Berrios: How Good Is the Toronto Blue Jays’ New Starter?

At the July MLB trade deadline, the Toronto Blue Jays acquired Jose Berrios, a starting pitcher. What level of performance should fans expect from him?


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Before the trade deadline, Ross Atkins publicly stated that one of the Blue Jays’ objectives was to improve run prevention. The acquisition of Jose Berrios is consistent with that goal. Many observers have claimed that Berrios is a front-of-the-rotation starter. The question to examine is whether he is a #1, a #2 or a #3.

 

Berrios is in his age-27 season. Minnesota drafted him with the 32nd pick of the first round of MLB’s 2012 June Amateur Draft. Berrios made his MLB debut in 2016 and has been a member of the big-league roster starting with the 2017 campaign. Regarding free agency, Berrios is scheduled to become a free agent after the 2022 MLB campaign.

 

Concerning pitch mix, his splits are as follows: curveball – 30.5%; sinker – 29.4%; four-seam fastball -26.5%; and changeup – 13.6%.

 

Starter Performance Levels

For argument’s sake, assume that a #1 starter’s fWAR lies within the 81st to 100th percentile of starter fWARs. A #2 starter’s fWAR resides in the 61st to 80th percentile, and so on. Hence, I have identified key metrics, including fWAR, and assigned them to percentile bands for starters. Accordingly, the data below represents percentile breakpoints for fWAR, ERA, and FIP. The data reflects the average for the 2015 to 2019 seasons.

 

The highlights are as follows:

  • The fWAR, ERA, and FIP breakpoints for a #1 starter are 2.9, 3.49, and 3.69, respectively
  • The fWAR, ERA, and FIP breakpoints for a #2 starter are 2.0, 4.03, and 4.11, respectively
  • The fWAR, ERA, and FIP breakpoints for a #3 starter are 1.2, 4.52, and 4.55, respectively
  • The fWAR, ERA, and FIP breakpoints for a #4 starter are 0.4, 5.21, and 5.13, respectively

2016-2021 By Season

Table 1 summarizes the ERA, FIP and fWAR data for Berrios’s career as a Twin. The data illustrates that Berrios has performed at a #2-starter level for the three recent full seasons (2017-2019). One could argue that the 3.1, 4.3 and 3.5 fWARs in 2018, 2019 and 2021 (extrapolated), respectively, suggest that Berrios is a #1, if not a high #2 starter.

 

Another positive attribute from the 2021 season is Berrios’s mPDI, which measures a pitcher’s performance concerning batters swinging at pitches out of the strike zone and not swinging at pitches in the strike zone. Berrios ranks in the 93rd percentile among American League starters.

 

The 2017-2021 Period

The data I present in Table 2 generally supports the view that Berrios has performed at a #2 starter level. Concerning durability, the number of innings pitched ranks in the 96th percentile. Also, his fWAR is in the 92nd percentile. Except for innings pitched and fWAR, Berrios’s percentile rankings are within the 61st to 80th percentile band, which is evidence of a #2 starter.

Cautionary Notes

Three factors may contribute to a decline in Berrios’s performance from his Minnesota days. Those elements are defence, batted balls, and the American League East.

 

Defence

Fielding Independent Pitching (“FIP”) is a valuable metric for evaluating a pitcher’s performance because it measures what they can control. FanGraphs describes the statistic best.

FIP is a measurement of a pitcher’s performance that strips out the role of defence, luck, and sequencing, making it a more stable indicator of how a pitcher actually performed over a given period of time than a runs allowed based statistic that would be highly dependent on the quality of defense played behind him, for example.

 

I referred to FIP because Berrios benefited from playing in front of excellent defence. During the 2017-2021 period, Minnesota’s infield ranked fifth-best among American League teams in Outs Above Average (“OAA”). The Twins’ outfield was even better with their fourth-place OAA slot among American League outfields. Hence, Minnesota’s defence contributed positively towards Berrios’s on-field results.

 

The 2021 Blue Jays infield ranks 11th in OAA among American League teams; Minnesota ranks #6. Concerning outfield defence, the Twins have the ninth-highest OAA; the Blue Jays are 15th. Consequently, Toronto’s relatively poor defence should put upwards pressure upon Berrios’s ERA, among other metrics, in the future.

Batted Balls

Table 3 contains information concerning various expected metrics of MLB starters. I included data from 2021 and the previous two 162-game seasons (2019 and 2018). I did not incorporate 2020 data because it is too demanding to exclude relievers from the sample. Also, concerning SIERA, Berrios’s percentile ranking among MLB starters are as follows: 2021 – 83rd; 2020 – 55th; 2019 – 70th; and 2018 – 79th.

 

The 2019 and 2021 numbers from Table 3 suggest that Berrios’s expected metrics, derived from batted-ball data, point to a lower-end #2 or a higher-tier #3 starter. However, the 2018 expected stats and the overall SIERA percentile rankings paint a more positive picture. Based on the expected metrics and SIERA, I determined that Berrios can perform as a #2 starter in the near term.

American League East

Berrios’s challenge as a Blue Jay will be more frequent outings against American League East teams. For the 2017-2021 period, the wRC+ of Baltimore, Boston, New York and Tampa averaged 102; in 2021, the average wRC+ is 100. During his Minnesota tenure, the average wRC+ of Detroit, Chicago, Cleveland and Kansas City was 93 for the 2017-2021 period. Concerning the 2021 campaign, these teams have averaged a 95 wRC+.

 

Therefore, based on recent history, Berrios should face better hitting clubs more frequently as a Blue Jay than he did as a Twin. Hence, facing higher quality batters more frequently should place upward pressure upon Berrios’s ERA, FIP, SIERA, and expected metrics. However, I believe that Berrios will continue to perform at the level of a #2 starter.

 

Conclusion

Berrios joined a Blue Jays’ starting rotation staffed by Hyun Jin Ryu, Robbie Ray, Alek Manoah, Steven Matz, and Ross Stripling. I anticipate Berrios will be a good #2 starter for the Toronto Blue Jays. A clear majority of his metrics support that point of view. However, Berrios has benefited from an excellent Minnesota defence, which has been superior to Toronto’s. Furthermore, Berrios will more frequently face better hitting clubs as a Blue Jay than he did as a Twin. However, when I consider all of the evidence, I believe Berrios’s performance will fall within the range expected from a #2 starter.

 

The Last Word

The Toronto Blue Jays recently acquired Berrios, a critical rotation piece of the playoff puzzle. Berrios has been an excellent #2 starter for the Minnesota Twins, and he should continue to produce at the level expected from a good #2 pitcher in the future.

 

 

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Bob Ritchie

Bob was a St. Louis Cardinals fan until the Blue Jays arrived on the baseball scene, although he still has a soft spot for the Cards. Similar to straddling the Greenwich Meridian, as depicted in the avatar, Bob applies sabermetrics when applicable, but his heart tells him that Lou Brock belongs in the Hall of Fame.