With a 0.90 ERA in two starts and 10 innings pitched, Jhony Brito has been a pleasant surprise for the Yankees. He has eight strikeouts, a 2.70 FIP and a 0.80 WHIP in the tiny small sample that has been the 2023 season. That’s come on the heels of a scintillating spring training, one in which he finished with five perfect innings in a start that was basically an audition for the vacant fifth starter spot in the Yankee rotation,
As our own Estevão Maximo recently wrote, the Yankees have something in Brito and he has a case to keep his rotation spot once Luis Severino and Carlos Rodón return from their respective injuries. If you have seen him pitch, you know that a potent changeup is his go-to offering. With a 35.9 percent whiff rate, you can see why he throws it 35.1 percent of the time and is his primary put-away pitch.
He goes to his 95-96 mph four-seamer 26.8 percent of the time, mostly against lefties, and uses his sinker 20.2 percent of the time, often against righties.
The fourth pitch in his repertoire is his curveball. He attacks hitters of both hands with it, but uses it only 14.3 percent of the time.
Brito’s top-tier change and solid heaters are bankable skills. His curveball, however, is probably the key to his future success. The hook is lacking in quality when compared to his best pitches, and how much he can develop the secondary offering could determine both his future ceiling and floor.
The curve is not necessarily a bad pitch, but it could definitely be better. If we judge it by small-sample results, it has earned Brito a 40 percent whiff rate and a .262 xwOBA. That’s more than OK; that’s great!
Zoom out from those basic results, though, and the picture isn’t as pretty. Brito’s curve doesn't have a spectacular movement profile. It has minimal horizontal movement, and with 46.2 inches of drop, it breaks 6.8 fewer inches than the average, or 13 percent. It averages 80 mph.
Now, to the eye test. Here, Brito gets a called strike with a perfectly located curveball:
And here, he gets a swing and miss, again with perfect location:
It’s a usable pitch, particularly if he commands it like he did here. But it’s not a curveball that will instill fear in opponents. It could be sharper, with more sudden break. For now, you can say that it can help Brito gets some called strikes and fouls because he seems to have good control of it. Can it keep missing bats at a 40 percent rate once MLB batters are more familiar with it? That seems unlikely if it maintains its current shape.
Significantly improving a pitch in-season is not an easy task, so forgive Brito in case he experiences some growing pains in future starts. Remember that he is a rookie, and that is a very real possibility some regression will come as the league continues to get more looks at him.
Even over the two major league starts he’s made, you could see how fooling hitters became more difficult for him with time. That’s mainly because of the lack of confidence in the curve or in a third pitch generally speaking. Once hitters got a few looks at his top offerings, they could key in on them, without much fear of the breaker.
Successful two-pitch starters in MLB are far from unheard of - Carlos Rodón is a clear example – but that requires either both offerings being elite, or pinpoint command. It is often advised that young pitchers develop that third pitch that can give rival hitters another look and thing to worry about.
Now, Brito has a nice, solid floor in our eyes. He has an out pitch - his changeup - good fastball velocity, throws strikes and manages contact. Sharpening his curveball would solidify that floor and give him a nice ceiling, too. A threatening breaker could give Brito the total package, and it wouldn’t be hard to dream of him developing into a high quality mid-rotation arm with that skillset.
Brito is off to a terrific start to his MLB career on the strength of his changeup-sinker combo. The curveballs he has thrown so far have earned positive results. He probably needs refine the pitch and start incorporating the pitch more to his repertoire if he wants to maximize his potential.