Sunday Notes: Jose Berrios’s Breaking Ball is Bugs Bunny

Jose Berrios is having a breakout season. In 13 starts for the Minnesota Twins, the 23-year-old right-hander has a 3.50 ERA, and he’s won nine of his twelve decisions. His breaking ball is a big reason. It’s a plus pitch, and certainly not run-of-the mill.

I recently had the following exchange with Twins pitching coach Neil Allen:

How would you describe Berrios’s breaking ball?

“It’s Bugs Bunny. It’s pretty darn good.”

Is it a curveball or a slider?

“It’s a little bit of both.”

Chris Gimenez had a less-catchy, but every bit as compelling, response to the same question(s).

“It’s a curveball, but he can make it a little more slider-ish when he’s really trying to wrench it down and away from a right-hander,” said the Minnesota backstop. “It’s the closest I’ve seen to Corey Kluber’s curveball, and to Yu Darvish’s slider. I’ve had a chance to catch both of those guys, and that’s some pretty elite company to be in.”

Curveballs and sliders are obviously classified differently, so I asked Gimenez to elaborate.

“Kluber’s curveball has a tendency to be a little bit more like a slider, and Darvish’s slider has a tendency to be a little more like a curveball,” explained Gimenez. “So I guess you could say it’s a hybrid. You could call it a slurve, but I think of a slurve as more of a loopier pitch. This one has got some serious bite to it. It’s extremely tight, and extremely late. It looks like a fastball, and then it makes a direct left-hand turn. It’s a strike, and then it’s not a strike.”

Berrios, himself, was less descriptive. He told me he’s been throwing his breaking ball the same way for a long time, and that it’s gotten better because he’s become more confident in it. He’s simply “throwing it like a fastball, but with a different grip, and trying to get it over the plate. From there, I see what they do with it.”

When it’s on, hitters don’t do much. As Allen so eloquently put it, Berrios’s breaking ball is Bugs Bunny.

———

The Cincinnati Reds have used 25 different pitchers this season. I recently asked one of the club’s catchers, Tucker Barnhart, who among them has the best stuff.

“I would say that Raisel Iglesias has some of the best stuff we have, if not the best,” Barnhart told me. “Here of late, catching him for the first few times, Luis Castillo — a guy we got in a trade for Dan Straily — has remarkable stuff. He’s a joy to catch. Those guys would probably be my choices.”

I followed up by asking the Gold Glove-quality backstop if he had a specific pitch in mind for either of the two.

“They both have plus fastballs,” responded Barnhart. “Iglesias changes arm angles to where he’ll drop down to a lower three quarters, but he doesn’t lose any velocity when he does that. He’s consistently between 96-100 from both angles, which is really rare. And then Luis Castillo’s changeup is tremendous. Couple that with the fact that he throws 100 mph, and it’s fun to call a game for him.”

———

Last June, I wrote about Houston Astros pitching prospect Ben Smith. At the time, he was fighting his way back from a string of tragedies. The lefty out of Coastal Carolina had survived Tommy John surgery, eight months of chemotherapy, and the suicide of a sibling. Things weren’t going well on the mound. Pitching at the lowest rungs of the minors, he finished the season with a 6.58 ERA.

This past Friday, I caught up to Smith to see how he’s doing 13 months later.

“I had a really good offseason,” said Smith, who is on the roster of the short-season Tri-City Valley Cats. “I was able to get all of my weight back — I’m back up to around 200, which is what I was before I got sick. I had some blister problems in spring training, which kept me from pitching much, and I scuffled a little. But recently, I’ve kind of started to figure things out and feel more like myself. I was happy with my last two outings.”

The numbers suggest that he should be happy. Smith set down 13 of the 14 batters he faced in the pair of relief appearances, with six punch outs. His velocity, which plummeted after his health scare, is back up to 87-90.

Regaining his physical strength is only part of the battle.

“The mental part has been a grind,” admitted Smith. “It’s been a lot to come back from, but I don’t think about it as much as I did. I’m doing OK. Last year, trying to come back from everything, I was maybe taking it a little too serious. Now I’m having fun with it. Baseball is a game, and I’m just doing what I can do.”

———

Padres manager Andy Green was asked about Trevor Bauer when San Diego played in Cleveland in early July. The question touched on whether the Indians right-hander is guilty of overthinking.

“I’ve never spoken to him in my life, so I have no idea how his mind works or what he thinks about,” responded Green. “I was in the Arizona organization when he was drafted, but our paths never crossed. I know he talked a lot at that time about pitching out of the same window with the elevated fastball and the curveball. The reality is, when he was saying those things he was probably a little bit ahead of his time.

“That’s the way a lot of guys are throwing now, but it wasn’t quite as mainstream then as it is now. Since it was coming from a kid out of college, it was probably an affront to some people. For them it was about pitching to the bottom of the zone at all times, sinking the baseball and getting ground balls, and he was pitching for punch-outs at the top. He’s clearly a bright guy.”

———

Did you know that Japan’s amateur draft is structured differently than it is here in the United States? In the first round, each of the 12 NPB teams names the player they wish to select. If only one team names a specific player, they have exclusive rights to negotiate a contract with him. If multiple teams name that player, a random draw decides who he can negotiate with. The teams that lose out on the draw then name another player they wish to select.

———

Devon Travis was in the Tigers system before being traded to Toronto for Anthony Gose in November 2014. Drafted out of Florida State in 2012, he went on to form a double-play combo with Dixon Machado in high-A Lakeland and Double-A Erie. They’re no longer in the same organization, but they remain friends.

“He was one of my favorites to play with, ever,” Travis told me earlier this week. “We spent all of 2014 together, and half the year in 2013. He taught me a lot of Spanish — I would help him with English words and he’d help me with Spanish words. That was fun. He’s obviously a really good player, but he’s also a fantastic dude. We hung out one night after a game in Detroit.”

Machado is currently filling a backup infield role with the Tigers. Travis, who is slashing .292/.331/.462 in his two-plus years as a Blue Jay, is on the disabled list with a knee injury.

———

The rain delay that followed the ninth inning of Game Seven of last year’s World Series was short of duration. It lasted just 17 minutes. But what if the rain hadn’t abated in Cleveland as it did? Given that the midnight hour had come and gone, Major League Baseball faced a potential dilemma. How long would they have waited?

It turns out that a specific plan wasn’t in place. According to an official in the league office, their information “indicated that the rain would come and go quickly,” and “it is fair to assume that we would have waited for a clear window to play. It is possible that we would have suspended Game Seven and resumed it the following day.”

Per a rule change that was instituted following the 2008 World Series — who can forget the rain-soaked debacle in Philadelphia? — that would indeed have been the scenario. The rule is written as follows:

The Major League Rules will now provide that all postseason games and games added to the regular season to determine qualifiers for the postseason become suspended games if they are called, regardless of how many innings have been played or the score at the time the game is called. (The Major League Rules affected include 25(a), 33(c), 35(b), 37(b) and 39.) A suspended game is resumed and played to completion at the same site.

Fortunately for all involved (with the possible exception of the Cleveland Indians) that wasn’t necessary.

———

Mitch Stachowsky, who caught in the Red Sox system from 2004-2006, died a few months ago in his home state of Idaho, at the much-too-young age of 32. I crossed paths with him a handful of times in his playing days, and I’d like to share a story from one of our initial interactions.

The Red Sox used to have a minor league coordinator who was… let’s just say he didn’t always act professionally. My first ever encounter with him came in a clubhouse, where he made a show of checking my media credential and then explaining that they needed to be careful who was in there. His explanation — seemingly meant to entertain the players — was 99% homosexual innuendo, augmented by pantomimed kissing that was uncomfortably close to my face.

Shortly thereafter, Stachowsky approached me and apologized for the coordinator’s behavior. It was a classy gesture on his part.

———

JULY TIDBITS

Lew Ford, who turns 41 next month, is playing indie ball with the Long Island Island Ducks. The former Minnesota Twins outfielder is slashing .291/.356/.463.

Marco Estrada is 32-0 lifetime in games where he’s had a lead of three runs or more. He has eight no-decisions in games where he’s had a three-run lead.

Ender Inciarte is hitting .349 (29-for-83) against southpaws, the highest batting average in MLB by a left-handed batter against left-handed pitchers this season.

In a four-day stretch from July 15-18, the Red Sox played 58 innings, an average of 14 innings per day.

Going into their game on July 4, the Pittsburgh Pirates had a record of 37-46. Since that time they are 13-2.

The San Francisco Giants are 16-26 against the NL West this season. The last time they had a losing record within their division was 2007 when they went 28-44.

The Giants’ sellout streak of 555 games — 530 in the regular season, and 25 in the postseason — came to an end on Monday. The streak was a record for a National League team, and the second longest in MLB history behind the Boston Red Sox (794 games).

Since inter-league play began in 1997, Oakland A’s pitchers have an .080 batting average (30 for 376), the lowest of any team.

Yuki Matsui, a 21-year-old left-handed reliever for the Rakuten Golden Eagles, has allowed one earned run in 43-and-two-thirds innings. Along with his 0.21 ERA, Matsui has 28 saves.

On Friday, the Minnesota Twins unveiled a statue of former manager Tom Kelly outside of Target Field. Already in place were statues of Rod Carew, Calvin Griffith, Kent Hrbek, Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Carl and Eloise Pohlad, and Kirby Puckett.

——

Jordan Gibbons, the daughter of Toronto Blue Jays manager John Gibbons, is a musician. A singer-songwriter who plays the acoustic guitar, she fronts an alternative country band called Southtown. They recently did a show in downtown Toronto, and not only was the proud father there, so was “Country Joe” West.

“John knows the umpires pretty well, and Joe West was doing the plate on Saturday afternoon,” explained Blue Jays broadcaster Jerry Howarth. “In the middle of the game, something came up and John ran out on the field. He went straight to Joe West. Joe said, ‘What are you doing out here? It wasn’t that big of a deal.’ John said, ‘I know, Joe. Just between us, I’m out here to tell you that if you want to see my daughter play tonight, I’ve got tickets for you.’ Joe said, ‘I’m going. Thank you very much. Put me on the list.’”

According to Howarth, “it was the best visit John had with an umpire all weekend.”

———

Howarth’s Gibbons story reminded me of one from longtime Pawtucket Red Sox executive Mike Tamburro. It was in regard to “Walpole Joe” Morgan, who was managing Boston’s Triple-A affiliate at the time.

“He was having an ongoing rhubarb with an umpire named Fields,” Tamburro told me. “Fields had run Joe recently and was umpiring first base when the first batter of a game hit a routine grounder to the second baseman. He was out by a good four steps — an easy call. Joe came charging out of the dugout and right up to Fields. He said, ‘You’re right,’ and then turned around and walked back to the dugout.”

———

LINKS YOU’LL LIKE

Aaron Reiss of the (Minneapolis) Star Tribune wrote about the autograph hounds — many of whom are memorabilia dealers — that hang around team hotels.

Sonoma Stompers pitcher Stacy Piagno recently became the third woman to be credited with a win a professional game. Lori A. Carter has the story at the (Santa Rosa, CA) Press Democrat.

Over at the Buffalo (NY) News, Sean Kirst wrote about a home run Luke Easter hit on Flag Day, 60 years ago. It was majestic.

At MLB.com, Anthony Castrovince looked at top trade candidates through the lens of Statcast.

Jimmie Foxx had a storied career. According to Ron Kaplan — writing for The National Pastime Museum — the Hall of Famer’s post-baseball life wasn’t nearly as successful.

The SABR Defensive Index for the first half of the season — the underrated DJ LeMahieu ranks highly — has been released.

SABR’s Bio Project is invaluable, and the recent biography of Negro Leaguer Art “Superman” Pennington is fantastic.

RANDOM FACTS AND STATS

As a Detroit Tiger, Victor Martinez has a .299 batting average, a .359 OBP, and 104 home runs. As a Detroit Tiger, JD Martinez had a .300 batting average, a .361 OBP, and 99 home runs.

Ryne Sandberg went 8 for 20, with four home runs, off of Bruce Sutter. He went 4 for 38 — all singles — off of Larry Andersen.

On this date in 2002, Red Sox shortstop Nomar Garciaparra hit a pair of two-run homers in the second inning of a game against the Tampa Bay Rays. He then hit a grand slam in the third inning. The game, which Boston won 22-4, was played at Fenway Park on Garciaparra’s 29th birthday.

On this date in 1987, the Kansas City Royals traded David Cone and Chris Jelic to the New York Mets for Ed Hearn, Rick Anderson, and Mauro Gozzo. Cone, who had 22-and-two-thirds big-league innings under his belt at the time, went on to pitch 2,876 more innings over the next 16-plus seasons.

Between the 1976-1977 seasons, Nolan Ryan made 76 starts and had 43 complete games. Frank Tanana, his California Angels teammate, made 65 starts and had 43 complete games.

John “Oyster Joe” Martina recorded 349 wins in a minor-league career that lasted from 1910-1931. His only MLB action came in 1924 when he appeared in 25 games for the Washington Senators. The last of those games came in the World Series, when he pitched a perfect inning.

Red Badgrow, Red Kress, Lu Blue, and Sam Gray all played for the 1930 St. Louis Browns. Pinky Higgins and Red Daughters played for the 1937 Boston Red Sox.





David Laurila grew up in Michigan's Upper Peninsula and now writes about baseball from his home in Cambridge, Mass. He authored the Prospectus Q&A series at Baseball Prospectus from December 2006-May 2011 before being claimed off waivers by FanGraphs. He can be followed on Twitter @DavidLaurilaQA.

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dl80member
5 years ago

I’ve always wondered why Foxx doesn’t get the adulation and celebration of Stan Musial. They had very similar careers, each putting up a 158 wRC+. They both played first base. Foxx won 2 World Series Championships, while Musial won 3. They each won the MVP three times.

The two main differences were longevity and the time period.

Foxx played in 2300 games, while Musial played in 3000. Foxx was basically done at age 35, while Musial put up very good seasons through age 42. But I can’t imagine that Musial only got famous and adored in his post-35 career.

I think it’s the time period, and not just because Foxx was mostly pre-TV. I think it’s because nearly Foxx’s entire prime happened during the Depression. Attendance was down, people had other things to worry about, etc.

It’s a real shame, because Foxx deserves to be up there with the greatest first basemen of all time: Gehrig, Musial, Foxx in some order as the clear top tier above anyone else (assuming Pujols doesn’t have a late-career renaissance).

timprov
5 years ago
Reply to  dl80

Musial played his entire career with a single team, with a fanbase that’s extremely dedicated (and was, at the time, extremely large geographically). Foxx played in Philadelphia and Boston.