Is it safe to believe in José Berríos yet?
As the calendar flips to June and we find ourselves one-third of the way through the MLB season, it's a fair question.
The answer? Yes, but with strings attached. It all depends on which José Berríos you're looking for.
You'll be disappointed if you're looking for a top-of-the-rotation ace with loads of strikeouts and shutdown outings. He's not that guy, and that position is already filled on this Blue Jays staff by Cy Young contender Kevin Gausman.
If you're looking for the version of the righty that came over from the Twins in 2021, a consistent performer that gives his team a chance to win every time out, then you should be safe to trust Berríos again.
Maybe you're watching each start while apprehensively peeking through your fingers and wishing not to see the 2022 version of Berríos, a pitcher who struggled mightily after losing his delivery and mindset, something he told our very own Jays Journal editor, Eric Treuden. It's an entirely reasonable wish, and you can breathe a sigh of relief because it appears that it's coming true.
Through 11 starts, Berríos has a 5-4 record, with a respectable 3.86 ERA and 1.26 WHIP. For reference, the league average ERA for starters is 4.46. Through his first 11 games last season, he had a 5.24 ERA and finished the year with a 5.23 mark.
So, already, things have been better in 2023 for the 29-year-old.
Berríos has done the job he's being paid to do, which is to keep his team in games consistently. He has five quality starts but could just as easily have seven or eight. He has been one out away from hitting the six-inning, three-runs or fewer threshold in two other games.
Then there was the start against the Rays, in which he was rolling the best team in baseball but was forced to leave after five innings when a comebacker hit him in the leg. With six strikeouts and one run allowed, he would have likely continued through the sixth inning.
That's consistent dependability, something he couldn't offer in 2022.
Last year, he had five quality starts through his first 11 games as well, but the difference is that the other performances weren't close to quality, or even halfway decent, outings.
If you want more encouragement that it's safe to put your faith in the two-time All-Star again, compare his start this year to his 2021 season and what he did after joining the Blue Jays. In arguably the best campaign of his career, he earned a 4.0 fWAR and garnered Cy Young votes, the only time that has happened.
He pitched to a 3.52 ERA and a stellar 1.06 WHIP, both career-bests. After the Jays acquired the Minnesota star, he made 12 starts in a Toronto uniform, going 5-4 with nine quality starts, a 3.58 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP.
Will the good times continue for José Berríos?
Berríos, if all continues to go well, could end up with a sub-4.00 ERA. He has been better than that in nine starts since his two rough outings to begin the season. His 5-2 record, 2.59 ERA and 1.15 WHIP show how valuable he has been to the Jays since mid-April.
There are signs that point to Berríos continuing his positive trend on the mound. His 3.80 FIP and 3.89 xFIP are highly encouraging for his rest of season results. Over his career, his ERA has more-or-less lined up with his Fielding Independent Pitching value.
Berríos is getting more swings and misses this year. His swinging strike rate is up to 11.0%, and while that is around league average, it's his best rate since 2020. What's even better for him this season is his 26.6% whiff rate, up 5.4 points from last year. More whiffs mean he is throwing better-quality stuff, leading to fewer balls in play.
Another positive trend is the quality of contact he's allowing. His 87.2 mph average exit velocity is below the league average of 89.1 mph and is way down from his 90.0 mph from last year. It's his best since he held opponents to 87.0 mph in 2019.
He has also lowered the launch angle of batted balls this year. His average launch angle of 8.5 degrees is the lowest of his career. This improvement, combined with lower exit velocity, is leading to fewer barrelled balls. His 8.6% rate is his best mark since 2020.
While there will surely be speed bumps along the way, José Berríos looks like a different, more confident and aggressive guy on the mound this year with the results to back it up. It's safe to say that fans can put their belief in this dependable version of number 17. Although, it's hard to know who's enjoying the bounce-back season more.