It has been over ten years since the Twins have had a true ace pitcher. After Johan Santana was shipped to the Big Apple following the 2007 season, this franchise has been sorely lacking a clear #1: Scott Baker couldn’t fit the bill, Carl Pavano simply ate innings (granted, back when such a thing was still important), and Francisco Liriano was far too inconsistent. Ervin Santana pitched at ace-like levels last season, but that performance came out of nowhere and returned there just as quick.
So, in terms of having a stud pitcher at the top of the staff for multiple years in a row, the Twins have struck out for quite some time.
When looking at the basic stats of Jose Berrios in 2018, one would think this trend hasn’t changed — Berrios has an 11-11 record with 3.93 ERA. Doesn’t seem like anything to write home about. However, a deeper-dive into Berrios’ season produces a ton of reasons for optimism:
First, consider that Berrios is just 24 years old, and 2018 was his first season of being in a major leagues all year long (he didn’t join last year’s starting staff until mid-May). Not including his final outing scheduled for Friday afternoon, Berrios has started 31 games (with two complete games and one shutout) and pitched 185.1 innings (which ranks in the top 20 among all pitchers in baseball and is already 40.0 more than his ‘17 total). As far as I can tell from his game logs on Baseball Reference, he has not missed a single turn in the rotation. I remember one contest where low velocity became a concern, but he didn’t come out of that game because of it and ended up not missing any time at all.
Drilling deeper into the stats, Berrios improved in nearly every area from ‘17 to ‘18:
- WHIP: 1.22 to 1.14
- H/9IP: 8.1 to 7.6
- BB/9IP: 3.0 to 2.8
- K/9IP: 8.6 to 9.4
- K/W Ratio: 2.90 to 3.39
About the only negative, stats-wise, was a slight uptick in HR/9IP: 0.9 to 1.2.
After a win over Texas on June 24th, Berrios sat at 8-5 with a 3.15 ERA, basically his high-water mark for the season. His next start was on a sweltering Friday evening on the North Side of Chicago, and things started to unravel a little. He has struggled with his control a bit the final three months (8 games with 3+ walks after just one such contest before June 24th), as well as seen his team completely drop out of the race and field basically a non-competitive club for much of that time. Rarely was Buxton playing behind Berrios, Rosario was limited to DH work for some time before being shut down altogether, and of course half the infield (Brian Dozier and Eduardo Escobar) departed at the trade deadline.
Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Berrios’ 2018 campaign, though? Physically, he never broke down (or if he did he bounced back quickly), and he’s been in the rotation all season long. In what has turned into a dismal tailspin of a finish for the ‘18 Twins, it would have been so easy for either the team or Berrios himself to “shut-er-down early”. This didn’t happen, and he’s been on the bump every fifth or sixth day.
All things considered, I’m extremely impressed by Berrios’ 2018 season. He seems durable, he has youth on his side, and he continues to improve statistically. He definitely has some room to grow to become, say, a top-10 MLB ace, but he seems to be on that track. With a competent defense and positive ball club behind him, the sky seems to be the limit on what Berrios can ultimately achieve.
Whenever the opportunity presented itself this season, I would try to align my 20-game ticket package games on days or nights when Berrios was on the mound. The reason? Besides the obvious (a better chance of a Twins W), there’s also a feeling that something truly special could happen when he is dominant. The last time I felt that way about a Twins pitcher was Johan Santana.