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Does Jose Berrios have another level?

Or has he found his ceiling?

Wild Card Round - Houston Astros v Minnesota Twins - Game Two Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images

Jose Berrios has been in the majors for four full years now, as well as a 58-inning audition in 2016. Yet, he has not yet taken the “leap” into the level of pitchers reserved for the true aces of the game that many Twins fans have been waiting for. Should we expect more from Jose Berrios? Or should we resign ourselves to a sad (but still solid) reality of “he is what he is”?

The good news: Jose Berrios is still only 26 (he’ll be turning 27 in May). He hasn’t even entered the real “prime” years of his career, and it seems like every year I look up his age and am surprised at how young he is. You can do much worse than having 26-year-old Jose Berrios as your #2 starter.

The bad: Berrios’ stats trended in the wrong direction last year, leading to his worst ERA since his rookie debut. However, I’ll be the first one to tell you that you can throw out 2020’s player stats like the week-old leftovers in the back of your fridge. Consider this: Berrios essentially had one “meh” month and one very good month in 2020, yet I’ll bet most of us only remember him as having a mediocre season. He pitched to the tune of a 4.75 ERA with five home runs allowed in 36.0 innings from the season’s late-July start through August, and then flipped the switch, posting a 3.00 ERA with three dingers given up in 27.0 September/October innings.

Just from watching Berrios for the last few years, he has two major issues: he’s often got a “tale of two seasons” thing going on, pitching hot in one half of the year and cold in the other, and he struggles to put hitters away when he’s got two strikes on them, which leads to high pitch counts.

I would expect Berrios to unlock some consistency with his age, as he continues to learn more about how to treat his body during the season. However, the other issue is more difficult to solve, and it’s the one that could send him to the next level.

Berrios already has been posting fairly good strikeout numbers. In the past three years, he has had 9.7, 8.8, and 9.5 strikeouts per nine innings. Being above 9.0 is considered quite good for starters, even these days, when strikeouts have skyrocketed. Berrios is often able to get ahead in the count- the problem is what happens after he does. I don’t know where to find the numbers to back it up, but I know from watching him that he must give up more foul balls on 2-strike pitches than just about anyone. Hitters are able to run up his pitch count or bring the count even way too often on the young pitcher, which limits his ability to go deep into games, and sometimes hurts his team.

Jose Berrios needs to develop a knockout pitch. His fastball is slightly above-average, but it’s not really a swing-and-miss pitch. He has a terrific curveball, but hitters know when it’s coming and where it’s going, for the most part. His changeup usage has increased every year, but hasn’t developed into a real weapon yet. If he could either find a way to make his changeup more effective, or a mix up the location and usage of his curveball more, he could really become a more dangerous pitcher. The other way he could accomplish this is by developing a harder breaking ball to complement his big slow curve.

All in all, I think that Berrios has a path to reach a higher level of pitching. If he can become more consistent throughout the entire season, that’ll be one thing. If he can learn to put hitters away quickly after getting ahead in the count, that’s another. As is, Berrios is a very good #2 starter, but if he can accomplish these things, he can unlock true #1 status. And I, for one, will be disappointed if he doesn’t.