Blue Jays’ Jose Berrios Has Been Even Worse Than His Numbers Would Suggest

In recent weeks in this space, I’ve rolled out my annual MLB Best Pitches series. Click to see the pitch-specific articles on changeups, curveballs, cutters/splitters, four-seam fastballs, sinkers and sliders. They were then combined to create 2021 Pitcher Grade-Point Averages. Now, we’re going to dig a little deeper into some surprising 2021 GPAs, and incorporate 2022 results to make some observations about the future for selected pitchers.

It might have been a little surprising to see Jose Berrios in the 3rd quartile of MLB starters in my Grade-Point Average article last week. He was one of the prized acquisitions of the 2021 trade deadline, moving from the Twins to the Blue Jays and quickly signing a 7-year, $131M extension that keeps him in Toronto through 2028 and even gives him an opt-out along the way. While my batted ball-based evaluation methods didn’t rate him as highly as more mainstream metrics, his 86 “Tru” ERA- wasn’t too far off of his 80 ERA- and 81 FIP-.

Berrios was one of the hurlers whose GPA was out of synch with his other metrics. He checked in at 2.71, without a single above average offering. In 2021, he threw his curve (30.5% usage rate), sinker (29.6%) and four-seamer (26.7%) most frequently, and earned “C+”, “B” and “C+” grades, respectively, for those pitches, His changeup was his clear fourth pitch (13.2% usage rate), and earned a “B” grade.

While “Tru” ERA- and its “Tru” Pitching Runs Above Average (TPRAA) counterpart are what I use to measure pitcher performance, the GPAs are a scouting tool I use to measure inputs, and to project where a pitcher might be headed. That mediocre 2021 GPA didn’t bode well for Berrios, and as we shall see, 2022 has not been kind.

This relatively mediocre repertoire was a new thing for Berrios – his sinker earned “A” grades in both 2018 and 2020, and both the sinker and four-seamer earned “B+” grades in 2019. The sinker was well above average from both a contact management and bat-missing perspective in both of those “A”-grade seasons, and the four-seamer flashed an above average whiff rate in 2019. Perhaps the most concerning aspect of Berrios’ 2021 campaign is that none of this pitches, including his previously impressive fastballs, were above average at either key discipline.

In 2021, his “B” changeup posted an average range 77 Adjusted Contact Score and a below average 12.2% whiff rate. His “C+” curve posted a below average 116 Adjusted Contact Score and an average range 14.1% whiff rate. His “C+” four-seamer posted an average range 129 Adjusted Contact Score and 8.3% whiff rate, and his “B” sinker posted an average range 89 Adjusted Contact Score and 6.4% whiff rate. Nothing above average, anywhere.

And this year, his surface-level mediocre performance is materially worse once you start to peel some layers back. His overall swing-and-miss rate is way down to 8.4% – it was 11.6% as recently as 2020. His K rate is down, his fly ball and liner rates are up, his pop up rate is down……there are simply no positives. And when you adjust for exit speed and launch angle and break it down on a pitch-by-pitch level, things get really ugly.

As things stand today, Berrios has three “F” pitches and a “C+”. That’s not a misprint. The “C+” curve is the “bright” spot. Its overall grade is unchanged from 2021, with its Adjusted Contact Score improving slightly (from 116 to 103) and its whiff rate down a bit (from 14.1% to 12.3%).

The changeup remains his least used pitch, and though its whiff rate hasn’t changed much (down from 12.2% to 11.3%), its Adjusted Contact Score is through the roof (from 77 to 178), earning an “F” grade. That’s the least of his worries.

The two fastballs are being hit very hard. He’s throwing his four-seamer quite a bit more, at the expense of the sinker. Its whiff rate is virtually unchanged, down from 8.4% to 8.3%, but its batted ball portfolio is hideous. He’s only induced 3 pop ups with the pitch (out of 38 batted balls), and 12 of the 16 fly balls he’s allowed have been hit at 95 MPH or higher. Toss in a pitch-specific 34.2% liner and 15.8% grounder rate and you get the idea. It’s a debacle, featuring an obscene 217 Adjusted Contact Score.

The sinker situation might be even worse. Start with a 1.8% swing-and-miss rate. I’ve never seen a whiff rate so low, even for a sinker. Toss in a mere 37.5% grounder rate and three more 100 mph+ fly balls, and its 146 Adjusted Contact Score doesn’t help the cause.

Lucky for Berrios, this is all happening in an environment where the ball isn’t carrying as far as last season, for whatever reason or reasons. The velocity of all of his pitches are roughly unchanged from last season and are near career highs.

Berrios has been increasingly easy to see and barrel up in 2021-22, and his command within the strike zone has become increasingly uneven. There is no way he is this bad, and the sample sizes are admittedly small, but bear in mind – right now, he is materially worse than his numbers. In a competitive AL East, he must figure it out on the fly to keep the Blue Jays at or near the front of the race.