The many highs and lows of Blue Jays pitcher José Berríos

Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays
Chicago White Sox v Toronto Blue Jays / Vaughn Ridley/GettyImages

There was plenty of reason for excitement, when the Blue Jays made a deal with the Twins for José Berríos at the 2021 trade deadline. He was considered worthy of giving up two top prospects, to help strengthen the rotation.

As you would expect, there were those who were concerned about what the Blue Jays gave for
Berríos. The fact he would become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2021 campaign fueled the concern, for what was a calculated risk.

However, Berríos proved himself worthy with his performances after arriving in Toronto. Subsequently, the Blue Jays signed him to a seven-year, $131 million extension once the 2021 season had concluded.

A success or not for the Blue Jays?

Since then however, the returns from the Puerto Rico native haven't been as consistently productive as the ball club and their fans would like. Last year proved to be a case of perception being reality.

On one hand, Berríos was a durable pitcher who started 32 games. Combined with a 12-7 record, it looked like a good return for the Blue Jays on the surface level.

When digging below the surface however, Berríos recorded a 5.23 ERA and 1.419 WHIP, each representing the second-worst of his major league career. Additionally, hitters batted .288 versus him with an .804 OPS, which were both highest against qualifying pitchers.

Last year was without doubt an up-and-down campaign for Berríos. Regardless, the Blue Jays were still confident he would return to the form displayed during his time in Minnesota.

A 50-50 proposition so far in 2023

Unfortunately for everyone concerned, the 28-year-old has been even more up-and-down so far through six starts in 2023. On a peripheral level, he has pitched three strong games and three poor ones.

In this respect, Berríos' first two starts saw him give up 15 hits and 14 runs (12 earned) in 9.2 combined innings. By contrast, in his next three starts he allowed just 11 hits and three earned runs in 19 combined innings.

Any hope Berríos had turned things around suffered a setback in his next start, versus the Red Sox. He allowed 11 hits – his most since May 2019 – and five earned runs in 5.1 innings, as the Blue Jays went on to lose 6-5.

When you delve deeper, you get even more of an idea of how inconsistent Berríos has been so far in 2023. As Ben Clemens of FanGraphs wrote, he is either terrible or great, depending on the day.

On the plus side, the 2012 first-round draft pick has been extremely effective in striking out 23.9 percent of batters he's faced. He has also been efficient in walking just 4.9 percent of opponents.

This gives Berríos a strikeout-to-walk rate of 4.86, 16th-best in the Majors as of May 4. In addition, his FIP of 3.21 is on course to the best of his eight-year Major League career.

In contrast to these impressive statistics, Berríos' ERA of 5.29 over the course of a season would represent the worst since his rookie year in 2016. The 9.8 hits allowed per nine innings, would project to the third-worst of his career.

Throwing a curveball into the mix

Of course it's still too early in the season, to know for sure which trends will continue. What's interesting though, are comments Clemens made in his article about the quality and mix of Berríos' pitches.

Clemens writes that three of the righty's usual pitches – the four-seam, sinker and curveball – are above average. All are better than last season, including a curveball which is as good as it's been in years.

As for Berríos' other main pitch, Clemens does note the velocity of his changeup is down on previous seasons. However, this isn't as vital for a good changeup, which overall has been just fine for the Blue
Jays pitcher and his least-used of the four anyway.

This assessment goes against the narrative about Berríos being inconsistent. If anything, the findings allude to him having a lot of tough luck so far in 2023.

In fact, Berríos' most recent start versus Boston was an example of this tough fortune. Consider that he only allowed six hard-hit balls on the night, but overall still gave up the aforementioned 11 hits.

At some point, you want to assume/believe the two-time All-Star's luck has to change for the better. Albeit, this is partly dependent on there being no downturn in the quality of his four pitches.

Overall though, there is still plenty of reason to be optimistic about the future of Berríos in a Blue Jays uniform. His next opportunity to prove himself comes on Saturday, in Pittsburgh versus the Pirates.