In 2021 one of the deals of the season was the Minnesota Twins trading then budding ace Jose Berrios to the Toronto Blue Jays, giving up two top 100 prospects in Austin Martin and Simeon Woods-Richardson. The Blue Jays handed Berrios a 7 year, $131,000,000 shortly after trading for him, a deal that looked shrewd at the time because of his age and potential. However, the trade and contract has been anything but successful as he has pitched to a 4.78 ERA with the Jays across 51 starts. Down below we are going to break down the arsenal of the starter to see if there is anything that has led to this slip and what the Atlanta Braves should expect to see from him.
Pitch #1 - Slurve - 2023 usage rate - 33.1 percent
2023 stats - .242 xBA, .438 xSLG, .304 xwOBA
Average velo - 82.7 MPH - Spin rate - 2,364 RPM - vertical movement - 44.7 inches - horizontal movement - 15.3 inches
For a stretch this was a dominant pitch for Berrios. From the 2020 to 2022 seasons it posted an xBA of .217 or lower, xSLG of .377 or lower and xwOBA of .281 or less. This year though as shown in the through the expected metrics though, it has taken a significant step back. This is odd though because the movement and spin rate is where it has been the past few seasons. Additionally, the early season whiff rate on it of 35.3 percent is the highest it has been since 2018 and the exit velocity of 87.7 MPH is the third lowest it has been. On top of that the barrel rate and hard hit percentages are both below his last season marks. Honestly, when looking at all of the metrics on this pitch the only thing that indicates why the stats are worse over the last two seasons is the batted ball profile. His flyball rate over the past two seasons on it is 32.5 and 34.3 percent, up significantly from the 25.9 percent in 2021. As a result, if Braves hitters are able to work this pitch in the air, look for Berrios to struggle.
Pitch #2 - Four seam - 2023 usage rate - 27.7 percent
2023 stats - .349 xBA, .704 xSLG, .387 xwOBA
Average velo - 94.1 MPH - Spin rate - 2,211 RPM - vertical movement - 15.5 inches - horizontal movement - 9.2 inches
The numbers on this pitch are really just ugly. The hard-hit percentage on it this year is 61.1 percent, up 5.8 percent from last season and the average exit velocity is 95.5 MPH up 3.7 MPH from 2022. Like most pitchers his four-seam fastball this is the pitch that Berrios throws in the strike zone the most with an in-zone percentage of 66.3 percent. It does produce whiffs in the zone though as the in the zone swing and miss rate is 18.3 percent, just a little lower than his overall whiff rate of 22 percent, which are good numbers for a four seamer. The one saving grace for it is both the line drive and fly ball percentages are down from years prior. The line drive percentage has dropped 9.9 percent from last season, settling at 19.4 percent and the FB percentage of 27.8 percent is down 4.9 percent. Berrios throws his four seamer a lot more to lefties than righties. Against same sided hitters it is actually his third most used pitch at 22.8 percent, compared to lefties who see it 32.7 percent, the most amongst his pitches.
Pitch #3 - Sinker - 2023 usage rate - 23.3 percent
2023 stats - .251 xBA, .382 xSLG, .337 xwOBA
Average velo - 93.8 MPH - Spin rate - 2,123 RPM - vertical movement - 19.4 inches - horizontal movement - 16.1 inches
There is one purpose and one purpose only for this pitch which is to work batters on the ground as it carries a ground ball rate of 69.2 percent this season. Berrios does use it like his four seamer, throwing it in the zone more than half the time at 54.9 percent. Batters do not whiff at it nearly as often as his other pitches as the swing and miss rate on it is 18.2 percent and dropping to 17.5 percent in the zone. He does get some chases with the pitch at 20 percent, but honestly, besides that there is not a whole lot to dive deep into on the pitch.
Pitch #4 - Changeup - 2023 usage rate - 15.9 percent
2023 stats - .267 xBA, .321 xSLG, .273 xwOBA
Average velo - 82.9 MPH - Spin rate - 1,431 RPM - vertical movement - 35.6 inches - horizontal movement - 14.4 inches
This pitch is breaking out for Berrios, but the breakout feels likely to stop in the near future. The launch angle on it is -2 degrees, with his previous career low on it being 8 degrees. The whiff rate is 42.6 percent, a high-end number that is 8.9 percent that what he posted with in 2020 which was his previous career high. Now, the negative with it and a clear sign some of those numbers will regress is the 44 percent, in zone swing and miss percentage on it. That is not sustainable even for the best of changeups in the league. When that number goes down it will likely mean hitters are recognizing it more frequently and making better contact, which in turn will see his launch angle rise as well. Like his four seamer, this is an offering that Berrios does throw more to lefties, with a pitch percentage of 25.7 percent, compared to 6.2 percent for same sided hitters.
Key matchup - Sean Murphy - We will get into it in another article, but Sean Murphy has quietly been one of the best hitters in baseball to start the season. The slurve, Berrios’ most used pitch, is one that he has yet to see this season, so there is no telling how he will handle it, but he is mashing four seamers this season with a run value of 9 against them. He has struggled a bit against sinkers with a RV of -3, the only pitch he has a negative run value against. Because of that I expect Berrios to attack the slugger with sinker and slurves early and often and if Berrios locates them well, this might be an off night for the Brave.