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Jose Berrios is entering ace territory

The Twins youngster is improving in all the right ways

Texas Rangers v Minnesota Twins
Jose Berrios is really darn good, in case you were wondering.
Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Jose Berrios threw arguably his finest seven innings last Sunday, striking out 12 Rangers and allowing only four baserunners. Berrios’ final line earned him a Game Score of 83, the third-best start of his career, according to Bill James’ metric.

Jose Berrios’ 10 Best Game Scores

Date Opp GSc IP H R ER BB SO Pit Str
Date Opp GSc IP H R ER BB SO Pit Str
2018-04-01 BAL 86 9 3 0 0 1 6 107 71
2017-05-18 (2) COL 85 7.2 2 0 0 1 11 106 72
2018-06-24 TEX 83 7 2 0 0 2 12 107 70
2018-04-12 CHW 82 7 3 0 0 0 11 99 73
2018-05-15 STL 79 7.1 2 1 1 1 10 102 65
2017-08-30 CHW 79 7 4 0 0 1 11 88 67
2017-08-19 ARI 79 7 2 0 0 1 7 103 69
2018-06-07 CHW 77 9 6 2 2 0 10 109 78
2018-04-18 CLE 76 7 3 0 0 0 5 84 57
2018-05-21 DET 75 8 3 2 2 2 9 107 68
Data from Baseball Reference

One thing you may have noticed about those 10 starts: seven of them have come this season. That’s because, at just age 24, Jose Berrios has made the leap into somewhere approaching ace territory. How has he managed this? Well, it’s pretty simple: this season, Jose Berrios is throwing buckets of strikes.

Berrios has never thrown more first-pitch strikes or strikes period, and he’s also inducing more swings-and-misses than ever.

Image from Fangraphs

This graph makes these improvements look rather insubstantial, especially from 2017 to 2018. But Berrios’ transformation from last year to this year has been dramatic — especially when it comes to first-pitch strikes.

Last season, when he accrued 2.8 fWAR and posted a 3.89 ERA and 139 strikeouts in 145.2 innings, Berrios threw first-pitch strikes 59.1% of the time. That number ranked 99th out of 134 pitchers who threw at least 100 innings. This year, Berrios has bumped his percentage of first-pitch strikes up to 65.8%, the 21st-highest mark out of 130 qualified pitchers in 2018 (minimum 50 innings pitched).

When it comes to first-pitch strikes, Berrios has gone from the 26th percentile of pitchers to the 84th. Looking at how Berrios stacks up to his peers this season compared to last provides an easy glimpse at just how much Berrios has improved.

Data from Fangraphs

Berrios has improved incrementally in ERA, FIP, and K%, but his strike-throwing improvements indicate just how much more devastating Berrios has become. Berrios is throwing strikes early to get ahead in the count, and that’s paying off handsomely: as his first-pitch strike-rate has escalated, he has piled up swings-and-misses and forced hitters to chase (O-Swing%). Berrios is throwing more strikes and than ever, and hitters have reacted by helping him on pitches off the plate.

Berrios demonstrated this well in his last start against the Rangers: he pounded the zone with 70 strikes — including 19 of 25 first-pitch strikes — and generated 18 swings-and-misses.

Getting ahead meant that Berrios could get outside the zone with two strikes.

With his fastball up —

— and his slider in the dirt.

The Twins have been frustrating this season, to say the least, and part of that frustration stems from the regression and stagnation of a much-lauded generation of Twins prospects; Baseball America named the Twins’ 2015 prospect corps the 2nd-best in baseball, behind only the Chicago Cubs, who boasted a Top 10 that included Kris Bryant; Addison Russell; Jorge Soler; Kyle Schwarber; Carl Edwards, Jr.; Albert Almora, Jr.; and Gleyber Torres.

The Cubs’ young core helped bring the North Side its first World Series win in 108 years just two seasons later, of course; four years after boasting the No. 2 batch of minor-leaguers, Jose Berrios is one of only two members of the Twins’ 2015 Top 10 — along with No. 10 prospect Eddie Rosario — making any impact for the Twins this season. (That 2015 crew was, from No. 1 down, Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Berrios, Kohl Stewart, Alex Meyer, Nick Gordon, Nick Burdi, Jorge Polanco, Trevor May, and Rosario.)

Berrios turned 24 just over a month ago, and he’s carrying much of the weight for a prospect class that was supposed to reinvigorate and reestablish the Twins as contenders for the better part of a decade.

For all the ennui engendered by the Class of 2015’s ineffectiveness, injuries, suspensions, and off-the-field allegations, Twins fans at least have the pleasure of watching Berrios, one of baseball’s best young pitchers, take the mound every fifth game. Long may he reign.