Why he will succeed in 2020: The cause for optimism when it comes to Berrios stems from his performance up until the trade deadline. That’s because prior to the calendar turning to August, Berrios looked like an ace ready to breakout and even contend for an American League Cy Young Award.
Through his first 22 starts, Berrios went 10-5 with a 2.80 ERA and opponents were having their share of issues, recording just a .651 OPS against the right-hander. In addition, the Twins were 14-8 in his starts and with a dominant outing against the Miami Marlins (7 IP, 2 H, 11 K) hours after the trade deadline, it didn’t look like Minnesota needed an ace.
This is the form the Twins are hoping to get from Berrios in 2020 and there’s good reason to think he could come close. His chase rate of 36.4% was a career-high and his swinging strike percentage of 10.8% was just shy of matching his career-high set in 2018, with 11.2%. Due to turn 26 in May, there’s a good chance that Berrios has an extra gear to improve those numbers and make another case to be the team’s ace of the future.
Why it’s not a given: Despite his dominant start to the season statistically, there were times where Berrios just didn’t seem like he had an extra gear. Whether it was due to injury or fatigue, Berrios’ high wire routine took a turn for the worse beginning with a career-high nine earned runs against Atlanta on Aug. 6.
In his final 10 starts, Berrios allowed five or more earned runs in four of them and although he somewhat steadied the ship, he wasn’t the same pitcher as he went into his postseason start against the Yankees.
This has been the biggest mystery surrounding Berrios as he looks to find consistency in 2020, but there’s other factors at play. His fastball velocity has sunk in every season since he made his debut in 2015 (94.2 mph) to a career-low 93.5 mph last season. To make matters worse, while Berrios still had a career-high chase rate, opponents made contact 67.3% of the time for his highest percentage since his rookie season.
Perhaps this is a matter of bad luck in his final 10 starts, but his career numbers in the first half (26-15, 3.70 ERA) are a significant step up from his second-half numbers (17-19, 4.84 ERA). Mix in a 8.76 K/9 rate that was his lowest since 2017 (8.59) and a steep drop from 2018 (9.45) and it’s not a secret why relying on Berrios to be an ace in October is a risky idea.