TORONTO -- The obvious answer is often the right one. José Berríos was one of the Blue Jays’ top focuses throughout the Trade Deadline process, and for good reason.
Berríos fills one of the club’s most pressing needs if it hopes to make a postseason run, and his addition should knock over enough dominos to have an effect on the pitching staff as a whole down the stretch.
The rise of Berríos has been steady, and in some ways, quiet. One of the game’s top pitching prospects prior to the 2016 season when he broke through with the Twins, Berríos arrived in the Majors with his fair share of hype. His game is all about year-to-year consistency, though, not peaks that grab headlines and the subsequent valleys. That’s just fine. Frankly, it’s what the Blue Jays love about him.
When Berríos joins the Blue Jays this weekend, he’ll step into the rotation alongside Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray, giving the Blue Jays a top three that they can feel comfortable with in a playoff series. That wasn’t the case when the season opened. This also bumps Alek Manoah down to the No. 4 spot while Steven Matz, Ross Stripling and Thomas Hatch slide down, with one surely bound for the bullpen.
Berríos is good, period, but teams don’t trade their No. 2 and No. 4 prospects until they dig down and love everything they see under the surface, too.
The ultimate known commodity
Since the start of the 2018 season, Berríos has thrown 577 1/3 innings. Only six pitchers have thrown more: Gerrit Cole, Zack Greinke, Aaron Nola, Zack Wheeler, Jacob deGrom and Kyle Hendricks. Innings aren’t a measure of success, but that’s some fine company.
The Blue Jays need these innings, though, and they’re not just being chewed through. These are quality innings, consistent from start to start, and should help to alleviate some of the weight being put on the Toronto bullpen. That group has been boosted recently by the addition of Brad Hand, Joakim Soria and Adam Cimber, but they’ll be much sharper if Charlie Montoyo is only asking them for three innings a night, not five.
“This move helps not only protect other starters and the reliance on Hyun Jin Ryu and Robbie Ray to be the stoppers for us each time out, but it will also impact our relievers,” general manager Ross Atkins explained. “Berríos has been someone who’s gotten deep into games pretty routinely and that takes some stress off.”
At just 27, Berríos isn’t your typical Deadline acquisition. He comes with an added year of team control in 2022 and has that magic word the Blue Jays always covet in pitchers: athleticism.
The thinking behind that is twofold. Athletic pitchers should be able to repeat their delivery more naturally, which is the key to consistency as Berríos well knows. It should also help them to make any adjustments that are necessary, and that gives the Blue Jays optimism that there’s some potential ceiling Berríos hasn’t even unlocked yet.
“With as young as he is, and athletic and hard-working as he is, it’s easy to think about him just continuing on a positive trend,” Atkins said. “Whether that is in how he’s deploying his work and how he’s learning how to attack different teams or how to reshape certain pitches and make adjustments. He has the ability and all of the attributes to do all of those things.”
A devastating curveball
When Berríos takes the mound for his Blue Jays debut -- potentially Sunday -- watch for his curveball. It’s his primary pitch, incredibly effective and won’t look like the classic, hammering curveballs you’re used to seeing.
Berríos’ curve has more of a frisbee shape, moving 5.5 inches more horizontally (across the plate) than the average MLB curveball. That’s the 11th-highest rate of horizontal movement among 108 starting pitchers who have thrown 150 or more curveballs this season. In simpler terms, Berríos’ curveball snaps across the plate better than most in baseball, yanking it away from right-handers and forcing lefties to swing well over it.
Watch for this pitch late in counts, especially. Berríos ranks third in baseball when it comes to strikeouts with curveballs, with the incredible movement he creates making it difficult to hit even when opponents know it’s coming.