The Blue Jays have themselves an early under-the-radar Cy Young candidate

“When I go out there, I have to be a bad dog. That’s what I had on my mind."
Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays
Seattle Mariners v Toronto Blue Jays / Cole Burston/GettyImages

Yes it’s only April, and yes he’s only made three starts this season, but the Toronto Blue Jays have an emerging Cy Young candidate in José Berríos. The 29-year-old is 2-0 with a minuscule 1.45 ERA in those starts, covering 18.2 innings for an average of just below 6.1 innings per start.

That’s three-for-three in quality starts, including Opening Day and the Home Opener, and also gives the Blue Jays’ bullpen a break on the days he pitches. Going back to a solid 2023 season, where he tied a career-high with 32 starts, with a 3.65 ERA and 189.2 innings under his belt, followed by his outstanding game two start in the AL Wild Card Series last fall, Berríos is earning every penny of the seven-year, $131M contract extension he’d signed ahead of his final year of salary arbitration in the 2022 season.

Nicknamed ‘La Makina’ - or The Machine, Berríos has been just that: allowing a batting average against of only .242 and an OPS against of only .675, with a measly walks and hits per inning pitched (WHIP) of 1.13. His 18.2 innings in only three starts tie him with Yu Darvish for the most innings pitched this year, but Darvish has already made four starts.

He also seems to have a more dominant mound presence, that fans and reporters alike are definitely noticing. After getting the win in the Home Opener at Rogers Centre, he said, “I was trying to be respectful, but when I go out there, I have to be a bad dog. That’s what I had on my mind."

And with news that Guardians ace Shane Bieber will have season-ending Tommy John elbow surgery, the AL Cy Young field may have already narrowed further given last year's winner, Gerrit Cole of the Yankees, is out until at least June with elbow fatigue.

The outstanding early start certainly adds Berríos’ name to the list of potential 2024 AL Cy Young finalists; one that already includes teammate Kevin Gausman, betting favourite Corbin Burnes, Tarik Skubal, Cole Ragans, Luis Castillo and Pablo Lopez.

While Blue Jays fans booed manager John Schneider when he came out to remove Berríos after 6.2 innings and 101 pitches in the Home Opener, they gave their starter a well-deserved standing ovation. Surely that was cathartic, not only for fans still frustrated by the early hook of Berríos in game two of the AL Wild Card series in Minneapolis last October, but also for José himself.

Since being acquired from the Twins in a 2021 trade deadline deal for prospects Austin Martin and Simeon Woods Richardson, Berríos has won 30 games in his 79 starts as a Blue Jay, covering 450.2 innings. That’s good for an average of a little more than 5.2 innings per start, which places him in the top ten among major league starters for both games started and innings pitched since then.

Remember that’s including a lamentable 2022 campaign, when Berríos had the highest ERA of any qualified starter who’d pitched at least 162 innings at 5.23. But it also includes the 2023 Gold Glove award at pitcher, which the Jays will celebrate with an exclusive José Berríos Gold Glove Bobblehead Giveaway to the first 15,000 fans this coming Friday.

José Berríos is building an early Cy Young resume so far this season, as he puts the frustration of that early ALWC exit behind him, and build on his solid 2023 results. Now in the prime of his career, he’s certainly forcing his way into the 2024 AL Cy Young conversation with his dominant start so far.