hit .333/.388/.524.
  • September: 6 starts, 3-2, 4.83. Batters hit .305/.366/.405.

It looked, in July, like it had figured it out. But it didn’t last.

The Jays were 23-9 in his starts, which is pretty terrific/hard to believe, but they averaged 5.74 runs per game in his starts. They scored 3 or fewer in 10 of the starts. 2 or fewer in 4 games.

Days of rest:

  • 4 days, 15 starts: 5.49 ERA, batters hit .299/.347/.489.
  • 5 days, 11 starts: 4.55 ERA, batters hit .250/.417/.417.
  • 6 or more days: 6 starts, 6.04 ERA, batters hit .331/.402/.496.

His best game, by GameScore, was a 74 on June 4th at home against the Twins. He went 7 innings, allowed 3 hits, 2 earned, 2 walks and 13 strikeouts.

His worst game was a 9. June 26th, in Milwaukee. He went 2.2, allowed 8 hits, 8 earned, 2 walks, 1 strikeout, and 2 home runs.

Berríos averaged 5.4 innings per start.

The jump in BABIP, even though he didn’t allow any more hard contact than last year, might suggest that he had some bad luck. But then the drop in strikeout rate was the real problem.

José’s fastball (94.0 mph), sinker and change-up were almost precisely the same speed as last year.

The spin rate on his curve was 2,273 this year, last year, 2,336, so slightly less but not a lot less. The spin rate on the four-seamer was 2,232 this year, 2,243 last year. Sinker this year, 2,119. Last year 2,141.

Fangraphs had a post on his troubles and didn’t have an answer:

I don’t know the answer. I don’t think there’s an obvious answer at all, in fact. If there were, I’m fairly certain the Jays would have figured it out by now. Whatever’s ailing Berríos, it’s somewhere on the margins.

But later said:

Is it bad luck? Bad luck is a great way to hand-wave pitching problems. “Oh, sprinkle a little BABIP regression on it, he’ll be back to normal in no time” is a time-honored way of papering over any problems. But I don’t think that’s the case here. A full third of the four-seamers Berríos has thrown this year have been over the heart of the plate, the highest mark of his career. That number has been climbing over time; increasingly, he’s resorting to floating one in there to get back into the count. It’s worked from a limiting walks perspective, but it’s no surprise that opponents have increasingly clobbered his four-seamers. Filling the zone isn’t always a bad thing, but it’s a bad thing when you’re throwing a lot of those pitches right down main street.

I guess the big question is Will he be better next year?

I want to think so. It would be hard to believe that Jose could get worse. The team has the winter to come up with a plan. Using the four-seam fastball less seems an obvious part of the plan. Figuring out what to replace it with might be trickier.

The other interesting part is that the team scored lots of runs when he pitched and had an excellent record when he started. Stuff like that, you want to think there is a reason why it is happening. The team knows he will give up runs, so they score a bunch? It seems silly. If they can turn it on, why not do it all the time? More likely, it is sample size.

But when you go 23-9 when one pitcher is starting, you think, ‘he must have had a good year.’ The team was 18-13 in Alek Manoah’s starts. Baseball is a funny game. I remember someone telling me that the Jays never won any of the games that Jose started, and I suggested they look at the stats before saying things like that.

This stuff is why Buck and Pat drive me nuts when they start saying how important a pitcher’s win/loss record is.

I’m sure that if he has an ERA over five next year, the team won’t win as many of his starts. So let’s hope for better.


For his 2022 season I’d grade José Berríos an

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