José Berríos has been the ace the Blue Jays have needed early in the season

Photo credit:© Kim Klement Neitzel-USA TODAY Sports
Evan Stack
10 days ago
The Toronto Blue Jays have been spoiled in recent seasons with single-season pitching performances that have garnered legitimate Cy Young attention. Take your pick — 2020 Hyun-Jin Ryu, 2021 Robbie Ray, 2022 Alek Manoah, or 2023 Kevin Gausman. All four have finished within the top three in Cy Young voting, including Ray winning it three years ago, and we’re well on our way to seeing another vote-getter this season, if not another winner.
Enter Jose Berrios, a.k.a. La Makina, who has dominated his first month of baseball on the mound this season. When describing the play of professional athletes, some people use words such as “unbelievable” or “amazing” in a tongue-in-cheek manner. However, I think I deserved to use the word dominant — defined by the Oxford dictionary as “have a commanding influence on; exercise control over” — to define Berrios thus far.
The ninth-year veteran right-hander has made four starts this season, posting a 3-0 record, a 1.05 ERA, 0.974 WHIP, a 7.4 K/9, and an MLB-best 25.2 innings pitched. He has yet to have an outing last less than six innings, two runs is the most he’s allowed in a single outing this year, and with two consecutive scoreless performances, he’s currently working on a streak of 50 straight outs without allowing a run.
With Kevin Gausman fighting a shoulder injury through Spring Training, Berrios earned the Opening Day nod and has seized the opportunity of being the team’s #1 starter since. It’s making the seven-year, $131 million contract extension he signed following the 2021 season look like one of Ross Atkins’ best, a topic that wasn’t as popular following Jose’s poor 2022 campaign. That season, one that witnessed him lead the league in hits and earned runs allowed, has quickly become the anomaly in his career, as he bounced back with a Berrios-esque 2023 season and has clearly looked impressive this season.
Berrios stands for so much of what baseball is all about. Whether it’s the statistical consistency (five seasons of 30+ starts and six seasons with an ERA of 4.00 or less), not spending a day on the IL since making it to the major leagues, or his ability to defend at his position (see his Gold Glove award from last year), Berrios made his contract extension a no-brainer. Atkins himself even admitted following the execution of the deal that he reached out to Berrios’ camp around 48 hours after the ’21 season concluded – keeping him around just had to happen.
Men lie, women lie, parents lie, and bosses lie, but the film and the numbers don’t. Words can only say so much, so let’s take a look at how Berrios has taken things to a greater level.
For starters, his sinker has improved significantly between 2022 and now. Whether it was his sinker or four-seam fastball, both pitches became attractive to any and all batters in ’22 and the start of ’23. Fortunately, his slurve and changeup were far more effective, but shortening his pitch mix from four pitches to only two wouldn’t have been the best way for Berrios to go.
Berrios allowed a .319 batting average and a .452 SLG with his sinker in 2022, but this season, those figures are sitting at .250 and .278, respectively. He’s become a lot more comfortable throwing this pitch to left-handed hitters; 33% of his sinkers this season have gone to lefties, several ticks up from the 27.9% number he posted two years ago. His sinker has natural arm-side movement to it, so being able to lure it into the zone against southpaws after the pitch starts inside makes it even more effective. The third pitch in the clip below is one of the best examples. Just nasty.
Having a productive sinker has only helped his other pitches, especially the slurve. It’s always been a productive pitch for him (the 40+ inches of vertical drop has been there his entire career), but through his four starts this season, he has allowed a .115 batting average and a minuscule .154 SLG against the pitch, as well as a 42.9% whiff percentage.
The sinker and slurve play off of each other extremely well, especially when it comes to delivery and breaking point. See the overlay below – good luck picking this one up.
His 0.974 WHIP has been a perfect encapsulation of Berrios’ ability to limit overall damage. His strikeout numbers aren’t eye-popping and he’s not boasting a Gerrit Cole fastball or a Kevin Gausman splitter, but you can’t argue with effectiveness. His HR/9 is currently 0.7, which would be the lowest of his career by a wide margin if he can keep it up. That can also be reflected in his career-best 51.5% ground ball percentage, a number that’s 10% higher than last year. Conversely, his fly ball percentage is at 16.2%, close to 9% lower than last season. He’s keeping balls out of the air, and it’s limiting the home run damage from opponents.
In my opinion, his sequencing is his best pitching attribute, and he provided several more examples during Sunday’s win over Colorado. Berrios faced Rockies SS Ezequiel Tovar three times throughout the afternoon. He hit him with a sinker in the first inning and surrendered a single to Tovar on a sinker in the third inning, but Berrios gave him a completely different look his third time around. He threw Tovar three slurves, with each one getting further and further from Tovar as they went from one to the next. The first one started out of the zone inside and landed on the inside part of the zone, the second one started middle and ended at the bottom middle of the zone, and the final one started on the outer part of the plate and landed off the plate outside. Three slurves, three swings, three strikes.
With runners on second and third and two outs in the first inning, Berrios struck out Nolan Jones to escape the jam. He conditioned Jones to the soft stuff off the plate, throwing three changeups on the outside of the zone. Jones had swung and missed at the first two, so after spitting on the third, Berrios switched it and tied him up with a slurve that landed in on his hands.
Finally, showing off his sinker/slurve combo, Berrios used both pitches to strike out Ryan McMahon in the third inning. McMahon looked at a sinker outside for ball one but swung and missed two straight slurves. In a favourable 1-2 count, Berrios threw his sinker, which had a perfect amount of arm-side run to land in the top-left corner of the zone for the strikeout.
Mark DeRosa and Dan Plesac from the MLB Network did an excellent job analyzing some of these tactics here:
The longer Berrios has been a Blue Jay, the more fire and emotion we’ve been seeing on the mound. Trials and tribulations, such as his disappointing 2022 output and being pulled early from a great playoff start, will do that to you, but Berrios is showing his emotions for all the right reasons. We’ve seen more emphatic hand clapping, head nodding, and shouting, and we also heard him refer to himself as a “bad dog” in a recent interview.
This has the makings of a special season for Berrios, and it’s also becoming the picture-perfect response to last year’s Wild Card fiasco. How could you not be rooting for this guy?
*Stats and MLB ranks as of 9:00 PM CT Monday night

Check out these posts...