James Paxton will take the hill for his first career postseason start tonight with ALDS Game 1. Opposing him will be José Berríos, who has one relief appearance to his postseason career. The Twins’ 25-year-old ace comes in after having the best season of his career. In his Patreon preview of the series, Mike Axisa labeled Berríos as the Twins’ x-factor and it’s hard to disagree.
Let’s delve into the Twins right-hander.
200 1/3 innings, 3.68 ERA (3.85 FIP, 4.44 DRA), 194 H, 195 K, 26 HR (1.17 HR/9), 23.2% K rate, 6.1% BB rate, 42.1% GB rate
Berríos is a fastball-first pitcher with a pair of solid offspeed/breaking offerings. The right-hander works in the mid-90s with his four-seam fastball and sinker before mixing in a curveball and changeup. That fastball really jumps out of his hand and is aided by some deception in his motion.
He attacks right-handed batters with the curveball more than either of his two fastballs, though he’ll still break out the changeup, much improved from previous seasons. Against lefties, the changeup becomes his primary offspeed offering.
Since the Yankees’ lineup will be right-handed heavy, this should be one of Berríos’ most curveball-heavy outings. He’s going to need to both get ahead and put the Bombers away with it. Here’s one of his better curves:
The curve and changeup gets swings and misses and are his best putaway options alongside his four-seamer, while his sinker does what any good sinker does: Keeps the ball on the ground.
Here’s a breakdown of velocity and whiff rate by pitch with usage rate by platoo (Stats from Baseball Savant).
|% to RHB||% to LHB||Avg velo (mph)||wOBA||Whiff %|
Berríos went through a rough stretch in August as his velocity dipped. However, he made an adjustment to his post-start routine, which helped him overcome his problems and start throwing in the mid-90s again. With his improved velocity, he threw his four-seamer more than 40 percent of the time in September.
With the hype of the postseason, Berríos should be pumping his fastball hard in the first inning. However, the question becomes if he can maintain that velocity. His performance has fluctuated in line with his fastball, and the postseason should be no different.
Despite possessing quality stuff, Berríos has an average swinging strike and overall strikeout rate for an MLB starter. He’s able to get batters to swing and miss on curves and changeups out of the zone, though he goes into strike zone more often than his peers. Baseball Prospectus’ leaderboards have him with slightly above-average command.
Where Berríos truly excels is in inducing weak contact and is above the 80ths percentile in exit velocity and hard-hit rate. As can be expected, his offspeed offerings aren’t slammed as hard as his fastball and sinker. However, of the 26 home runs he allowed this season, 10 were on curveballs (as opposed to nine on his four-seamer).
Berríos can officially be called a workhorse after completing his first 200 inning season. He pitched fewer than five innings just twice all season in his 32 starts. The right-hander has no drop-off when facing a lineup a second time, and has maintained effectiveness into the third time through an order. This might not come into play if Rocco Baldelli is aggressive with the bullpen, but Berríos’ worst inning by far this season has been the sixth inning.
In the second half, as his velocity wavered, Berríos actually struck out more batters, though that came with a corresponding rise in his walk rate. He’s petered out in the second half in recent seasons, though his strong September gives reason to think he could be back in form for October.
Berríos has all of four appearances against the Yankees, including his loss in the 2017 Wild Card Game. The right-hander, though, hasn’t faced the Bombers since April 2018, so he has an advantage there despite a modicum of familiarity.
Of the Yankees who have faced him, Edwin Encarnacion, Aaron Judge, Didi Gregorius and Gary Sanchez all have a home run against Berríos. Judge, Gregorius and Brett Gardner have hit him especially well with a double each and an OPS above 1.000. Since none of this has come in the last 1.5 years, most of this is near meaningless (but here’s the Didi homer anyway).
He put up identical results against teams above and below .500. He has a fantastic outing early in the season against the Astros and pitched well against Cleveland while putting up middling results against the Athletics and Rays. The Red Sox and Braves both hit him well over three combined starts.