The Cleveland Indians vs. Jose Berrios

So we’ve had the “nobody is better than the Indians in the Central” takes prior to the beginning of the season.

The Twins responded to that by taking two-out-of-three in Cleveland in the opening season series, and while that doesn’t seem like a big deal in the rearviewmirror…well…who am I kidding. It sorta feels like a big deal.

We’ve also had the “the Indians have been the best team in the league over the past month or so, hosted the All-Star game, own the All-Star game MVP, play the Twins coming out of the break, and are going to use that series as a stepping stone to reclaim the series” takes prior to this weekends “most important Cleveland Indians series in three years.”

The Twins responded to that by taking the first two games of the series, including a game one that felt like the first step to the Indians’ coronation through the first six innings.

Now it all seems like a really big deal.

But in the end, the series isn’t over, and the Indians can curb the Twins’ blood-letting by beating Minnesota’s ace, Jose Berrios, in game three of the series.

You remember Jose Berrios, right?

Berrios has been dominant against the Indians in his two starts thus far. In his 13 2/3 innings pitched, Berrios has given up four hits and two runs, with only one of them earned. He’s walked two, and struck out 16 batters. His ERA is 0.66, and his FIP/xFIP is 2.25/3.17. The Twins are 2-0 in his starts against Cleveland.

What to expect?

The Arsenal

Berrios has four pitches, and it could be argued that they are all plus.

Courtesy of Baseball Savant

Without diving too far down the rabbit hole, his arsenal is deep, and he tends to throw all of his pitches, dependent on the situation. Now I know what you’re thinking: “no kidding Jim, that’s what pitchers do.” But Berrios is at the stage of his career in which he utilizes a lot of knowledge and creativity in delivering his arsenal, but I’ll get into that a bit.

His three most utilized pitches are his Four Seamer that sits at 93, and can touch 95/96, his Curveball, which he’ll throw down around 80-82, and his two seamer/sinker, which touches 92, but he can get up around 94/95.

Rather than show you all three separate pitches, here’s what they look like…together.

In case you think I’m not being fair to Berrios’ changeup, let’s take a quick look, shall we? Oh, and do you remember how I said Berrios liked to get a bit creative?

Here’s Berrios throwing an 85 MPH version in April.

Here’s Berrios throwing a slightly different version to Jake Bauers against the Indians on June 6.

Did you note the speed? When Berrios is varying his changeup speed, and throwing strikes, he’s tough to hit.

Here’s that change-up again, to Francisco Lindor, who was way out on his front foot.

Berrios can be filthy when he’s on, but there are a couple of things to keep in mind. Berrios hasn’t pitched since July 4th, and he’s coming off perhaps his “worst stretch” of the season. Now, I’d argue that he’s pitched just fine, and the Twins have been sucking, but you know, why dabble in the metrics.

The point being, is the Indians shouldn’t expect anything but the best of Jose Berrios, who will be looking to sweep their nearest divisional competition into oblivion.

What to expect from Berrios?

This year, Berrios has found the zone more, which has allowed him to get hitters to chase his stuff out of the zone. This is what the hitter has been seeing in 2019.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Versus lefties, Berrios ups his four seam usage from 31% to 37%, and ups his change-up from 15% to 22%. He throws less curves (30%-22%), and less sinkers (24% to 18%).

What’s insane is that his whiff% with all four pitches against lefties varies from 21.9% to 23.5%, with his carefully placed curve and sinker carrying a 27.8% K% and 26.2% K% respectively. The sinker does get a bit more BB called, but that makes sense, as it’s the pitch he dances out of the zone the most.

Versus righties, Berrios really cranks up one of the best pitches in baseball, his curveball, throwing it almost 38% of the time, and bumping his sinker up to 30%. His four seamer drops to 25%, and his matching change drops way down to 7.5%.

If you’re a righty against Berrios, you are really dancing with the devil. His whiff% with the four seam is 31.4%, with the changeup coming in at 29.7%. His curve isn’t too shabby either, coming in at 25.7%.

What to expect from the Indians?

The Four-Seamer

Here’s where Berrios throws most of his four seamers.

courtesy of Fangraphs

If Berrios is hitting his marks with his four seamer, there just isn’t much the Indians are going to do. As a team, lefties just don’t hit the high fastball, and Berrios has one of the best in the game. The one player that could snack on a mistake is Francisco Lindor, who rakes against fastballs belt high and below.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Maybe watch out for Greg Allen though. if that four seamer is belt high or below and in, he could have a bit of fun. And maybe he tries to climb the ladder, and Allen catches a mistake.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Bobby Bradley also sits on fastballs, as we saw last night.

If he sees something low and he gets extended? Remember, Berrios hasn’t faced Bradley. If he tries to get something over, Bradley could snack on it.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Versus righties, Berrios is deadly with the four seamer, and far more selective. He uses it as an out pitch, and is highly effective.

courtesy of Fangraphs

But, maybe Oscar Mercado sits on a fastball?

courtesy of Fangraphs

Or maybe Kevin Plawecki gets lucky, and gets one over the middle and guesses right?

courtesy of Fangraphs

The Change

Berrios will work the changeup away from lefties, but it’s a hard pitch to sit on when it’s paired with his four-seamer. If a hitter gets lucky though, it’s one that can do some damage.

courtesy of Fangraphs

The Indians have struggled all year against the offspeed stuff, as EHC’s Gage Will has noted, but Carlos Santana and Greg Allen might be hitters to watch for if they get the outside change.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Allen is a small sample size, but he’s been raking against righties that are throwing change-ups to him. Maybe Allen gets lucky.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Against righties, if Roberto Perez can extend his arms, he can do damage.

Berrios just doesn’t throw many changeups to righties, and when he does, he tends to stay down and in.

courtesy of Fangraphs

He rarely makes mistakes with it to the outside of the plate.

courtesy of Fangraphs

This is unfortunate for Robo.

courtesy of Fangraphs

The Curve

Berrios is deadly with the curve vs. lefties, and the Indians just aren’t a good curveball hitting team from the left side of the plate, at least where Berrios tends to throw them.

courtesy of Fangraphs
courtesy of Fangraphs

Lindor, Santana, Ramirez, Bauers, Bradley, Naquin, and Allen all have specific spots they do well, but it would have to be a helluva guess. If they get on base on this curve, they’ve done one helluva job hitting. Berrios has really controlled his curve usage this year, and has curtailed some of his hangers that have gotten him in trouble in the past.

But maybe Berrios makes a mistake to a right, and throws one down and in.

courtesy of Fangraphs

And maybe Bobby Bradley gets ahold of one.

courtesy of Fangraphs

The same with Tyler Naquin.

The problem for Bradley is Berrios never throws them there…or at least rarely. But Naquin’s zone is bigger if he gets something low in the zone, from the middle to the outer edge? Look out. But again, will Berrios even throw it there?

courtesy of Fangraphs

But watch out for Kevin Plawecki, if he gets a curve down the middle…up or down in the zone.

courtesy of Fangraphs

The Sinker

Berrios’ two seamer (sinker) moves away from the left-handed hitter, and works really well in concert with his devastating curve (when he’s throwing it in the zone), and when he’s locating his four seam/change mix.

courtesy of Fangraphs

But there are some trouble spots.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Watch out for Jake Bauers.

courtesy of Fangraphs

And of course, Lindor.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Carlos can do damage if he can get something up in the zone with extension.

courtesy of Fangraphs

Berrios ups usage to righties, and for good reason. The pitch has a ton of movement, and eats right-handed batters up.

courtesy of Fangraphs

The only trouble he ever sees vs. righties is when he gets it up over the middle, which is almost never.

courtesy of Fangraphs

And there just aren’t any right-handed batters in today’s line-up that are effective in that zone. Look for a lot of two-seamers to Mercado and Plawecki.

The Past Approach

Here are Berrios’ last two starts against Cleveland, on March 28, and June 6.

courtesy of Baseball Savant
courtesy of Baseball Savant

As EHC’s Gage Will noted in an earlier piece, Berrios shifted his line of thinking from his first start, to his second. What’s interesting to note here is that while he threw 15 more change-ups from his first to last start vs. the Indians, he also threw 20 more sinkers.

It will be interesting to see what trend Berrios takes against the Indians today, and it will also be interesting to see what he does against the unknown in Bobby Bradley. Certainly he won’t be serving up a meat ball like Bradley saw yesterday.

With ten days off, look for Berrios’ velocity to be up, and maybe that gets him in trouble early. But for the Indians to win, they have to really take advantage of mistake pitches. Of note? Berrios struggled with the strike zone in his last start. Of his 92 pitches, only 54 were strikes. If he’s not hitting the zone…the Indians could take advantage.

If he’s throwing a ton of change-ups and sinkers, look for Carlos Santana to be the key hitter today, especially if he does his homework. As far as the changeup goes, look for Greg Allen to do some damage. As far as the sinker, Jake Bauers and Frankie are the two to watch.

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