Esmil Rogers: Blue Jays Saving Grace?
Since moving into the starting rotation, Rogers has been a far cry from the reliever who came in for mop up duty. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
When Alex Anthopoulos brought in Esmil Rogers from the Cleveland Indians for SS/2B Mike Aviles and Yan Gomes back in November of last year, all I thought of it was “It’s a minor move. We gave up too much.” Aviles, acquired only a few weeks earlier from the Boston Red Sox for that John Farrell guy, is a serviceable infielder that has a good glove, decent speed, and some life in his bat. Gomes was a low grade catching prospect for the Jays with some power. AA “gave” both of them up for Rogers, a man that looked awful in Colorado (typical) but was stellar in the pen for Cleveland. He was considered a two-pitch pitcher that threw 95-97 MPH and had a decent slider.
As a reliever with the Jays thus far, Rogers has shown flashes of why this team traded for him, but he’s been mostly what he was out in Colorado… not good. So with a depleted pitching staff, it only made sense that Ol’ Gibbons turned his lonely eyes to… Rogers? At the time of this decision back on May 29th to push Rogers into the rotation, he was sporting a sweet 4.56 ERA (which had only drop down from 5.95 due to two consecutively successful three inning relief stints in meaningless games.) My guess is though, Gibbons must of saw something and figured “Well…why not?”
Rogers has only rewarded him with initially shakey, but lately stellar pitching performances. He’s actually made Gibbons look like a genius for making the move since the team has gone 4-0 in his starts. Even in his lone relief appearance on June 2nd, Rogers has looked different. What gives?
As mentioned previously, Rogers has been mostly resigned to using two pitches out of the pen: 4 seam fastball (4FB) and slider (SLD), rarely mixing in a 2 seam fastball (2FB) and curveball (CRV).* In 14 of his 22 relief appearances, he was predominantly a two pitch pitcher, making him somewhat predictable for hitters. This can directly correlate to his struggles. If you don’t believe me, check out this August 2011 sampling from his playing days as a starter with the Rockies:
The numbers you see at the top under wFA (4FB), wFT (2FB) and so on, for those unfamiliar with Fangraphs.com or sabremetrics, is the Pitch Type Linear Weights, which is a fancy way of saying the effectiveness of the pitch at preventing runs to score. (Both Fangraphs.com and BrooksBaseball.com have these numbers, but for Fangraphs, negative is bad, while for BrooksBaseball, negative is good. This chart is from Fangraphs set up through my Excel Spreadsheet.) None of his pitches were really effective at all. Under that stat is the percentage of pitch type thrown. The results by using just 2 pitches were not particularly good: 2-3, 4.84 ERA, 1.82 WHIP, .320 BAA. (For those cynics that want to say, “Well Rogers did also use a CHG!” It registered at the same velocity as his SLD which wasn’t very deceptive and essentially made the pitch useless.)
Check out April 2011:
If you throw out Rogers’ April 18th start (which I did, since it was 8 ER over 3 IP), you will clearly see an improvement when he is varying his pitches: 3-0, 3.44 ERA, 1.53 WHIP, .260 BAA. Since I’m no expert on PTLW, I can’t calculate those for you, but you can place a bet that those numbers would look better as well.
You cannot deny however, that this trend of using an assortment of pitches has worked well for Rogers as a starter thus far. Here are his June 2013 starts:
During this most recent stretch as a starter, Rogers has gone 3-0 with a 2.04 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, .190 BAA. While Rogers has worked in some CRV and CHG pitches, he’s still been a predominantly fastball-slider pitcher. The biggest difference and my reason for his success has been the use of a 2FB. Not just the use of it, but also the placement of it. He’s pounding hitters inside, either locking them up entirely or jamming them into easy infield grounders.
Rogers has always had a 2FB but he’s used it to varying success. The pitch came and went. It was, at times, used in the same manner as his CRV and CHG currently are being used. It was a “show me” pitch, a common phrase used by RSN announcer Pat Tabler. Since Rogers’ started re-deploying his 2FB half the time he’s thrown a FB, he’s been highly effective, as shown by his 3.2 PTLW. That’s considered to be above average folks. He’s using it to set up his SLD as an “out” pitch, which is why his K/9 has been solid at 6.1 (and shows promise of going up.) Between the use of his SLD and 2FB, his Ground Ball to Batters Faced ratio is sitting at an excellent 45%, allowing only 1 HR over his last 17.2 IP (his three start equivalent.) The location of his 2FB has made Esmil Rogers a not just a viable starter in the rotation, but a damn good one. And as Mike Wilner pointed out, that while Rogers is not an ace and we shouldn’t “crown him,” he has had a couple of the best starts by a Jays’ pitcher this season. He’s also shown there is room for improvement. If this continues, Rogers may just be one of the more pleasant surprises of the season for Toronto.
*The pitch information provided in this article comes from the Pitch f/x tool by www.fangraphs.com, www.baseballreference.com and www.brooksbaseball.com